Growing opposition to corporate diversity efforts may weigh on future promotions.
(Bloomberg) — The departure of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s chief executive officer will leave the S&P 500 with no Black female CEOs, underscoring the slow path of progress for diversity in America’s C-suite. And it could be a long wait for another Black woman in a top spot.
The drugstore chain said Friday that Rosalind Brewer departed by mutual agreement, and the move took effect Thursday. She’d taken the top job in March 2021 with a mandate to transform the company into a health-care provider, but her push into more lucrative parts of the industry gained little traction. The stock has lost half its value since her arrival.
Before Brewer arrived at Deerfield, Illinois-based Walgreens, there hadn’t been a Black woman at the helm of an S&P 500 company in the five years since Ursula Burns left Xerox Holdings Corp. in 2016. While Black women make up 8.3% of all employees, they are just 1.8% of executives, according to research from workplace equity platform Syndio.
Brewer’s departure comes as companies are increasingly facing challenges to their efforts to improve diversity among staff following the US Supreme Court ruling on the use of race in college admissions. The amount of time needed to invest in an executive to reach the top job, combined with the slow pace of improvement in diversity among corporate staff, means that it could be another long wait before a Black woman becomes CEO at firm listed in the benchmark stock index.
“It takes a long time to invest and nurture an executive,” said Lizandra Vega, managing director at recruiting firm Gaia Human Capital Consultants. “There’s such a small percentage to begin with of qualified women of color who could be at the helm of these top companies that it could very well be five years, it could be longer” before the S&P 500 has another Black female CEO.
The share of new Black directors at companies in S&P 500 underscores the point. They made up 15% of the newly appointed board members last year, a drop from 26% in 2022. That’s heading back towards the 11% mark of 2018, according to data from recruiter Spencer Stuart.
In a rare occurrence, Brewer will be replaced by another woman. Board member Ginger Graham has been appointed interim CEO, so the number of female chief executives in the S&P 500 will hold at 42.
The replacement of one woman by another in the CEO suite at an S&P 500 company has only happened a few times in recent years.
Debra Crew’s promotion to succeed Susan Cameron at the helm of Reynolds American Inc. in 2017 was the first female-to-female handover in the S&P 500 in five years, according to Spencer Stuart. Prior to that transition, Sheri McCoy succeeded Andrea Jung at Avon Products Inc. in 2012. Avon is no longer in the S&P 500. And Burns, who replaced Anne Mulcahy at Xerox in 2009, was replaced by a man when she retired.
For Black women, “progress is slow and often it takes this form of one step forward, one step back, especially for these really high-profile positions,” said Chris Martin, a research economist for Syndio. “The rates at which those opportunity gaps is closing is really frustrating.”
–With assistance from Kelsey Butler.
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