Corporate boardrooms and most upper-level executive positions have long been a boys club, and in large part they still are. Women have made up only a few percentage points worth of CEOs in the nation's largest companies and, although that is still true, the trend appears to be going the way of the woman.

A new report highlights the fact that of all the Fortune 500 companies, there are now 20 female CEOs heading up these companies. That's an "impressive" 4%. Seem a little low? Maybe, but Forbes points out that not only is it a record number of women heading up these companies, 11 of the 20 were appointed in 2011 and 2012. Is this a trend that is likely to continue?

The Notables
IBM, broke its 100-year tradition of male CEOs when it hired Ginni Rometty as its CEO. Rometty started at IBM in 1981, and was appointed to a series of leadership positions while working her way up through the ranks of IBM. In 2012, she was named Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.

In 2012, Yahoo! chose Marissa Mayer for its top spot. Mayer came to Yahoo! from Google where she was employee #20 and the company's most prominent female executive. Since her hiring, investors have supported Mayer's vision for Yahoo!. The stock has seen a solid uptrend since her hiring.

Hewlett Packard hired Meg Whitman just over a year ago. Whitman was named HP's CEO in September 2011. Prior to that she served as the CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2008, and held executive level positions with Hasbro Inc., FTD Inc. and The Walt Disney Company.

Why Now?
Ask board members (most of them male, by the way) and they will tell you that they hired the best person for the job regardless of gender. JPMorgan Chase CEO, James Dimon, when asked about the hiring of newlyappointed female chief financial officer Marianne Lake, said that gender "wasn't a consideration at all - we were simply looking for the best person for the job."

One study found that female executives were good for business. A study by Dow Jones found that startups with five or more females in executive positions only failed 39% of the time, as opposed to an average of 75% for the typical startup. The report also found that the fewer females that were represented, the more likely the startup was to fail.

In another study, Catalyst, a nonprofit advocating for more women in business, found that from 2004 to 2008, Fortune 500 companies with the largest percentage of female board directors outperformed those with the least by 16% when measured by return on sales and 26% when measured by return on invested capital.

Will the Trend Continue?
This year, the EU proposed a law aiming for the goal that 40% of non-executive directors on corporate boards at public European companies be female.

Although in the United States this issue has taken a back seat to other matters, such as the fiscal cliff, it will most likely be revisited once the economy rebounds. In the wake of a report showing women make only 78 cents for every one dollar made by a man, it's likely that women's equality in the workplace will be a top issue in years to come, especially when considering the attention it received on the presidential campaign trail.

The Bottom Line
2012 was a giant leap forward for women in the workplace, as large companies hired a record number of female CEOs. While those championing gender equality have cause for celebration, many argue that the work is far from over. Women are still underrepresented in boardrooms and underpaid in most sectors of the workforce. That, according to activists, must change.

Related Articles
  1. Personal Finance

    Salary Secrets: What Is Considered a Big Raise?

    A 4% or 5% annual jump in pay may not sound huge, but in today’s environment, it actually means you’re faring better than most.
  2. Personal Finance

    How to Job Search While You're Still Employed

    The best time to look for a new job is when you already have one.
  3. Savings

    Best Places to Exchange Currency in Chicago

    Whether you're leaving the Windy City or arriving with a stack of foreign cash, these are your best bets for currency exchange.
  4. Insurance

    Umbrella Insurance: You May Need It, Too

    If you have assets to protect – or just run a business from home – you could be unpleasantly surprised at how much you need umbrella insurance.
  5. Retirement

    The World's Most Luxurious Retirement Destinations

    If money is no object (or if you would just like to dream), these five spots are the crème de la crème.
  6. Personal Finance

    6 Tips for Investing in Antiques

    Historically, antiques are highly appreciating assets, but be prepared for a long-term investment.
  7. Professionals

    The Rich Get Richer: Global Wealth is Rising

    Global wealth is rising and expected to continue. Advisors should know that the wealthy value fee transparency, performance.
  8. Investing

    4 Things Millennials Can't Live Without

    Millennial investors are different from those in previous generations. Here are four Gen Y needs which are instrumental to understanding them.
  9. Credit & Loans

    Travel Tips: Avoid Exchange Rate Headaches

    How to avoid the most common issues and hassles raised by exchange rates while traveling abroad.
  10. Investing

    Top Tips for Picking a Wealth Management Firm

    The advisor managing your assets has the potential to change your retirement fate. Here are some tips to get you started on finding the right one.
  1. Securities-Based Lending

    The practice of making loans using securities as collateral. ...
  2. Warren Buffett

    Known as "the Oracle of Omaha", Buffett is Chairman of Berkshire ...
  3. Steve Cohen

    A trading magnate also referred to as the Hedge Fund King and ...
  4. David Tepper

    A legendary investor who specializes in distressed debt and manages ...
  5. David Einhorn

    Known for his short selling strategy, activist investor David ...
  6. Lean Enterprise

    A production and management philosophy that considers any part ...
  1. Under what circumstances would I benefit from a high net worth insurance policy?

    A high-net-worth insurance policy is specifically tailored to suit the needs of high-net-worth individuals. It is specifically ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. In which countries do high-income earners pay the most tax?

    It is difficult to identify those countries with the highest tax burdens on high net worth individuals. The most commonly ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. In which US cities do high-income earners pay the most tax?

    There are several different ways that cities tax high-net-worth (HNWIs) individuals. The most direct and obvious method is ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How can premium financing of life insurance help high net worth individuals (HNWI)?

    Premium financing of life insurance can help high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) by maximizing use of capital, avoiding lost ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How can I protect my business from my spouse during a high net worth divorce?

    For high net worth individuals (HNWIs), deciding to end a marriage through divorce brings special circumstances to consider. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Under what circumstances would I require private wealth management?

    An investor who is a high-net-worth individual (HNWI) may require private wealth management services. HNWIs have unique financial ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!