America’s successful female business leaders will undoubtedly be on the minds of people everywhere during International Women’s Day on March 8. Women currently hold around four percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to Catalyst.org. It may seem like a small number, but it represents just how far women have come in the business world. It can also serve as an inspiration for how much further there is to go for women in the workplace.
Do you work hard at your job, but feel you don’t get the recognition you deserve? Or maybe you want to move forward with your career but feel clueless as to where you should start.
The success stories of these six influential female business leaders might hold the push you need to become one of the next great women in business. All of these women are college educated, which means a business degree might be the next step in your journey toward success in your personal and professional life.
Female business leaders who are changing the game
Sheryl Sandberg is best known for her role within the one of the most well-known companies of the last decade. She began as Facebook’s COO in 2008 and has been instrumental in helping the company expand to a global level through managing company sales, advertising and public relations. In 2012, she was the first woman to join Facebook’s board of directors.
Before her time with Facebook, she worked for a number of well-known companies including Walt Disney and Starbucks. She spent time as an economist for The World Bank working toward an end to leprosy. She served as Google’s vice president of global online sales and operations and was chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury Secretary, where she worked toward relieving debt in developing countries.
Sandberg has also been influential in starting important discussions about feminism in the work place. Her bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, confidently tackles those issues head-on.
Indra Nooyi currently serves as the CEO of PepsiCo. Nooyi wasted no time joining the workforce after completing her education. Before joining the PepsiCo team, she held senior positions at Johnson & Johnson, Motorola and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She was named the chief financial officer (CFO) at PepsiCo in 2001 and became CEO in 2006.
Since then, Nooyi has worked toward reinventing PepsiCo’s strategy, focusing on healthy alternatives like Quaker Oats and Tropicana while freeing the company of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut. In addition to her responsibilities at PepsiCo, Nooyi actively serves as a director of the International Rescue Committee and the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts Inc.
She was included in Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2007 and 2008. She was also named one of the Wall Street Journal’s “50 Women to Watch” during the same years. Fortune named her the most powerful woman in business in 2009 and 2010.
Sherry Lansing served as the CEO of Paramount Pictures from 1992 to 2005. During her time there, the studio saw its longest and most successful lineup of releases since the 1930s (think Forrest Gump, Braveheart and Titanic).
Prior to her time with Paramount, Lansing was the first woman to head a Hollywood studio as the president of production at 20th Century Fox. In 1996, she was the first-ever female recipient of Pioneer of the Year from the Foundation of Motion Picture Pioneers.
Lansing was also the first female studio head to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and to place hand and footprints in the cement at the TCL Chinese Theater (formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater). Lansing now serves as the founder of The Sherry Lansing Foundation, an organization that aims to provide both funding and awareness for cancer research through initiatives in support of education and the arts.
Marissa Mayer serves as President and CEO of Yahoo. She is known for revolutionizing employee relations within Yahoo by, among other things, lengthening maternity leave and acquiring the popular blogging website Tumblr. Yahoo’s stock price has doubled over the 14 months of Mayer’s time as CEO.
But Mayer paid her dues as Google’s first female engineer before becoming the head honcho at Yahoo. During her 13 years with the company, she helped develop several well-known software platforms including Gmail, Google News, Google Books and Google Search.
Even today, Mayer is trying to revolutionize the world of business. She is a leader in the fight to improve transparency in NSA data collection strategies and an advocate of more rigorous privacy guidelines for businesses and their consumers.
Shonda Rhimes is a name you’ll likely recognize, but then spend a couple minutes trying to figure out why. She is best known as the creator and head writer of ABC’s medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
Despite her success, Rhimes’ career didn’t start rolling right after college. She worked multiple jobs ranging from office administration to career counselor. Although she wasn’t exactly working her dream job out of the gate, her early employment helped cover the monthly bills and also allowed her the time to work on small research-based films on the side.
It wasn’t long before she became one of the most influential women in the industry, with small hits like Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (which earned Halle Berry her first Emmy) and Crossroads with Britney Spears.
Those small hits soon transcended into the huge hit TV shows Rhimes is known for today: Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal. She is now considered a household name in the industry with Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal bringing in a combined $300 million in ad revenue per season.
6. Ginni Rometty, 56
- Title: President & CEO, IBM
- Education: Northwestern University, BS
Ginni Rometty is a great example of a person who started in a small role within a huge company, and through hard work and perseverance, climbed the ladder all the way to the top.
She began as a systems engineer for IBM in 1981. She spent three decades devoting her business acumen to the company before being named IBM’s first female CEO in 2012. This appointment made a strong statement for women in the business world, as she was one of only 18 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies at the time.
Before being named CEO, Rometty was instrumental in IBM acquiring PricewaterhouseCoopers (also known as PwC), a multibillion-dollar UK-based consulting firm. It was the largest acquisition in the history of professional services and it helped to solidify Rometty’s place within IBM.
In 2006, she was awarded the Carl Sloane Award by the Association of Management Consulting Firms for her consulting achievements with IBM. She has since been named the 12th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.
What this means for you
No one can deny that women have come a long way in the world of business. If the stories of these six amazing businesswomen have inspired you to break out of the confines of your current job and take the next step toward your own career successes, visit Rasmussen’s business degree page and download the business career guide to discover which sector of business best suits your skills and career passions.