Women make up 51% of CMOs among leading U.S. advertisers: study

For the first time since it began tracking gender and ethnic diversity, women make up more than half of the CMOs among leading advertisers in Spencer Stuart’s 18th annual CMO Tenure Study. The study is based on the tenures of CMOs with the top 100 most advertised U.S. brands.

According to the study, 51% of the CMOs among the country’s top 100 advertisers are women, which Spencer Stuart attributes to a “significant” increase in the number of newly appointed CMOs who are women. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of first-time CMOs in 2021 were women, up from 52% just one year earlier.

Women CMOs in advertising’s top 100. Source: Spencer Stuart.

However, the study notes that ethnic and racial diversity continues to lag, with just 15% of CMOs coming from a traditionally underrepresented racial or ethnic group, up slightly from 13% in 2020.

“This is surprising given the increased demand we are seeing from clients for leaders from diverse backgrounds and their commitment to making real progress in this area,” Spencer Stuart concluded.

Once again, however, new entrants in the role provide some encouraging news, with 18% of CMOs new to the role (as opposed to all CMOs) coming from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, up from 11% in 2020.

One area that hasn’t seen notable change is the average length of the typical CMO tenure. At 40 months, it was tied with last year as the shortest length of time for a CMO in more than a decade.

The median tenure of 28 months, meanwhile, inched closer to the pre-pandemic level of 30 months. “We expect the continued turnover has been the result of companies attempting to improve their overall diversity, and has been compounded by the ongoing pandemic, which has put pressure on many sectors,” said Spencer Stuart.

However, Spencer Stuart also called the gap between CMO and CEO tenure “disconcerting,” with the latter tending to stay in their role twice as long (an average of 85 months). It predicted that the new class of CMOs will enjoy longer tenures in the future, but warned that there will likely be “continued, intense pressure” to drive growth and meet changing transformation demands.

Finally, the study also noted an increase in the number of CMOs being hired from outside the company rather than promoted within—45%, up from 37% in 2020—which it said is often a sign that CEOs are seeking “fresh and innovative” thinking, reasoning that the old way of doing things is no longer enough. Nearly one-third (30%) of CMOs new to the role were hired externally, almost double the 16% in 2020.

Chris Powell