Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Fortune 500 women CEOs hit a milestone

November 12, 2012: 7:57 AM ET

With Friday's news that Marillyn Hewson will take the helm at Lockheed Martin (LMT), women in corporate America are about to hit a milestone. On January 1, there will be 21 female Fortune 500 CEOs.

That's a record, and one more than the U.S. Senate, which increased its female representation by two, to a record 20 female Senators, in last week's elections.

Granted, it's not quite time to pop the champagne. After all, 21 female CEOs represent a paltry 4.2% of Fortune 500 chiefs. Nonetheless, it is significant as well as surprising that the women rising to the top these days are different from women leaders of the past, who tended to make it in industries like retail, beauty and consumer packaged-goods.

At the end of this year, Phebe Novakovic is due to take charge of another giant defense contractor, General Dynamics (GD).  Meanwhile, America's two largest tech companies appointed female chief executives in the past year or so: Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Ginni Rometty at IBM (IBM). Another of this year's high-profile CEO placements: Marissa Mayer at Yahoo (YHOO).

And leading Fortune 500 wannabes—that is, companies ranked 501 to 1000 on Fortune's annual list of America's largest companies—are 21 more women. These female chiefs are leading multibillion businesses in oil, energy, and steel—fields that are obviously not just for the boys anymore.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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