Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.

American women have made significant progress integrating into the senior ranks of business and government with one notable exception, becoming a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Harvard reports 43 percent of their Business School’s Class of 2018 are women1 and the Pew Institute reports significant gains in executive level positions, but being a CEO remains elusive.

Female participation rate2 1995 2019
Fortune 500 CEO (1)
Fortune 500 Board
22% (2017)

(1)Katherine Graham, of The Washington Post Co., was the first female CEO to make the Fortune 500 list, in 1972. As recently as 1995, there were no female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list.

The good news is data shows the general population’s growing acceptance of women in governmental leadership roles, and current trends even suggest parity within our lifetime. The bad news is women are not appointed CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. 

People become CEOs in two ways: 1) they start the company or 2) they’re appointed by the Board, and logic says a more diverse board appoints more diverse management. Over the past five years women directors grew by 33%. Unfortunately, the increased female representation has not moved the needle on CEO diversity. Furthermore PwC’s 2019 Annual Corporate Directors Survey3 indicates support for board diversity is fading and directors – including a majority of women – reject diversity mandates. None of this bodes well for future female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

In 2017 there were 11.6 million U.S. women owned businesses, employing 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in revenue4. Over the last 20 years the number of women- owned businesses increased by 114%, compared to a 44% increase in overall growth. These statistics are amazing given the headwinds women and entrepreneurs in general face, while operating a business in the U.S.

Below are some examples of companies founded or co-founded by innovative woman which includes, one of my personal favorites, Veuve Clicquot.

Madame Clicquot
Veuve Clicquot
Madame Clicquot took over the company from her deceased husband and is credited with 1) creating the first known vintage champagne (1810) 2) inventing the riddling table process to clarify champagne (1816); and 3) In 1818, invented the first known blended rosé champagne which is still used today by the majority of champagne producers5
Sandra Lerner
Co-founded with her husband in 1984.
Esther Lavelle Snyder
In-N-Out Burger
Founded in 1984 and is currently owned by her only grandchild who is one of America's youngest female billionaires.
Julia Hartz
E-commerce platform to find, create and purchase tickets for events.
Sara Blakely
Sara was a former stand-up comedian who started Spanx in 2000 and has grown the company to over 12,000 employees and valued at more than $1 billion.
Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki
Founded in 2006 to provide genetic testing and interpretation to individual consumers.

There are a million more examples across all industries that show women have the drive and creative genius to found successful companies, so one can only wonder why the CEO position remains so elusive.


There is a growing acceptance of women in leadership roles, with the notable exception of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. However, there are millions of women-owned business with sales representing almost 10% of the U.S. GDP and which are forming at twice the rate of the national average. So, with continuing support of female enterprises, one day directors of the largest companies will recognize the disruptive innovation that women can bring to the CEO position, just like the innovation Madame Clicquot brought to the world of champagne.


The above article is intended to raise awareness that the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) apply locally as much as globally and is not intended to present a solution. Solutions for SDGs are as diverse as the groups impacted, so I leave it to the reader to find their own SDG solution. Whether it’s activism, volunteering or investing, any contribution will make an impact.

For more information on this topic or impact investing contact ESGA at