In recent years, there have been a fair number of women making it big in corporate America. Mary Barra is CEO of General Motors, the first woman in history to take the reins of a major automaker. Marillyn Hewson is CEO of Lockheed Martin. And Carly Fiorina served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard before she ran for U.S. president. Yet things aren't actually quite as rosy as they may seem.
If you look at the companies in the S&P 500, as of February 2016 only 4 percent (20 companies) were led by women. (The S&P 500 targets the 500 biggest publicly traded companies, as reported by Standard & Poor's.) That wouldn't necessarily be so dire, experts say, if there were plenty of experienced women at these corporations in line to become CEOs in the near future. But there aren't — only 14 percent of senior positions (like chief financial officer) are held by women [sources: Egan, Catalyst].
Female executives often lack the support of high-ranking mentors and sponsors who can help shepherd them into the very top office. In addition, corporate America tends to cull its CEOs from those with profit-and-loss experience, but far more men than women have those jobs. Finally, taking a break to have kids, or being the main child-minder in your home, often has a detrimental effect on corporate careers. Ironically, studies show it's the companies with women sprinkled throughout their executive tiers that perform the best financially [source: Egan].