The Data on Women Leaders
Most Americans say women are about equal to men when it comes to key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, yet women still make up a small share of top leadership jobs. Our 2015 report explored Americans’ views about women leaders, the barriers they face and prospects for the future. Below, we’ve charted the most up-to-date data on the share of women in top U.S. political and business roles over time.
There are 21 women serving in the U.S. Senate, a historic high. Of these, 16 are Democrats and five are Republicans. The first woman in the Senate was Rebecca Felton (D-Ga.), who was appointed to the seat as a political maneuver in 1922 and served just one day. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), who served in the Senate from 1978 to 1997, was the first female senator who was not initially elected to fill an unexpired congressional term.
There are 83 women serving as voting members of the House of Representatives in the 115th Congress, comprising 19.1% of House members and down slightly from 2015. Of these, 62 are Democrats and 21 are Republicans. In addition, five women serve as nonvoting delegates to Congress, representing American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Jeannette Rankin (R-Mont.) was the first woman to be elected to Congress, taking office in 1917. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the only woman to have served as speaker of the House. She was speaker from 2007 to 2011 and is now the House minority leader.
Women make up 22.4% of state senate seats and 25.7% of state house or assembly seats. Twelve women serve in one of the top leadership posts in state senates, and an additional six are speakers of state houses. The first women to serve in a state legislature were three Republicans elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1894. Vermont is the state with the largest share of female state legislators, at 40.0%. Wyoming has the smallest share, at 11.1%.
To date, 37 women have served as governors in 27 states. In 2017, two Democratic and two Republican women are serving as governors: Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), Kate Brown (D-Ore.), Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) and Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.). Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming, a Democrat, was the first female governor; she was elected in a special election in 1925 to succeed her deceased husband. Ella Grasso, a Connecticut Democrat, was the first female governor elected in her own right, in 1975.
The share of women serving in Cabinet-level positions peaked during President Bill Clinton’s second term, at 40.9%. It now stands at 21.1%. The first woman in a Cabinet-level position was Frances Perkins, appointed as secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. To date, seven women have served as labor secretary, more than in any other Cabinet or Cabinet-level position.
The share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies topped 5% for the first time in the first quarter of 2017, with 27 women heading major firms. General Motors, headed by Mary Barra, is the largest U.S. company with a female chief executive. Barra is the first female leader of an automaker in the world. The late 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 share of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled, from 9.6% in 1995 to 20.2% in 2016.
In 2011, 26.4% of university presidents were women, almost triple the share in 1986. Frances Elizabeth Willard became the first female college president in 1871, heading the Evanston College for Ladies in Illinois, which later merged with Northwestern University. In 1975, Lorene L. Rogers was the first woman to lead a major research university (University of Texas), and Judith Rodin in 1994 became the first permanent female president of an Ivy League institution (University of Pennsylvania).
Note: This interactive was originally published in January 2015. It was updated in March 2017 to reflect more recent data.