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Report: Number of Women CEOs Declines, and Misconduct Leads to Record CEO Firings

9 Dec, 2019


Despite growing calls for gender diversity, the number of women CEOs in the S&P 500 dropped by nearly 20 percent in 2018. At the same time, corporate America took decisive action against harassment: In the S&P 500, companies ousted five CEOs in 2018 due to #MeToo-related misconduct, representing more than 40 percent of all CEO dismissals.  
 
The findings come from a new report published by The Conference Board, supported by Heidrick & Struggles. The study examines CEO succession events announced in the S&P 500 in 2018, comparing historical data that The Conference Board has been collecting since 2001. Key findings from the new report include:
 
#1) CEO firings reach a historic high
Nonvoluntary departures climbed to 30.5 percent, up almost eight percentage points from 2017. 
#MeToo-related oustings accounted for nearly half (five) of the 12 dismissals, compared to just one CEO departure for personal misconduct in the S&P 500 from 2013-17.
 
“With the rise in CEO departures and as the CEO role continues to evolve, we’ve continued to see the need for boards to proactively plan for a range of scenarios and to make succession planning a high priority,” said Jeff Sanders, Vice Chairman and Co-Managing Partner of the CEO & Board Practice, Heidrick & Struggles.
 
#2) Number of women CEOs declines by nearly 20 percent  
At the end of 2018, women held 22 CEO positions in the S&P 500, down from a record 27 in 2017.
Last year, just one additional woman joined the CEO ranks: Kathy Warden of Northrop Grumman.
 
#3) Insiders claim almost all vacant positions
Insiders assumed nearly 90 percent of the open CEO positions in 2018 (52 out of 59 openings).
Of the 52 insiders who became CEOs, 20 of them had at least two decades of experience at the company. This reflects the value that boards place on continuity and in-depth organizational knowledge when selecting a leader.
 
#4) Long tenures continue
In 2018, departing CEOs had stayed in their roles for an average of 10 years. 
After hitting a low of nearly seven years following the Great Recession, CEO tenure has increased almost every year over the past decade. It reached the 10-year mark in three of the past four years.
 
“The rate of succession among older chief executives continues to climb, and there are still more CEOs aged 75 and over than there are CEOs under the age of 45,” said Matteo Tonello, Managing Director of ESG Research at The Conference Board’s ESG Center and the principal author of the report. “In the coming months and years, a softening economic environment may very well unfold. Boards should be prepared, given a slowdown would likely spur an acceleration of CEO retirements and tightening of the market for top talent.”
 
“A buoyant market environment and quality leadership development programs are likely key contributing factors to the lengthening of CEO tenure and the overwhelming elevation of insiders to the CEO position,” said Jason Schloetzer, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a co-author of the report.
 
#5) Low turnover for retail and wholesale CEOs
In past years, retail and wholesale CEOs often suffered the highest rate of turnover. But in 2018, the retail and wholesale sector experienced a succession rate of just seven percent, compared to 12 percent across the whole S&P 500.  
This suggests the reported “retail apocalypse” may have run its course or, at the very least, slowed down substantially.
 
#6) High dismissal rates for consumer products and transportation CEOs
The transportation industry and consumer products sector dismissed CEOs at the highest rates: nonvoluntary departures were 40 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively.
 
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