Making Strides: More Than Half of Chief Execs Say They’re More Gender Inclusive in 2021

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Work ethic, ability to build relationships and passion are key drivers to becoming a business leader according to the results of survey data released recently by YPO at the HeForShe Summit. The findings also revealed groundbreaking insights about the journey women and men take to the corner office.

Conducted March 10 to March 22, 2021, with 2,079 YPO member chief executives from 106 countries responding, the survey provides needed research on what gender-specific roadblocks leaders face in their path toward becoming a chief executive and gleans actionable insights on how to remove them for future generations of leaders. YPO member respondents run businesses that have annual revenues ranging from $10 million to more than $1 billion in over 30 industries - from manufacturing, health care, technology, and retail to real estate.

Key survey learnings include:

• About half of male respondents (51%) knew early in their careers they wanted to become chief executives, compared to one-third of female respondents.

• Per survey respondents, who achieved chief executive level by age 45 to qualify for YPO membership, the female leadership journey takes, on average, two years longer (men on average at 33.6 years compared to women on average at 35.4 years). • The gender of those at the helm clearly matters in the effort to further gender equality overall in business. Women-led businesses report more female diversity on their boards, in senior management and in their organizations.

Female chief executives reported that 43% of their senior management is female versus 26% at male-run businesses. At the organization level, 48% of the workforce is female at women-led companies; 37% of the workforce is female at male-run companies.

• Female chief executives are more likely to face “balancing respect with likability” (30%) and “overcoming others’ preconceptions about me” (20%) than their male counterparts.” In contrast, only 9% of male chief executives have had to overcome preconceptions.

• When asked about “cultural expectations related to gender,” a mere 2% of male business leaders responded that they faced this obstacle compared to almost half (47%) of female business leader respondents.

• Seventy-three percent of female respondents compared to 42% of male respondents took leave or sacrificed career advancement because of family needs. 60% of female chief executives have taken maternity leave, while only 13% of male chief executives have taken paternity leave.

• The biggest challenges all global leaders currently face are “navigating and communicating constant change” (50%), “staying ahead of the competition” (47%) and “competing priorities” (43%).

“Balancing work/life responsibilities” was another major challenge for both male (42%) and female (45%) respondents.

YPO member respondents provided several key insights on how all business leaders can create a more equitable path forward including:

• Conduct bias training to curb gender bias in all levels of hiring, mentoring, advancement, and job assignments

• Make recruiting women a priority

• Support flexible work options. 84% of respondents said they offer flexible work options, and one quarter noted it has made the most significant impact in creating a culture of gender inclusivity at their companies.

The Global Chief Executive Gender Equality Survey, conducted by YPO in partnership with the Financial Times and the United Nation’s HeForShe initiative, was fielded to YPO members from March 15 to March 21, 2021, via an online questionnaire. A total of 2,079 YPO members, whose ages range from 24 to 92, responded to the survey. The members in this sample, 23% of whom were women, are representative of the larger YPO population and come from 106 different countries. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.09 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Created by U.N. Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality provides a systematic approach and targeted platform where a global audience can engage and become change agents for the achievement of gender equality in our lifetime. HeForShe invites people around the world to stand together as equal partners to craft a shared vision of a gender-equal world and implement specific, locally relevant solutions for the good of all of humanity. For more information, visit

YPO is the global leadership community of more than 30,000 chief executives in 142 countries who are connected by the shared belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of its members has achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organizations contributing $9 trillion in annual revenue. YPO members inspire and support each other through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust. Visit to learn more.