Not a Single Black Woman Heads a Top Fortune 500 Company
Every year, Fortune magazine releases its Fortune 500 list, a ranking of the top 500 most profitable corporations in the U.S. In the 63 years Fortune has published the Fortune 500, the CEOs at the head of the 500 listed companies have traditionally skewed male. This year’s list is no exception, even if it contains a slight improvement in its gender balance: The 2017 rankings include the most number of female CEOs ever in the list’s history—a total of 32 women. This marks a 50 percent increase from last year’s list, in which there were only 21 female CEOs.
But while this year’s Fortune 500 makes history in gender diversity, it is in no way representative of a country where women make up about 47 percent of the workforce, according to the Department of Labor. More glaring still is its miniscule number of women of color—Geisha Williams from PG&E, the first Latina ever featured on the Fortune 500, and Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo are the only two on this year’s list. In addition, there are no black women among this year’s Fortune 500 CEOs.
The lack of gender and racial diversity on the Fortune 500 reflects larger systemic trends about the makeup of corporate America. For instance, while women of color make up one-third of the workforce, they comprise only 16.5 percent of employees for S&P 500 companies, according to the research organization Catalyst. There are even fewer women of color in senior positions: less than 10 percent of managers, 3.9 percent of executives and a scant 0.4 percent of CEOs. In looking at the overall makeup of women in S&P 500 companies, white women surpass women of color in every major employee category. The corporate boards in Fortune 500 companies are no more diverse, where the latter hold only 3.1 percent of seats.
The obstacles facing women of color in the workforce, particularly in corporations, are born of both gender and racial biases. Catalyst labels these roadblocks a “concrete ceiling,” a telling contrast to the “glass ceiling" typically encountered by white women.
“Not only is the ‘concrete ceiling’ reported to be more difficult to penetrate, women of color say they cannot see through it to glimpse the corner office,” Catalyst President Sheila Wellington said to Forbes in 2015.
For women of color, the “concrete ceiling” places the prospect of moving up the corporate ladder even further out of reach. A survey conducted by the Center for Women Policy Studies showed that 21 percent of women of color said they did not feel free to “be themselves at work.” In addition, one third of women of color thought they must “play down” their race to succeed.”
One of the facets contributing to this “concrete ceiling” is the fact that women of color are perceived and treated differently because of their race and gender, especially by their male counterparts. Past studies have shown that women of color who try using the same tactics as men to get ahead in the workplace often see diminished results in the form of less advancement and slower pay growth.
Not only do women of color face obstacles seeking promotions in the workplace, but they are consistently paid less than other white women and far less than white men. The oft-repeated line is that women, in general, make 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes. According to a 2014 report from the American Association of University Women that compared the earnings of women to men, black women made 64 cents, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women made 65 cents, indigenous women made 59 cents, and Hispanic women made 54 cents for every dollar white men earned in 2013. The only minority group to earn more than white women was Asian-American women, who still earned just 90 cents on white men's dollar.