Forging a new career path for female CEOs

Serving on the board of a public or private company is a fast-track route to becoming the chief executive, as more women rise up the ranks.
By: | October 31, 2019

As more companies seek greater diversity and inclusion, particularly in their C-suite, women have been caught in a Catch-22 situation. They couldn’t become CEO as they had no prior experience in the role elsewhere. But they couldn’t get this experience as companies didn’t want to take the risk of hiring them in such a leading role.

As a result, women make up just 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs in the U.S, the world’s biggest economy and one of the most progressive countries when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

But this should hopefully change as companies relax the rules on the prerequisites of becoming a CEO, according to research from the Harvard Business Review. Instead of needing prior CEO experience, more companies are accepting corporate board service as a proxy.

The study authors found it is far more common for female CEOs to have served on a public or private board than their male counterparts. And women are twice as likely as men to be promoted from a non-CEO title when recruited from the outside, they found.

“These findings not only illuminate a viable pathway to CEO for aspiring women (through board service) but also offer a suggestion for companies and boards that seek gender diversity in their CEO ascension plans: Assist high-potential executive women in securing corporate board seats,” the report advised.

A study published this week by Deloitte shows that while gender diversity is improving across businesses in Asia, it trails behind the global trend. In Asia, women hold 9.3% of board seats, a 1.5% increase from 2016, but still behind the global trend of 16.9% women in board seats.

“In Singapore, several women hold senior leadership roles, but far fewer serve on boards. This is why we continue to strive for improvements,” says Seah Gek Choo, Southeast Asia and Singapore leader, Deloitte Center for Corporate Governance.