Nine-in-ten publicly listed companies (still) led by male CEO

03 January 2023 4 min. read

In spite of huge hype surrounding diversity drives in boardrooms, very few women manage to break through the fabled ‘CEO glass ceiling’ – more than nine-in-ten CEOs are men, according to a new global study.

Researchers from human capital consultancy Heidrick & Struggles have examined the boardroom setup of some of the largest listed companies in the world. The sample included publicly listed firms from the Netherlands (AEX), Belgium (BEL20), the United Kingdom (FTSE 100), and the United States (Fortune 100).

A growing number of companies are stating publicly that they are looking to close their gender pay gap – and the most popularly cited way of doing that is removing biases and barriers preventing women from taking up better-paid, senior roles. But by Heidrick & Struggles’ estimations, the road ahead is still very long.

Diversiteitsstatistieken over CEO’s

The research found that the average CEO is a 57-year-old man, appointed at the age of 50. It also appears that, on average, a CEO holds office for a period of seven years – an increase from previous estimations of around five years – meaning there is even less chance for such an individual to be replaced in the hot-seat by someone of another demographic.

This may be reinforced by a wider issue – that women are unable to get into the C-suite in the first place. Previous Heidrick & Struggles reports have found that the vast majority of current CEOs (74%) have already gained experience in the C-suite before taking office, for example as Chief Operations Officer (22%) or Chief Financial Officer (17%).

The lack of experience women are able to obtain in these roles may well feed into their being discounted for CEO roles – providing grounds for those appointing CEOs to justify their biases.

Wat deden CEO’s voordat ze CEO werden?

Regional numbers

When it came to companies appointing women as CEOs, the largest numbers were based in the Nordics region – in particular, Norway, where 20% of listed firms have a woman at the head of the company. Singapore hosted 13% of companies, and the US was on 12% – ahead of the global average of 7%.

Surprisingly meanwhile, many countries in West Europe struggled to keep pace with this average – while the Netherlands narrowly cleared it on 8%, Belgium on 5% and Germany on 4% lagged behind by some distance.

None of these figures, ahead of the average or otherwise, are especially impressive though – and globally it means 93% of listed companies still have male CEOs, making parity a very distant prospect without regulatory intervention. And while companies might protest about the imposition of rules from government on diversity, there is precedent for them working much more dramatically than self-regulation.

France and Italy both have legislation mandating companies of a certain size to have a minimum number of women at board level – and while the rest of Europe remains slow to welcome women onto boards, this means both countries are currently approaching 50% representation.

Diversiteit naar regio

However, there are some areas where diversity is improving in listed companies, according to Heidrick & Struggles. Around 26% of current CEOs were not born in the country where the company they lead is located. That is not necessarily a guaranteed way to ensure professionals from beyond the usual demographics – and the report makes no mention of ethnicity or religious background – so many of these CEOs could still be white men older than 50.

But it does at least show some tolerance on the part of listed companies that they are willing to give their top jobs to someone from ‘outside’ their usual circles.

“Substantial progress is being made in corporate diversity equity and inclusion efforts, but the fact remains that diversity advances among CEOs is relatively unchanged,” said Lyndon Taylor, a Managing Partner at Heidrick & Struggles.

“And while the advancements women and other diverse executives have made toward the CEO role are gaining momentum, we still aren’t seeing that momentum pivot to notable increases in CEO appointments for these underrepresented groups.”