The virtual ink was barely dry on the press release that announced Intel Corp. president and CEO Paul Otellini's plans to retire in May 2013, when a bevy of news stories popped up speculating about who his successor might be.
As surprising as the news was that Otellini was retiring early (he's 62 and could have stayed on another three years), there may be another surprise awaiting Intel shareholders. Two of the most commonly mentioned candidates to replace Otellini are women: Renée James, head of Intel's software business, and Diane Bryant, head of its datacenter and server business.
While still unlikely, the odds that a woman could be named CEO at Intel are much higher now than just a few years ago. This year's Fortune 500
listed 18 companies led by female CEOs, a record number and up from 12 in 2011. In the tech industry—where women are seriously under-represented—the last three years have seen females rise to the top spots at several major technology companies.
Ursula Burns was named CEO of
Xerox Corp. in 2009 and became chairman in 2010. Although not new to the chief executive position, former eBay CEO and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman became president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. in September 2011. At the beginning of 2012, Virginia M. "Ginni" Rometty was appointed president and CEO of IBM Corp. Just recently, on Oct. 1, she added the title of chairman of the board. Then there's Marissa Mayer, who jumped ship from Google and was named CEO and president of Yahoo Inc. in July 2012.
That's an impressive list, but notice that none are semiconductor companies. The chip business has always seemed even more male-dominated than other parts of the tech industry. I don't recall many female executives or even chip designers at semiconductor companies, much less CEOs. Intel has had five CEOs in its 44-year history, and all of them have been men.