Thankfully, the days when business was a completely male-dominated field are over. There are, however, still some improvements that need to be made in terms of equal opportunities between the genders, especially in terms of progressing beyond entry-level jobs. But in the upper echelons of business management we are now finally progressing towards a situation where it’s no longer unusual for a woman to be in charge.
Many of the most powerful business leaders now in the world are women. That includes company presidents and CEOs, as well as influencers, government advisors, entrepreneurs and lobbyists. These women also provide much-needed role models and inspiration for younger women just starting out in business, proving that if there is still a “glass ceiling” hindering women in their career advancement, then it’s there to be broken.
Every year, Fortune Magazine lists the most powerful women in business, based on the global size and importance of their business, the direction it’s heading in, the career arc of the woman in question and their social and cultural influence. In 2019, Marilyn Hewson, CEO of US aerospace and defence giant Lockheed Martin, held the number one spot for the second year running. Hewson joined the Lockheed Corporation in 1983 and has been the CEO since 2013. The company’s market cap has doubled since then, and last year Forbes named her as the tenth most powerful woman in the world.
Running a close second to Marilyn Hewson in the business power stakes is Mary Barra, chair and CEO of General Motors. Working her way up from the assembly line, Barra became CEO in 2013 and is also a member of the Business Council, sits on the General Dynamics Board of Directors, and in 2017 was elected to the board of Disney. At General Motors she has shifted the company’s focus towards technological innovation in the form of electric and driverless cars.
One of the most powerful women in the UK business world has long been Lady Barbara Judge. Born in the US, Lady Judge was the first female chair of the Institute of Directors, and has been a chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), the Pension Protection Fund and fraud prevention service Cifas, as well as an ambassador for UK Trade & Investment. She remains a powerful advocate for women in business and an important influencer on government policy and financial affairs.
Last year, Sharon White DBE replaced Sir Charles Mayfield as chair of the John Lewis Partnership. A former civil servant under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and then David Cameron, White coordinated the UK government’s response to the 2008 global financial crisis. She was only the second woman to be made permanent secretary to the British Treasury, and the first person of colour. As well as heading up John Lewis, which has an annual revenue of £10bn, White was also the CEO of communications regulator Ofcom until November 2019.
Since 2012, Virginia ‘Ginni’ Rometty has been the CEO of IBM, and was the global tech giant’s first female CEO, president and chair. After overseeing the acquisition and integration of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rometty has successfully steered the company away from focussing solely on the manufacture of computers and operating systems, towards a more forward-looking emphasis on machine learning, AI and quantum computing. She recently announced that she was stepping down from the role, but will doubtless remain a highly influential figure in the world business community.
The green queen
The most influential women in the business world are not all business leaders. Kathleen Rogers is president of the Earth Day Network pressure group. Under her direction, the network has grown into a full-time activist organisation that has a direct impact on corporate and government policy in many nations around the world. Earth Day itself has over a billion participants in 192 countries.
Rogers has been directly involved in helping develop financial mechanisms that can support the creation of green buildings and schools. She was also the force behind the ‘Billion Acts of Green’ programme, which so far has encouraged and recorded roughly three billion individual environmentally-friendly actions.
The chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, is said to be worth over $1.8 billion thanks to her stock options and smart investments, as well as her salary. She is the first woman to serve on Facebook’s board of directors, and came to the company from Google, where she was vice-president of global online sales and operations. Sandberg is widely credited as turning Facebook into a highly profitable concern, and is co-author of the book Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead (Knopf, 2013).
All of these women have made it to the top of their respective fields in different ways, and all have inspired many others to follow in their footsteps