In Russell Reynolds Associates’ analysis of the top 100 companies in the S&P500 (referred to as the S&P100 in this report), we found that men are 2.5x more likely than women to be executives in the top leadership teams. The roles in which women are well-represented are those that hold far less power and influence, highlighting the limitations of gender diversity and the perceived value of women in these organizations.
Closing the gender gap at the top remains a priority for companies as they continue to face increased scrutiny from stakeholders who demand more diversity in executive leadership. While there are currently no federal laws mandating gender diversity in executive leadership, many states have enacted legislation that specifically focuses on increasing gender diversity on corporate boards. Most notably, California became the first state in the US to mandate that public companies headquartered in the state must have women directors or face fines, up to $300,000.2 Although the law has been credited with improving the standing of women on corporate boards, gender diversity on corporate boards is not indicative of gender diversity in the C-suite.
While there is extensive research on the benefits of gender diversity of leadership and management teams, there is limited analysis specifically on gender diversity of the C-suite. For our analysis, we examined the top leadership teams—as stated by the companies themselves—of the 100 largest organizations within the S&P500. We compared the composition of those teams with the US civilian workforce participation rate by gender from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The size and nature of top leadership teams varies across organizations, ranging from 16 executives on average to 45 executives on the largest team and just three executives on the smallest team. A company’s disclosure of whom it chooses to state as part of its top leadership team is not only a factor of organizational structure, but also an indicator as to whom the company values and where power and responsibility reside.
By focusing our analysis on the top leadership team, we can move past the generalities of gender diversity in leadership toward a more substantive analysis of those with the highest power and influence. Principally, this avoids the blurring of leadership levels, which can result in an overly rosy picture in which progress on gender diversity at the next generation leadership level masks the real, typically more limited level of progress at the very top.