Women’s representation in senior level positions at U.S. companies faces an “alarming turning point,” with steady growth showing signs of fatigue for the first time in two decades, according to a new report. 

Women accounted for 11.8% of the approximately 15,000 C-suite roles in the S&P Global Total Market Index in 2023, researchers at the data provider said, down from 12.2% the previous year. That suggests women ceded about 55-60 positions with ‘chief’ in the title to men last year.

Though the absolute decline may seem small, it’s significant considering women’s representation in top roles had been increasing for years, from 6.5% in 2005. Across a broader swath of senior positions, numbers nearly tripled in that time period to 22.3% in 2023.

The sudden loss of representation in the C-suite is “particularly disappointing,” said Sarah Cottle, head of data and insights at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “There’s not just a loss in momentum but a loss in seats.”

The report’s authors don’t say why the growth in female representation is stalling, but they noted a “waning focus on diversity initiatives,” with mentions of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ becoming rarer on earnings calls. Since last year, companies have been reassessing diversity, equity and inclusion programs—including those meant to elevate women in leadership roles—as they grapple with legal uncertainties and political backlash from conservative activists who are trying to dismantle diversity initiatives.

S&P researchers also suggested that slowing gains for female representation in the C-suite date back several years. Other studies have shown many senior-level women bowed out of leadership roles after the pandemic, citing stress and exhaustion as employers adopted return-to-work mandates. Many women quit for better opportunities where they were afforded more flexibility and a more inclusive workplace, according to a 2022 survey that McKinsey & Co. conducted for women’s advocacy group LeanIn.Org. 

S&P’s latest data “significantly altered” projections for when women will achieve parity with men in leadership roles, the researchers wrote, with models suggesting that once-exponential growth in women’s representation will likely slow. They are now forecasting gender parity in the C-suite between 2055-2072—five to seven years later than what they predicted using 2022 figures.

“Women’s interests are better served in the community by companies that employ women at the top,” S&P’s Cottle said. “I hope this is an anomaly.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.