Sophie Dutordoir (SNCB) emerged as the most prominently featured female CEO in 2023, closely trailed by Ilham Kadri (formerly of Solvay, now with Syensqo) and Ann Schoubs (De Lijn). These are the findings of a media analysis conducted by FINN, revealing the female CEOs and board members who get the highest media mentions in Belgium over the past year.
CEOs in the media: CEOs of public companies score high
What stands out in the top five? Two of the five CEOs are active in public transport – a topic that was sensibly ‘hot’ last year, marked by new transport plans, a challenging post-Covid period and a major societal debate. Overall, we can state that companies with public shareholders are well represented in the top 10.
CEO media coverage: the more you are in the media, the more you will get in the media
In addition, we see an effect that was evident in previous CEO rankings: a thick head with a long tail. A clear top 4 stands out head and shoulders above the rest. This is a clear illustration of what we sometimes call the Matthew effect: the media tend to highlight the same people or companies over and over again.
CEO communication: the CEO as a role model
An ‘established order’ of female CEOs is gradually starting to emerge. CEOs and board members like Françoise Chombar (Melexis), Annick Van Overstraeten (Le Pain Quotidien), Michèle Sioen (Sioen Industries) have been known to the media for years as a go-to person, and continue to do very well in the rankings. This way, they serve as an important role model. They are joined by a next generation of CEOs, such as Rika Coppens (House of HR), An Steegen (Barco) and Cécile Neven (UWE).
CEO positioning: the next generation is ready
This year, a few business women in their thirties and forties made their entrance. Lise Conix (Torfs) and Isabel Baert (Neuhaus) stepped into a new CEO role. Julie De Nul (Jan De Nul Dredging NV) also shot to the top 10, although she rarely seeks out the media herself. On the French-speaking side, Amélie Matton (Ecosteryl) brought a breath of fresh air to the media, with nominations for no less than 2 major awards, the TrendsTendances Manager of the Year and Veuve Cliquot’s Bold Woman Award, which she also won.
CEO branding: social topics do well
A good strategy to secure a high position in the rankings involves associating your name with a ‘hot topic’. Sarah Parent of Go Forest regularly comes up with her message for greater sustainability. Hanan Challouki of Inclusified does the same but around diversity and Muslim women wearing headscarves. Coincidence or not: they both also released a book last year.
Female CEOs from finance to real estate
The days when one saw female CEOs mainly in so-called softer sectors are far behind us. Looking through the top 100, we see CEOs from very different industries such as finance, manufacturing, tech, real estate, FMCG,… With Kadri and Steegen, there were also two CEOs from the Bel20, although the proportion of female CEOs there remains sadly low. Moreover, with the Solvay & Syensqo split, Kadri wiped Barco out of the Bel-20. Let’s see what 2024 brings!
These are interesting women to keep an eye on: follow them on Linkedin, in the media. And to the media: please keep writing about these women. They play a key role in the societal debates and inspire our next generations. With all the challenges the future brings, we are going to desperately need all the talent available – whether they are men or women.
Based on media research and existing lists of female CEOs, we compiled a ‘long list’ of 170 female CEOs and board members. Subsequently, we conducted searches on belga.press to determine the number of mentions each woman received in both print and online media, for the period 1 December 2022 to 30 November 2023. The 100 women with the highest scores make up the ranking. Female leaders who appeared in the media mainly in the context of reputation crises were not included in the analysis.