According to a 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses report commissioned by American Express, the number of women owning businesses in the US has seen a 114 per cent growth between 1997 and 2017. While we’ve come a long way from restricting women’s roles in society to that of the housewife, there is still a gender gap in the industry, and the ongoing issue of sexism in the workplace. A Grant Thornton study published in 2016 revealed that one-third of companies around the globe still lack women in senior management, while one in eight HR decision-makers in large businesses knew of sexual harassment cases in the office that went unreported, as shown in the 2017 Young Women’s Trust survey.
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As an ode to International Women’s Day, and the undoubted capability of women to transcend gender injustice and prejudice, innovate and excel in their fields, and lead a major corporation as well as any man, here are seven female powerhouses that have changed the game in the male-dominated business industry, and continue to pave the way for generations of minorities.
1. Sheryl Sandberg
While most of us know her as the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg also sits on the Board of Directors of many other major companies such as SurveyMonkey, Center for Global Development, Women for Women International, and V-Day. An erstwhile independent director at The Walt Disney Co. (a stint that lasted eight years) as well, she has been making waves in the corporate world as one of the leading brains behind the continued success of the revolutionary social platform that’s become a part of everyone’s daily life – Facebook. Her astounding career as a born leader has made her living proof of the vast potential of women, a clear calling to empower the discriminated and oppressed, thus culminating in a New York Times bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
2. Cher Wang
The Taiwanese entrepreneur who co-founded HTC Corporation and established VIA Technologies (one of the largest motherboard chipset manufacturer in the globe), Cher Wang is one astute and tireless lady boss with every right to exhibit diva-like behaviour. Yet, she remains a humble individual with a heart for philanthropy as well. Despite growing up in an immensely wealthy family, she stayed away from sinking into the comfortable role of the “spoilt rich kid”, and instead, kept it low-key and worked hard to earn her own fortune and reputation as a respected leader in the IT field.
3. Yang Lan
Another highly distinguished Chinese business luminary, Yang Lan dominates the media world as the chairperson of her own empire – the Sun Media Group. Often referred to as the “Oprah of China”, the business mogul and TV personality’s rise to fame bears multiple similarities to that of the African American icon. Not only is she a self-made woman, she started her career as a TV journalist as well. Today, her establishment spans a diversity of magazines, newspapers, TV shows, as well as online platforms – a testament to her prowess as an entrepreneur and leader.
4. Oprah Winfrey
As for the OG herself, her story is one that inspires endlessly. Fraught with sexual abuse, racial and gender prejudice, her life began with a great deal with struggle and pain. Nevertheless, rising above it all, the African American icon fought to break the chains of poverty, and establish herself as a legitimate journalist. With grit, discipline, passion and heart, she became the first black billionaire, the first black woman to receive a Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, and the first black woman to own a television network. One of her most immortal moments was in 2004 when she gave everyone in her talk show audience a new car, making it no surprise that Oprah is now a worldwide name that comes close to heroic.
5. Indra Nooyi
PepsiCo is a major F&B corporation with a stable of 22 international brands including Pepsi, Lay’s, Tropicana, Quaker, Doritos, Lipton, and 7 Up. And standing at the helm of it all is a matriarch, an Indian-American breaker of glass ceilings – Indra Nooyi. This CEO-chairwoman has led the growth of PepsiCo, such that the percentage of revenue coming from new products has increased steadily over the years. She’s also made the shift to introduce healthier offerings, rebranding them into three groups (products that are “fun for you”, “better for you”, and “good for you”).
6. Virginia Rometty
Earning her position as tech giant IBM’s first female CEO is Virginia Rometty, a doyenne in the industry who not only worked on bringing the company into emerging markets like China, Brazil and India, but also led the acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the largest deals at $3.5 billion. Having been with IBM since 1981, the company veteran started out as a middle class systems engineer, and worked her way upwards to become a millionaire commander of the ship, dexterously steering it into an era focused on data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.
7. Madam C. J. Walker
Perhaps the most profound and revelational stories in history, Madam C. J. Walker (the first female self-made millionaire in America) is the ultimate rags-to-riches example, who defied every odd. Born to former slaves at a time when the Emancipation Act had just been passed in America, yet the rights of African Americans were still practically nonexistent, Madam C. J. Walker (or Sarah Breedlove) was an orphan at seven and had to start working at a cotton plantation at 10. Despite the oppressive environment and the abuse she faced, the pioneer powered through and eventually developed a scalp treatment formula that would spawn an entire empire of beauty products under her company, The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. On top of being a racial minority, she had to battle intense gender stereotypes and rise above her socially disadvantaged position as a woman (she died a year before the ratification of the Women’s Suffrage amendment), which makes her success all the more laudable.