These last couple of weeks have been emotional ones for all Americans as we’ve watched a contentious Supreme Court nomination process play out live on national television. And while all eyes are rightly on that process, something else happened this week that deserves the attention of feminists everywhere.
On Tuesday Indra Nooyi — a legendary, innovative businesswoman — stepped down as CEO of PepsiCo, and did so with a parting gift to her company of an earnings report that exceeded expectations. But another superstar woman executive won’t be replacing her. The message is clear: major companies still think of women leaders as a “nice-to-have,” not a “must-have.”
I’ve been running companies since I was 29 years old. As CEO of a multinational corporation focused on nutritional and women’s beauty products, I gave my human resources team a few rules. If qualified women applied for a job but one of them didn’t get it, I needed to be told why. We had to interview just as many women as men for every position. And when spots on the upper management team became available, I personally encouraged women to throw their hats in the ring. Different visions bring new ideas to the table and spark innovation. Even before the data supported it, that’s how I ran my businesses.
My strategy was hands-on, but it got results. The head of our company’s largest market, Mexico, was a woman. We had women leading our operations in countries across South America. Our general manager, who ran manufacturing, was also a woman. The company thrived in terms of productivity.
When I think of role models for women in business, Nooyi is at the top. She didn’t just run PepsiCo, she transformed it. After taking over in 2006, she recognized consumers were shifting to more nutritious eating habits and acted fast. She diversified the company’s portfolio, pivoting from a long-time reliance on sugary soda to investing in healthier products, like baked chips, hummus, and water.
Despite her success, I’m not surprised that Nooyi’s successor isn’t a woman. In fact, if you look at the numbers, it would have been shocking if it was a woman. Only three women CEOs at publicly traded companies have ever been succeeded by another woman, according to an analysis by the consulting and research firm Catalyst.
Let that sink in. Only three times in the long history of American markets has a woman leader passed the torch to another woman leader.
There are simply not that many major companies with women in leadership positions. For example, in my native Mexico, only 23 percent of managers in C-level positions are women. And in Silicon Valley, a supposedly forward-looking industry, only 11 percent of executive positions are held by women.
The numbers are getting worse, not better. In 2016, 27 companies in the S&P 500 were led by women. After Nooyi steps down, it will be just 24. You can see a list here. The decline has been more dramatic for Fortune 500 companies. Last year, 32 were led by women, an all-time high. Soon, it will be 23. That’s more than a 25 percent decline in just one year.
The sad truth is that even with the advances women have made in business, corporate boards still don’t consider women leadership a top priority. They couldn’t be more misguided — and it’s hurting their bottom lines. They need to recognize the evidence that shows companies that do better for women are more productive and more profitable overall.
When women are in leadership positions, businesses grow faster and make more money. According to a McKinsey report published this year, companies in the top quartile for executive team gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to reach better-than-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. This applies for startups, too. New analysis from Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge, found that investments in women-founded businesses return more per dollar invested than male-founded startups.
And it’s not just about leadership. Companies benefit when more women are working throughout the organization. That’s not just a theory, it’s fact. According to McKinsey, gender-diverse firms are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors.
This is true at the society-level, too. A recent study showed that for every 10 percent increase in women’s labor participation rate, wages rise by 5 percent for everyone. Imagine what would happen if more women joined the workforce. Just bringing women into the labor force at an equal level with men would add as much as $28 trillion to annual global domestic product by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.
Understanding this lesson isn’t hard. It just requires what any good business leader does, looking at the numbers. When more women are leading, companies do better. When more women are working, companies do better. And when companies do better, we all do better.
Even though Indra Nooyi won’t be succeeded by a woman, I hope the next woman leader of an S&P 500 or Fortune 500 company will. There’s too much room for growth and innovation to let the opportunity go to waste. Rest assured, the company to make history with the fourth woman-to-woman CEO handoff will reap the rewards.