By Laura Petrecca (Contributor, USA TODAY)
A record has been set for female leadership: More women are slated to take the reins of Fortune 500 companies than ever before.

Wednesday, pharmaceutical firm Mylan said Heather Bresch will succeed Robert Coury as CEO. Tuesday, IBM tapped Virginia “Ginni” Rometty to succeed Sam Palmisano, making her the first female CEO in the company’s 100-year history. Both appointments are effective Jan. 1.

If no women step down before the end of 2011, there will be 18 women running Fortune 500 companies in 2012. Previously, there haven’t been more than 16 female CEOs at Fortune 500 firms at the same time.

Yet, while the upcoming ascensions are notable, the gender gap between men and women in the workplace remains vast, with females struggling to get the mentors they need and the pay to equal their male counterparts.

“We’ve really flat-lined,” says Debbie Soon, Catalyst senior vice president of marketing and strategy. “For the last five years, there’s been hardly any progress.”

Yet, there is hope that as more women take the top ranks, female workers will be provided with more role models they can emulate.

“It sends the message of ‘yes, women can do this,'” Good says. “Women need to see other women in key roles.”

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