It's easy to get depressed about the state of the world for women. After all, the last year has kind of sucked: the U.S. elected a misogynistic president, reports of rampant sexism in Silicon Valley and at the nation's top law firms, and a continued lack of quality federal benefits that would help women advance in the workplace (see affordable childcare and paid family leave). But there are bright spots to be found, and one of the brightest is Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women List.
Mary Barra, CEO of GM, took the top spot, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg rounded out the top five. This year the list includes 26 CEOs, up from last year. We've watched the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies rise and fall over the last few years. It's never a huge shift (and it's frustrating that it's still just 5.8%), but the number has grown by nine women since 2016 and that feels notable.
Fortune added seven new faces this year, including Geisha Williams, CEO of PG&E and the first Latina Fortune 500 CEO. The list lost a few favourites, though: Ursula Burns, the first Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, retired from Xerox in January, and Rosalind Brewer resigned from Walmart's Sam's Club earlier this year. Their departures mean there are only three women of colour of the list of 50. Fortunately, Brewer was included on the "ones to watch" list, as she's starting as COO of Starbucks in October.
It's worth noting in Clifton Leaf's editor's letter, he wrote about how the magazine struggled to find powerful women when the list first launched in 1998. Back then, there were only two female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. And the most powerful woman, former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, was (just) a division president.
We still have a long way to go until there are 250 (or 500!) women leading our nation's biggest businesses, but for today, let's not wring our hands about the progress we still have to make and instead focus on our tremendous accomplishments. We've got 50 incredible examples of women shattering glass ceilings and helping a younger generation of women see how much you can accomplish when you dream big (and, as Burns once said, work hard, have help from others, and the courage to lean in).