Women in the Workforce: CEOs and Managers

If you haven’t heard that women are taking on the workforce and leadership roles like never before, it might be time to find a different news source. In fact, Harvard Business Review argues that an increase of working women was “the most significant change in the economy in the past century.” And Fortune 500 companies have more female CEOs than ever before.

But there’s more to the story, which was revealed after extensive digging through three recent years of data on male and female chief executives from the Current Population Survey – an entity jointly sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. State-by-state comparisons show how locations may be better suited for female executives, while industry breakdowns show areas where gender pay gaps are still persistent. Continue reading to see what we discovered by looking at corporate leadership in America through a gender lens.  

America’s Executives

Gender breakdown of chief executives over time

We initially filtered the U.S. population by employees with a professional title containing “chief executive.” A chief executive is defined as someone who can “plan, direct, or coordinate operational activities at the highest level of management with the help of subordinate executives and staff managers.” According to the three years of data (2015, 2017, and 2019), the percentage of female executives did not steadily rise year over year. In 2015, 25.7% of chief executives were female, which rose to 30.6% in 2017 but dropped to 27.3% in 2019. 

Since 2017, some notable female CEOs have left their posts, including Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Co., and Margo Georgiadis of Mattel. According to Market Watch, however, men and women are evacuating executive roles at similar rates. It’s just that women’s departures are more noticeable since there are fewer of them at the helm. 

According to Jane Stevenson of recruitment firm Korn Ferry, “As long as we have these fortuitous (women-CEO) appointments instead of a real gender pipeline being built as a regular course of business, the numbers are going to be volatile.” 

As far as salaries were concerned, female chief executives were still paid less, on average, than their male counterparts. That said, women did see a larger increase in wages than men in 2015, although men did earn a higher average annual income for all three years of the survey.

Executive States

percentage of female chief executives by state

Oregon had a higher percentage of female chief executives than any other state – nearly half of all executives in this state were women. Oregon is seeing a particular proliferation of female tech executives, which is partially attributed to Oregon having a “number of top-notch female executives in human resources, finance, and other roles within the state’s tech companies.” Forbes also mentioned that Oregon is currently targeting female entrepreneurs to grow its economy, quoting Sen. Ron Wyden with “Oregon cannot achieve its fullest potential to increase high-skill, high-wage jobs without extending equal opportunities to capital for women entrepreneurs.”

Massachusetts and North Dakota were around 35 percentage points below Oregon’s leading rate of female chief executives, with just 14.7% and 14.3% of their corporate leaders being women, respectively. North Dakota’s population is so sparse that it might be somewhat difficult to assess. On the other hand, Massachusetts is home to many of today’s leading businesses, and its gender gap can’t be blamed on a small population. Fewer than 29% of Massachusetts’ state government is comprised of women. The Bay State has also been criticized for its near-worst ranking in its support of female entrepreneurs. 

Moneymaking States

Average annual income of female chief executives by state

Maryland had the wealthiest women in leadership in terms of average annual income. This state eclipsed all others with its female chief executives earning an average of $284,300 each year. While it may be easier for a woman to work her way up the corporate ladder in Oregon, the climb might be more lucrative in Maryland. 

Wisconsin was on the other end of the spectrum, where female executives earned an average of $65,400 each year – less than a quarter of what female leaders made in Maryland. In fact, $65,000 is only about $4,000 more than the average annual salary of anybody working in the state – male or female, chief executive or not. Although this data reflects overall progress since 2015, Wisconsin has a way to go when it comes to fairly paying their female business leaders. 

Industry by Industry

Percentage of female and male chief executives by industry

Hospitals provided the best pay and gender distribution regarding female business leaders. This industry had the closest to equal gender ratio and also paid its female chief executives vastly more than any other industry. The list of female leaders in the health care industry is becoming more and more impressive, but experts say women are still passed up for promotions in this arena. 

The insurance industry was the biggest nuance in terms of pay difference between men and women. While male chief executives earned an average of $294,700 when working in insurance, women executives only earned $157,200. According to research by Catalyst, insurance generally demonstrates the highest gender wage gap for all employees regardless of rank. 

Can We Have it All?

Percentage of female chief executives with a child in their household

Although women are waiting longer to have children than they were a decade ago (in part due to career priorities), 31% of female chief executives had at least one child in their household younger than 18

Women executives in the architectural engineering industry were the most likely to have children, with more than 59% of leaders having at least one child. Meanwhile, only 8% of female chief executives in executive offices and legislative bodies had one or more children younger than 18.

Closing the Career Gap

While there has been progress in closing gender pay and promotional gaps, we’d be remiss not to point out the work that still needs to be done. The data revealed that certain states and industries need to bring more women into well-paid leadership roles.

We would also be remiss not to do our part in closing as many elements of the gender career gap as we can. At ZenBusiness, your dream business more easily becomes a reality with the help of our experts. Worry-free services filtered by state can help you accommodate the various legal, accounting, and management needs of your business. Regardless of gender, our online doors are always open. 

Methodologies and Limitations

We collected data from the U.S. Current Population Survey from the IPUMS-CPS database. Data were queried on Jan. 30, 2020. We limited data to 2015, 2017, and 2019 for respondents with the occupation code “010 Chief Executives.” We then collected additional variables, including gender, income, industry, state, and the age of children currently in their household. We analyzed data using the provided person-level weight from the IPUMS. The Current Population Survey uses a complex sampling of respondents and weights to produce nationally representative statistics.

Data are comprised entirely of sample data. Because the subpopulation of female chief executives is small, it is possible that additional data could have been collected to provide a more accurate look at this population. Efforts were made to account for this small subpopulation by combining multiple years of data.

No statistical testing was performed. As such, the content on this page is exploratory.

Fair Use Statement

One of the best ways to close gender gaps is education. Continue to spread knowledge by sharing this data, but make sure it’s for noncommercial purposes and you link back to this page.

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