Female CEOs make more gains in 2007

Female CEOs running major U.S. corporations grew from nine to a record 12 in 2007. While that is only 2.4% of the Fortune 500, one trend is developing that might suggest that women are going mainstream.

For the second year in a row, the stock performance of women-led companies mirrored that of companies run by men. Some advocates of women in leadership such as Judy Rosener of the University of California-Irvine Graduate School of Management predict women will eventually outperform men. But female CEOs falling along the bell curve makes sense to others, such as The Corporate Library editor Nell Minow.

As recently as 1996, there was just one woman running a Fortune 500 company. There have been six newcomers over the last two years, including two this year: Carol Meyrowitz at TJX Cos. tjxand Angela Braly, who became CEO of WellPoint, wlpthe 35th-largest company by revenue on the Fortune 500 and by far the largest company captained by a woman since Carly Fiorina was dismissed by Hewlett-Packard hpqin 2005.

Investments in TJX and WellPoint when Meyrowitz and Braly took over, and in the other 10 companies at the start of 2007, showed an average increase of 3.4% in 2007. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.5% in 2007. The performance of female CEOs in 2006 ended in a similar dead heat vs. the S&P after a dismal relative performance by women in 2004 and 2005. Those two years more than negated 2003, when stock in eight women-led Fortune 500 companies averaged a 52% gain vs. a 26% gain for the S&P 500. But over the entire length of the women's tenures as CEOs, their stocks on average have trounced the S&P for the same periods.