When Fortune magazine announced its annual Fortune 500 list ranking the 500 largest United States corporations by total revenue last week, there were a couple of notable and historic inclusions. The list contained more female CEOs — particularly Black female CEOs — than ever before.
Taylor Dunn of ABC News reported that “this year’s Fortune 500 list was a record-breaking affair for female CEOs, with 41 woman-run companies making the cut.”
Dunn noted that “the annual list, which ranks America’s largest companies, also made history as two African American female CEOs made the list for the first time — Rosalind Brewer of Walgreens Boots Alliance and Thasunda Brown Duckett of TIAA.”
As the number 4 company on the Fortune 500 list overall, CVS Health’s Karen Lynch also became the highest-ever ranked female CEO.
In an interview with ABC News, Duckett said, “it does not escape me that I am standing on the shoulders of giants, including the cooks and janitors and others who look like me and were first to enter corporate America. They created the space for me to have this opportunity. My hope is that corporate America realizes that talent is created equally but opportunity is not, and we all acknowledge that there’s still more work to be done.”
According to Dunn, “prior to Brewer and Duckett, the only other African American woman to run a Fortune 500 company, on a permanent basis, was Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, who stepped down in 2017. Burns, now the chairwoman of VEON and a member of Uber’s board of directors, became a trailblazer throughout her career as the first African American woman to run an S&P 500 company.”
In a 2017 interview on the podcast No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis, Burns reiterated her long-standing belief that expansion of STEM education is one of the primary keys to getting more women into corporate leadership roles, saying, “you can’t run the company until you get some broader set of experiences.”
Expanding on that idea, she also said it was her own experience earning an engineering degree that ultimately helped her prepare for her groundbreaking role as Xerox CEO.
“Part of what I think happens with good diversity, particularly gender diversity [is that] it pulls on the comfort levels of both sides to actually come toward the middle and to actually be significantly more inclusive — to be a little bit more understanding, to design better solutions,” Burns said.
Building off Burns’ legacy, Dunn reported that Lynch broke the previous Fortune 500 record for highest-ranking business ever run by a woman; before CVS Health’s rank in 2021, the record was held by General Motors CEO Mary Barra, when the company ranked No. 16 in 2014.
A regular and frequent speaker with DiversityInc at our various events over the years, Lynch told ABC that her ongoing focus as CEO “continues to be on making health care more affordable and accessible, and helping Americans prevail over the pandemic.” Lynch also said, “helping to advance women in business along the way is an honor.”
One more important fact about the list to point out: while it does show diversity and inclusion are improving and increasing at America’s largest corporations, it also reveals that there is still much work to be done before we achieve racial and gender equity and parity in the workplace. As Dunn herself pointed out, “while the number of female-led businesses has grown, women still only make up 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and women of color run even fewer, just 1.2%.”