Five Women Who Are Leading In Male-Dominated Fields
A 2014 study of women in finance by Catalyst Research found that women held less than 5% of CEO positions in both Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, for a total of just 46 women CEOs out of 1,000 companies. Catalyst also reports that just 11.4% of Fortune 500 companies have female chief financial officers (CFOs).
Clearly, any woman who tries to rise to the top in a field traditionally dominated by men still faces extra scrutiny. However, women today who want to achieve prominent positions in business and politics face lower barriers than ever thanks to the groundbreaking work of women leaders who have gone before them. These five prominent female leaders are each trailblazers in a traditionally male-dominated field: central banking, technology, international politics and high finance. Throughout their careers, these women have proven that hardworking, determined, intelligent and thick-skinned women who can withstand the extra analysis and critique of their work can rise to the top — and they can even do it while having a family. Each has earned widespread respect not just for her accomplishments as a woman, but for her accomplishments, period.
Janet Yellen became the first female chair of the Federal Reserve in the institution’s 100-year history when she was sworn in on Feb. 3, 2014. The decisions she makes about U.S. monetary policy throughout her tenure will affect the interest rates consumers pay, the returns investors earn, the unemployment rate, and the economy’s overall performance.
Yellen has held prominent roles within the male-dominated Fed since 1994 when she joined the seven-member Federal Reserve Board of Governors (which votes on Fed policy) for three years. She then left the Fed for several years to become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), an agency that advises the president on domestic and international economic policy. After that, she served as chair of the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Yellen holds a Ph.D. in economics from Yale and has taught economics and business courses as a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, where she has been a member of the faculty for 34 years. In 2004, she became president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Fed, where she stayed for six years, then served as vice chair of the Fed under Ben Bernanke from 2010 to 2013.
Despite being a shy engineer, Marissa Mayer has achieved a prominent position in business. She is perhaps best known as the CEO of Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO) since 2012, putting her in the rare position of being the female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. A 2014 study of women in finance by Catalyst Research found that women held less than 5% of CEO positions in both Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, for a total of just 46 women CEOs out of 1,000 companies. Before that, Mayer took a chance on a startup: she was Google’s (Nasdaq:GOOG) 20th employee when she joined the company in 1999 after earning a master’s in computer science and artificial intelligence at Stanford.
Her work on Google’s appearance and on numerous well-known products such as Google Maps, Google Street View and Gmail was integral to the company’s growth. When Mayer took charge of Yahoo! at age 37, the company was suffering, but in her first year, its stock price doubled.
Love her or hate her, Sheryl Sandberg’s influence is undeniable. This self-made billionaire who has been chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook (Nasdaq:FB) since 2008 is also the author of the bestselling book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” Her book and her 2010 TED talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders,” have inspired Lean In groups for women to support each other in achieving their goals. She's known for her abhorrence for the word "bossy," saying "I want every little girl who someone says 'they're bossy' to be told instead, 'you have leadership skills' because I was told that and because every woman I know who's in a leadership position was told that."
Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg was a vice president at Google, where she was responsible for online ad sales. She has also worked as chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury Department, as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company and as a World Bank economist. In addition, she has been a director on several corporate boards, including those of Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), Facebook and Starbucks (Nasdaq:SBUX), and several non-profit boards, including AdCouncil, the Brookings Institution and the Google Foundation. She holds an MBA with highest distinction from Harvard.
In 2011, French-born Christine Lagarde became the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organization with members from 188 countries that works toward global monetary cooperation, financial stability, international trade, high employment, economic growth and poverty reduction. As leader of the IMF, Lagarde has worked to mitigate the European debt crisis.
Lagarde has succeeded in the male-dominated fields of law, French politics and international finance. She began her career as a lawyer and became the first female chair of an international law firm, Baker & McKenzie. She became France’s minister for foreign trade in 2005; in 2007, she became its minister for finance and economy, making her the first female finance minister of a G-8 economy. In 2011, she became chair of the G-20, and in that role she worked to reform the international monetary system.
Since 2012, multibillionaire Abigail Johnson has been president of Fidelity Financial Services. She has worked for Fidelity, the company her grandfather founded and one of the largest mutual fund and financial service providers in the world, since 1988.
While some might argue that Johnson was born into success, she earned a Harvard MBA and worked her way up through Fidelity Financial Services for years to get where she is today. In her first position (a summer job before college), she had the unglamorous task of filling out customers’ order forms. Fidelity wouldn’t have staked its long history and trillions of dollars in assets under management on someone who didn’t have the ability to lead the company. Abigail is expected to become Fidelity Investment’s CEO when her father, Edward Johnson, III, steps down.
Young women today who aspire to become a leader in traditionally male-dominated fields have it easier than ever before thanks to groundbreakers such as Yellen, Mayer, Sandberg, Lagarde and Johnson. These women have proven that the perceived gender barriers can be broken, and the more women we have sitting among the table at these "boys' clubs," the more commonplace it will be to see women leading great companies, governments and organizations to accomplishing great things.