CVS Health (No. 24 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020), named Karen Lynch as its new CEO on Nov. 9, 2020, making her the 40th woman CEO on the Fortune 500 list.
Lynch, who is replacing current CEO Larry Merlo, will take over February 1, 2021. Lynch currently serves as the executive vice president of CVS Health and president of medical insurance company Aetna, which CVS acquired in 2018.
“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to succeed Larry and lead CVS Health on the next phase of our important journey to meet America’s health care needs,” Lynch said in a press release. “Never before has our purpose been more critical than during these unprecedented times. Together with the CVS Health leadership team and all of our colleagues, I will work to build on the strong foundation Larry has put in place to continue to make health care more accessible and affordable, driving better health outcomes for our consumers and communities. I am highly confident about our company’s future and look forward to further accelerating the value we bring to all of our stakeholders.”
Lynch played a “critical leadership role” in CVS integrating with Aetna, and led the redesign strategy of CVS stores. Lynch has been recognized as part of Business Insider’s Top 100 People Transforming Business and was named to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list from 2016–2020. Lynch also serves on the board of U.S. Bancorp and serves as the chair of its audit committee.
In 2019, Lynch spoke with Healthcare Channel about the gender diversity shortage in the healthcare industry. “People are talking about diversity in the C-suite. People are talking about the importance of moving women into key roles,” she said. “What I don’t think we’re getting right yet is developing the pipeline. I think it’s important for more and more boards and more and more senior executives to continue to evolve the definition of sponsorship and take risks on individuals so that they can propel to the C-suite.”
Lynch’s promotion puts her among the ranks of 39 other women who are Fortune 500 CEOs, including Kathy Warden at Northrop Grumman (No. 15 in 2020) and Michele Buck at The Hershey Company (No. 21 in 2020). Still, women only make up 8% of the Fortune 500 list. Less than 1% of CEOs on the list are Black. Only three are women of color: Gap Inc.’s Sonia Syngal, Advanced Micro Devices’ Lisa Su and Yum China’s Joey Wat. Progress has been slow since Katharine Graham became The Washington Post’s CEO in 1972, making her the first woman CEO at a Fortune 500 company.