Society has evolved drastically over the past few decades, and we continue to level the playing field daily in terms of race and gender.

These are sensitive topics, and we all like to think organizations are making objective, informed decisions about who to hire and promote.

But the reality is, notwithstanding all our societal advancement, the glass ceiling is still very much an issue for working women around the world.

To illustrate this point, we can point to sources which show women are 15% less likely than men to get promoted.

A McKinsey & Co internal study showed women’s share of corporate jobs is only 14% at the executive committee level. There are only 22 female CEOs in Fortune 500 Companies and only a quarter of board members in the UK’s top 100 companies are female.

Though this may seem bleak at first, we have some examples of inspirational, driven women who have taken control over their career development and gone on to achieve incredible feats.

1. Irene Rosenfeld

Rosenfeld has been involved in the food and beverage industry for three decades. She is currently the chairwoman and CEO at Mondelez International — an American multinational confectionery, beverage, and food company that employs over 100,000 people worldwide.

Rosenfeld has been placed 6th on the Wall Street Journal’s “50 Women to Watch” list and 10th on Forbes’ “Most Powerful Women” list.

Rosenfeld earns nearly $20 million per year and she has a fairly optimistic outlook on the possibility of failure. Rosenfeld states: “The best way to handle losing is to make sure you learn something from it so that you have higher odds of winning next time.”

2. Ursula M. Burns

Burns has led an inspirational, rags-to-riches tale. Her parents were Panamanian immigrants and she was raised by a single mother in a New York city housing project. She went on to become the Chairman and CEO of Xerox from July 2009 to December 2016.

Burns was the first female African-American to head a Fortune 500 company and, according to Forbes, Burns was able to “return a company once only known for paper copies into a viable and profitable business.” In 2015 alone, Burns helped Xerox generate $18 billion in revenue.

When it comes to leading, Burns highlights the importance of being true to yourself. Mimicking someone else’s character and leading style won’t result in true success: “You can be somebody else and follow all your life, but you cannot be somebody else and lead”.

3. Cynthia Carroll

Carroll was the first CEO of Anglo American PLC — a British mining company and leading platinum producer. Carroll was one of the most influential women in the industry before she stepped down from her position as Chief Executive in 2012.

Carroll was a woman in a notoriously male-dominated industry and, as such, faced a number of hurdles, but went on to achieve a great deal regardless. Carroll introduced a value-based management methodology to Anglo, which helped to tidy up the ‘bureaucratic sprawl’ she inherited.

She also improved relations with the South African government. By pushing to improve safety In 2007, she closed two platinum shafts in the area based on the number of fatalities reported. The shafts remained closed until adequate safety training was delivered.

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Despite this, Carroll was still subject to unwarranted and vicious attacks from former deputy chairman, Graham Boustred, who stated in a 2009 interview that it was difficult to find effective CEOs due to the fact that “most women are sexually frustrated.” Thankfully, Carroll never let such bigotry get in the way of a remarkable career.

4. Indra Nooyi

Nooyi joined Pepsico, the multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation, in 1994. By 2001, she was named CFO. Finally, she became CEO and President of the company in 2006.

Nooyi has been instrumental in a number of acquisitions and mergers, and since she began her role as CFO, the company’s net profit saw a boom from $2.7 billion to $6.5 billion. Her dedication and interest in global strategy has led to Pepsi surpassing even Coca-Cola in market value for the first time in over 100 years.

Nooyi earns approximately $20 million per year and is consistently ranking among the world’s most powerful women.

5. Oprah Winfrey

We can’t really discuss female success stories without bringing up Oprah Winfrey: the media mogul who overcame poverty and paternal neglect to become one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry. Winfrey overcame gender discrimination and racial bias to get where she is today.

She has a net worth of nearly $3 billion. On top of her considerable success, Winfrey is a philanthropist, with most of her money going to The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and The Angel Network.

With regards to career orientation and success, Winfrey has the following words of wisdom: “Your real work is to figure out where your power base is and to work on that alignment of your personality, your gifts you have to give, with the real reason why you are here. Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

Passion and Hard Work

There’s a lot we can learn from these incredible women, the most notable lesson being that with enough grit and determination, we can make a success of ourselves.

Passion and hard work is the driving force behind any great leader. Remain true to your values and keep working toward an overarching goal, safe in the knowledge that as long as you keep your sights clear, the world is your oyster.

Who Are Inspirational Women in Leadership?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Ida Banek
Ida Banek, leader and founder of GRIT International, uses her twenty years of experience in HR to help graduates navigate the challenging transition from education to the workforce. Ida and her team have developed POINT: a career management platform designed to deliver personalized advice on career orientation, progression and career transitioning.
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