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By Nicole Serino and Yucheng Zheng


It is difficult to study gender differences at the CEO level because so few CEOs are women.

STEM education seems to pave the way for a successful professional career regardless of gender. The majority of CEOs globally, whether men or women, tend to have a STEM educational background.

In sectors such as energy, automotive and health care, women CEOs are more likely to have a STEM educational background compared to their peers who are men — suggesting a STEM background may be more important for women in these industries.

Companies in Asia-Pacific and Europe appear more likely to choose CEOs with STEM educations, irrespective of how STEM intense the companies may be.

Some background and our approach

Many researchers who study gender disparities in labor force participation and compensation have focused on the inequality caused by an education gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, with far more men than women receiving STEM educations. In a global economy that is increasingly digitized and technology-dependent, professionals with STEM skills will likely be in high demand and more adaptable as the nature of jobs evolves. UNESCO data released around the turn of this decade showed the lesser likelihood of women globally having majors or employment in STEM. For example, 3% of women students chose to major in information, communication and technology subjects, compared to 8% of men. In addition, the percentage of women in the broader STEM workforce globally stood at just 28%.

In order to understand the role a STEM education can play in professional success, we have focused on a group of particularly successful men and women — public company CEOs. Using proprietary S&P Global data, we analyzed the educational backgrounds of more than 2,500 public company CEOs to look for patterns related to gender and educational background. The study aimed to understand how women CEOs’ backgrounds compared to their peers who were men as well as to gauge what role a STEM education plays in achieving the highest levels of career success.

It is challenging to study gender differences at the CEO level for the simple reason that most CEOs are men. In our dataset, comprised of public companies located around the world, only 8% of CEOs were women (see chart 1). This dataset may actually overrepresent women CEOs. According to S&P Global's study "Women CEOs Model a Diverse Future," among the 8,000 companies in the S&P Global Broad Market Index, women only accounted for about 5% of CEOs in 2022.

Chart 1

Chart 2

To define the role of a STEM education in professional success, we needed to establish what constitutes a STEM education background. As detailed in our methodology section, we used US government definitions of STEM degrees but also included undergraduate and advanced degrees in economics, finance and accounting, which similarly focus on mathematical and analytical rigor more than on interpretation and context. This wider definition reflects a common-sense understanding of STEM fields.

Anticipating variation in CEO education based on the degree of STEM’s relevance for companies in different sectors, we referenced the percentage of STEM employment by sector, as sourced from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and categorized all companies in our dataset. These categories include high STEM, mid-high STEM, mid-low STEM and low STEM intensity. For example, software companies were defined as high STEM intensity, while apparel companies were defined as low STEM intensity.


Using these categories, we found that among both men and women, the majority of CEOs tend to have a STEM education. In addition, the percentage of men CEOs with STEM education tends to be higher than or close to that of women CEOs across companies of varying STEM intensity (see table 1).

Table 1

STEM Intensity

% Women

% Men













See methodology note for sample details. Sources: S&P Global Market Intelligence, S&P Global Ratings.

However, some sectors have more significant differences between the percentages of women or men in CEO roles. In sectors such as energy, automobiles and components, health care equipment and services, and financial services, we see a higher percentage of women CEOs with a STEM education compared to their counterparts who are men (see chart 3). For example, in the energy sector, 100% of women CEOs have a STEM education, compared to 75% of their peers who are men. This could suggest that in some sectors, it is not only important to have a STEM educational background, but may be disproportionately important for women.

Chart 3

By region, North America (US and Canada) and Asia-Pacific tend to have a higher percentage of CEOs with a STEM education (see chart 4). Zooming in on women, the two regions continue to lead, but Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East have either no women CEOs with a STEM education or no women CEOs at all.

Chart 4

At the global level, companies with higher STEM intensity tend to have a higher percentage of CEOs with a STEM education (see chart 5). North America follows a similar pattern, whereas the variability across STEM intensity categories is less pronounced in Asia-Pacific and Europe — in other words, companies in Asia-Pacific and Europe seem more likely to choose CEOs with STEM educations, irrespective of how STEM intense the companies may be.

Chart 5

Areas for Further Study

Areas for further study include whether a CEO's STEM educational background impacts a company's financial performance. For companies of higher STEM intensity, the topic of whether there is a noticeable difference in financial performance between companies with women or men CEOs also merits exploration. It’s also worth examining the dynamics of whether advanced degrees, international experience and/or an MBA help build career profiles.

Methodology Note

Data sample & source

We drew a sample of global companies from S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Capital IQ Pro database. The screening criteria included: Exchange not OTC; Market cap is >=$100 million; Average Daily Volume (YTD) is >=100,000; and Total Employees is not N/A. The data is as of Oct. 10, 2023. For this analysis, we focused on 2,507 companies for which CEO profiles (including gender and education details) are available, along with their sector and region classifications.

As part of our analysis, we make certain assumptions about gender identity based on honorifics. Even so, we recognize the limitations of our assumptions about the correspondence of certain honorifics to certain gender identities.

STEM education

To determine whether to define CEOs’ educational background as STEM or not, we referred to the 2023 STEM Designated Degree Program List of the US Department of Homeland Security and also considered undergraduate and advanced degrees in economics, finance and accounting. Then we conducted a keyword search in the education details of the CEOs’ profiles. The list of keywords includes: Architectural, Nanotechnology, Finance, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Biology, Photobiology, Pathology, Physiology, Anatomy, Virology, Parasitology, Mycology, Immunology, Infectious Disease, Global Health, Zoology, Economics, Entomology, Physiology, Ethology, Genetics, Endocrinology, Biomechanics, Pharmacology, Neuropharmacology, Toxicology, Biomathematics, Biometry, Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, Biotechnology, Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Ecology, Neuroscience, Neuroanatomy, Anatomy, Algebra, Topology and Foundations, Geospatial, Intelligence, Systems and Operations, Intelligence, Command Control and Information Operations, Undersea Warfare, Joint Command/Task Force (C3, C4I) Systems, Biopsychology, Anthrozoology, Geosciences, Geobiology, Geography, Mathematical, Mathematics, Data Science, Business Analytics, Data Visualization, Financial Analytics, Data Analytics, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Meteorology, Math, Paleontology, Geochemistry, Acoustics, Astronomy, Technician, Technologies, Quantitative, Psychology, Cyber, Archeology, Cytotechnology, Environmental Health, Accounting, Engineering, Banking, Medicine, Information Systems, Chemistry, Physics, Biopharmaceutics, Sciences, Science, Pharmaceutical, Operating Systems, Telecommunications, Technology, M.D., Aerodynamics, Computer, Pharmacy, Geology, Statistics, Architecture, Microbiology.

STEM intensity of sectors/companies

To gauge sectors’ STEM intensity, we referred to the percentage of STEM employment by industry, sourced from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. Based on the data distribution of 267 4-digit [North American Industry Classification System] industries, we categorized sectors into different STEM intensity categories: High — sectors for which STEM employment is greater than or equal to 16%; Mid-high — sectors for which STEM employment is between 10% and 16%; Mid-low — sectors for which STEM employment is between 5% and 10%; Low — sectors for which STEM employment is less than 5%. Subsequently, we assigned STEM intensity level to companies in the sample based on their corresponding NAICS industry. One caveat is that the STEM employment or intensity can vary by geography even for the same industry, and companies within the same industry may also have varying degrees of STEM intensity.



Gaurang Dholakia
Manager, Central Data, RASS,
S&P Global Market Intelligence

Daniel Kim
Director, Desktop Business Development,
S&P Global Market Intelligence

James Mantooth
Senior Editorial Manager,
Global Teams

Diana Mumford
Lead Editor

Lauren Capolupo
Head of Design

Nathan Hunt
Vice President,
Content and Digital Marketing
Co-Sponsor, S&P Global Diversity in the Markets Research Lab

Sheila Brathwaite
Marketing - Digital and Content
Co-Sponsor, S&P Global Diversity in the Markets Research Lab

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