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In 2023, women’s gains in corporate C-suites were reversed

Kristin Schwab Apr 4, 2024
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gradyreese/Getty Images

In 2023, women’s gains in corporate C-suites were reversed

Kristin Schwab Apr 4, 2024
Heard on:
gradyreese/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The number of women in senior corporate leadership has grown every year since S&P Global started tracking gender parity among executives in 2006. That is, until last year. In 2023, women lost C-suite positions across publicly traded firms, with their representation dipping below 12%.

When you zoom in on the data in the S&P report, a curious pattern pops out. Women’s growth in the C-suite slowed in 2008 during the financial crisis, in 2020 during the pandemic and in 2023, the year of will we or won’t we slip into a recession?

“These incidents would suggest that women are hit harder by unfavorable changes in the economic environment,” said Dan Sandberg, co-author of the study.

An unfavorable economic environment after a brief surge of interest in diversity, equity and inclusion. Mentions of DEI in earnings reports have fallen since 2020. And major companies have cut DEI jobs.

“Definitely with any type of business priority oftentimes we see these ebbs and flows in how much attention is paid to a certain issue,” said Yo-Jud Cheng, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia.

ESG, or environmental, social and governance criteria in investing, is another example. Both ESG and DEI have become politicized. 

Cheng also said companies overwhelmingly promoted women at a time when executives just could not thrive. Women in the C-suite increased most during 2021 and ’22, when businesses were transitioning out of the pandemic world. 

“Women being promoted to a situation that was characterized by so much uncertainty and so many challenges and really not having the circumstances to thrive and to show their abilities,” she said.

Especially if they weren’t given the support. Corinne Post, chair in business leadership at Villanova University, said it takes more than a few promotions to sustain change at a company.

“Are our processes fair, what are the biases that exist, how do we eradicate them? All that stuff is really hard change-management work,” she said.

That’s ultimately what it takes to place more women in revenue-generating roles, like in operations, which are steppingstones to the C-suite, Post said. 

The S&P report said it will take longer than previously forecast to reach gender parity in corporate leadership — up to seven years longer, putting parity as far out as 2042.

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