Light Wave


Why aren’t more women being hired for roles as retail CEOs?

By Jake Beardslee · January 26, 2024

In brief…

  • Retail saw record CEO turnover in 2023, with big increases over 2022.
  • 57% of new retail CEOs came from within, while 43% came from outside the industry.
  • Just 11% of new retail CEOs in 2023 were women, despite women driving most spending.
  • Average tenure for outgoing male retail CEOs was nearly double that of women, at 6.7 years vs 3.7.
  • Experts cite "glass cliff" and bias as factors in shorter tenures for women.
Retail experienced unprecedented CEO turnover in 2023, with women significantly underrepresented among new chief executives.

Last year saw a dramatic spike in CEO turnover, especially in the retail sector, according to new data from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The firm tracked 1,914 CEO departures in 2023 across public and private companies in the U.S., a 55% increase over 2022 and the highest number since the firm began recording this data in 2002.

Andy Challenger, Senior VP at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told CNBC News that “Covid rocked retail in a really significant way.” He explained that “Boards didn’t want to make changes, CEOs themselves didn’t want to leave. And now as that storm has passed, I think there’s been this pent-up demand for people to leave.” The pandemic accelerated changes in consumer behavior, forcing company boards to seek new strategies and leaders.

The retail industry saw 52 CEO departures last year, the second-highest on record and more than double the 21 in 2022. Korn Ferry’s separate analysis found 57% of new retail CEOs in 2023 were internal hires, while 43% came from outside retail, often consumer goods or hospitality.

According to Korn Ferry, just 11% of new retail CEOs in 2023 were women, despite women making most retail purchases. Thirteen female retail CEOs left last year, but only five took over top retail jobs. The average tenure for exiting male retail CEOs was 6.7 years, versus just 3.7 for women. Experts cite the “glass cliff” phenomenon, where women enter leadership roles under difficult circumstances, as well as unconscious bias, as factors in the shorter average tenure. Succession planning often overlooks grooming women for the top job.