It’s the 21st Century but looking at an employee list of the top-earning companies you might not think gender equality has progressed very much at all. Women still account for only 5% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and worldwide, half of women don’t have paid jobs at all. It can still feel like a man’s world, yet there are women out there who have successfully fought their way right up to the top. This article profiles five of them.
The director of Amazon and former chair and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi is one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world. With a first degree in physics, chemistry and mathematics, she went on to attain postgraduate qualifications in management. She held management positions with Johnson & Johnson and Mettur Beardsell before moving from India to the US, where she became vice president and director of corporate strategy and planning at Motorola. She has won numerous leadership awards, has served on the US-India Business Council and is honorary co-chair of the World Justice Project. Aside from her business activities, she’s passionate about cinema and is an elected member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Chair of UK fraud prevention agency Cifas and a former trade ambassador, Lady Barbara Judge is a US-born lawyer who made her name working for Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays and Handler before being appointed to the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Carter, where she was a significant player in the opening up of foreign trade, especially with Japan. After moving to the UK she served as deputy chair of its Financial Reporting Council and chair of its Pension Protection Fund. She held executive regulatory roles in the nuclear and fossil fuel industries, chaired the Institute of Directors and also spent time as an executive director of News International. A keen private investor, primarily in the tech sector, she supports charities in the field of health and the arts.
A communications graduate who started out in advertising as a trainee and became a supervisor just one year later, Renetta McCann was senior vice president of the Leo Burnett agency by the age of 39. One merger later and she was named CEO of the Americas Starcom MediaVest Group, responsible for managing operations across the whole of North America and Latin America. in this role she drove the business forward as a world leader in strategic planning, significantly increasing its revenues. The winner of numerous awards, she has been credited with reshaping the media industry, working with big players like Disney, but she’s also admired as a boss with an unusually low employee turnover rate despite being responsible for several thousand workers.
Fashion is one of the most competitive fields in business and when Singaporean Estina Ang started out with just $3,000 and six machines, no-one would have imagined she’d go on to become one of the biggest suppliers of clothes and textiles anywhere in Asia. Multi-million dollar contracts with the likes of Macy’s and Walmart have been a big part of her company’s success and she now has factories in Malaysia and Vietnam, employing several thousand people, most of whom are women. With a new focus on using technology to streamline operations, she looks set to expand further. A predominantly female company board ensures further opportunities for women in an industry where it has traditionally been difficult for them to move up from the shop floor.
An economics graduate from England who moved to the US as a child, Ruth Porat is best known as the chief financial officer at Alphabet Inc. and Google, but she began her career at Morgan Stanley where she worked her way up through investment banking to another CFO position, a role that saw her act as an advisor to the Treasury Department. She jumped ship to Google in 2015 for a reported $70M and subsequently oversaw a major reorganization there. Sitting on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, she continues to advise government in several capacities and also participates in economic think tanks. Her career is all the more extraordinary because she has achieved all this despite also having to contend with breast cancer.
The achievements of these hard working women demonstrate that it is possible to get to the top even if you don’t have the starting advantage that men are given. As they work their way up, women like these can give a helping hand to those further down the ladder – so if you’re prepared to make the climb you won’t only be fulfilling your own ambitions, you’ll be helping to bring about a much-needed change in the world.