Tips for Female Executives

When it comes to high-level executive positions, the number of women is severely lacking. Females account for just over half of the population in the United States, but comprise only 14.6% of executives, 8.1% of the county’s top earners, and 4.6% of the CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. You might be thinking, “maybe not that many women go into business, so the numbers could be proportional. However, women hold 60% of all master’s degrees ( 44% of all master’s in business/management, and 37% of all MBAs), comprise nearly half (47%) of the labor force, and make up 59% of entry-level workers who hold degrees. So why is there such a disconnect?

Women face a lot of pressure and obstacles in the rise to becoming an executive. Although it can be difficult to be a woman in charge, here are a few tips to help you succeed.

  • Push yourself outside of your comfort level.
    • Don’t ever let anyone say that the reason you didn’t succeed is that you didn’t try hard enough. Sure, it’s nerve-wracking to ask for a raise or to inquire about a promotion, but if you don’t push yourself to become more, you’ll end up stuck where you are. The same goes for business dealings. There will be risks that come along, and if you don’t jump at the chance to better your business, you can end up falling behind. Keep challenging yourself to see how much you can truly succeed
  • Don’t let your personal life dictate your professional life (and vice versa).
    • Your position as an executive and your status as a woman, wife, or mother are not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to stick to just one, and you don’t have to be defined in either capacity by your position in the other. Women may socially be expected to stay at home to raise and take care of the children, but this is 2017. If you’re a mother, you can be a breadwinner coparenting with a stay-at-home dad and you can use child care services. If you want to put your career first and don’t want to have a family, that’s perfectly fine as well. Live your life and pursue your dreams the way you want to.
  • Get comfortable with being the only woman in the room.
    • Female executives can often find themselves the only woman in a room full of men. It can be easy to let yourself become overshadowed and talked over, but you can’t let yourself get boxed out. It may take time to “prove yourself,” but the only person who can handle how you behave in the face of adversity is you. Believe in yourself, your knowledge, and your ability and unapologetically own the position that you’ve earned.

Powerful Female Executives

Rising to the top is never an easy feat, especially for women in large corporations. This can be exemplified by the fact that there are only 21 female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. In spite of their small numbers, these women are forces to be reckoned with. Take the opportunity to get to know four of the most powerful female executives:

1. Mary Barra

In 1980, Mary Barra joined the General Motors team as a co-op student. Over the past 37 years, Barra rose through the ranks of the company, becoming the VP of Global Manufacturing Engineering, VP of Global Human Resources, Executive VP of Global Product Development, Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, and finally CEO in 2014. In addition, she was named the chairperson of GM in January 2016. Barra is also known for being a major investor in the ride-sharing company Lyft.

2. Indra K. Nooyi

With an extensive background in consulting and executive experience, Indra K. Nooyi began her career with Pepsi Co. in 1994 as their Senior VP of Strategic Planning. Nooyi quickly rose through the ranks, accepting the position of President and CFO in 2001. In October 2006, Nooyi was named the President and CEO of Pepsi Co., and the chairperson of the board just seven months later. Under her leadership, Pepsi Co. began the Performance with Purpose initiative, a promise to do what is right for the business by doing what is right for the people and the planet. Additionally, Pepsi Co. has gone on to acquire several healthier brands, including Quaker Oats and Gatorade.

3. Irene Rosenfeld

Upon completing her education at Cornell University, Irene Rosenfeld began her career in advertising, eventually moving into a consumer research role with General Foods. Soon after, she found herself advancing to leadership roles within the company. From 1981 to 2003, Rosenfeld served as President of North American Businesses at Kraft Foods North America. Rosenfeld then served as Chairperson and CEO of Frito-Lay and CEO of Kraft Foods. When Kraft split from its principal company, Mondelez International, in 2011, Rosenfeld remained with Mondelez and was named CEO.

4. Sheryl Sandberg

After receiving her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, Sheryl Sandberg began her career as the Chief of Staff for the United States Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton, a position in which she served from 1995 to 2001. Leaving her government job behind, Sandberg set her sights on the Silicon Valley and becoming a part of the tech boom that was occurring at that time. Sandberg then served as VP of Global Online Sales & Operations at Google Inc., from 2001 to 2008. Upon leaving Google, Sandberg joined the Facebook team as their Chief Operating Officer and has remained in that role ever since.