NEW YORK - In two high-profile firsts, women were named to lead General Motors and the US Federal Reserve this year - posts that had always been held by men. Yet women are still rarely found at the top.
In addition to Mary Barra at GM and Janet Yellen at the Fed, 2013 also saw Marillyn Hewson chosen to take charge of Lockheed Martin.
In Europe, Inga Beal was named to head British insurance firm Lloyd's and Daniele Nouy was picked to lead the eurozone banking supervisor.
"We finally have role models," cheered Tami Polmanteer, director of human resources for the Daymon marketing group.
Stanford University sociologist Marianne Cooper said "each time a woman gets a position like this, it is a victory because there are so few of them."
But a similar wave of high-profile nominations a decade ago failed to trigger major changes.
Cooper contributed to Facebook top exec Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller "Lean In," which encouraged women to take on more responsibility in business.
Today, more women graduate with four-year college degrees than men. Women hold around half of the mid-level management positions in big companies.
But the presence of women in top-level management tapers sharply: women hold just 15 per cent of the top posts.
And the numbers drop even further in the biggest companies.
Just 4.5 per cent of the bosses in Fortune 1000 companies are women, including Meg Whitman at the head of Hewlett-Packard, Virginia Rometty at IBM, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo and Ellen Kullman at DuPont, according to Catalyst consultants.
"We would have to see a lot of women" named CEO, before "it even changes the percentage," said Columbia University professor Katherine Phillips.
That said, over the past two decades, the numbers are improving, if slowly.