The number of women leading Fortune 500 companies has dived 25% from last year to this one, down to 24 from "an all-time high of 32 in 2017." As the magazine explains, the drop is mostly due to so many women stepping down from their positions over the last 12 months — in an exclusive arena that few of them occupy in the first place.
Among the women who have stepped down in 2018: Meg Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (and the only woman to have run two Fortune 500 companies, Fortune notes) resigned from her position in November 2017, and Campbell's Soup CEO Denise Morrison retired suddenly last week after 15 years at the company. Irene Rosenfeld of snack and beverage company Mondelez and Avon's Sheri McCoy are also among those who have moved on.
It's hard to say if this trend is a bad omen in the long term. While some CEOs who left their positions had very short tenures (Margo Georgiadis left Mattel after just one year), others have led their respective companies for much longer and seemed ready for new challenges. On the other hand, the fact that it takes women so long to ascend to the rank of CEO makes it unlikely that those numbers will change in the immediate future.
"There does seem to be something larger at work here," Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services at nonprofit research and consulting firm Catalyst told The New York Times. "We're slipping back."
Research from Catalyst showed that 45% of S&P 500 employees are women "but just 37 percent of midlevel managers and 27 percent of senior managers are women."
There are numerous reasons for this, the Times explains, from women taking on more family responsibilities to bias against women when it comes to professional advancement, to women being more likely to get top jobs at already struggling companies. "Women are penalised more than men for negative performance and rewarded less for positive performance, other studies have found."
Despite the departures, there are some notable success stories from newcomers on Fortune's list. Ulta Beauty, led by Mary Dillon, made its debut this year as did Michelle Gass, the CEO of Kohl's and Joey Wat of Yum China.