If you asked 50 young people in the UK to name just one female business role model, research would suggest that only one of them could give you an answer.
But can we blame them? If, like most people, they are relying on mainstream media, they could be forgiven for this. Successful business women are often not celebrated or spoken about in the way that successful business men are.
It is not that the world lacks inspirational female role models, it’s that they are not represented in media – and this could be damaging to not only women, but to the future of our business landscape.
Role models are important. They show us what is possible, and inspire us to reach higher goals.
It’s no secret that women in business face a different set of hurdles to men, and therefore might benefit from a few different role models. But for many women, finding business role models that they can relate to is difficult, and that’s exactly why we thought we would shine a light on some of those very women.
Sheryl Sandberg – a role model for female empowerment
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s Chief Operating Officer, is a massive champion of women’s empowerment in the workplace. Her book ‘Lean In’ sparked a global conversation on the importance of gender equality in work and leadership roles. In it, she draws upon her own experiences and challenges, and calls upon women to be more assertive when going after the career that they dream of.
Did you know that in the FTSE 350, the role of CEO is 24 times more likely to be held by a man than a woman? Although strides have been made, there is still a long way to go before this disparity is balanced, and Sheryl is putting in the time and energy to combat this. Under her guidance, Facebook implemented initiatives to improve the representation of women and minorities in its workforce.
Sandberg’s advocacy for women’s advancement has made her a role model for aspiring female leaders worldwide.
Ginni Rometty – a role model for women in technology
“I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.”
Ginni was the first female CEO of IBM and she has been named by Bloomberg and Fortune as one of the 50 most influential people in the world. She was the leader who guided the company’s transition into data, instigating huge changes in the industry.
Ginni is an excellent role model for women in leadership and in technology. She is known for her fearlessness around change and her embrace of innovation. She shows women who work in tech not to be afraid. She proves that if you can embrace challenges and speak up, you could have the power to drive industry-wide changes.
Indra Nooyi – a role model for human leadership
“If you don’t give people a chance to fail, you won’t innovate. If you want to be an innovative company, allow people to make mistakes.”
Indra is the former CEO and chairperson of PepsiCo. Not only did she grow the company’s portfolio with the acquisition of companies such as Tropicana and Quaker Oats, she committed to making the company more sustainable, and dedicated herself to mentoring and promoting women within PepsiCo.
What we love about Indra, however, is her incredible human style of leadership. Indra believes that the only way to improve an organisation is first to improve yourself. She says that the greatest lesson she ever learnt is to trust people to do the right thing, and fully believes that we should be setting young people up properly for success – starting with education. We couldn’t agree more! If you are looking for a role model who understood the value in leading human first, and did so extremely successfully, look no further.
This list could go on and on, but if we have piqued your interest, a quick google search will give you many more examples of incredible female role models whom you could take inspiration from.
And remember to look around you, too. As a company with a leadership team of 70% women, we are certainly surrounded by inspiring women on a daily basis. Finding role models within your organisation, or even within your social circle, is crucial for continual growth and learning. Surrounding ourselves and regularly conversing with those we admire pushes us to be better every single day.
While we love to celebrate these empowering female role models, there is still more work to do to increase their visibility. A 2022 study showed that globally, 34% of senior leadership roles are held by women — the highest number ever recorded; yet women are still underrepresenthreted in leadership.
This number reduces even further when you look at the percentage of female CEOs in the FTSE 350, which sits at only 4%.
For most organisations, increasing the diversity in their leadership pipeline is a key strategic priority. Investing in female leadership programmes not only benefits the women that take part, but also creates more self-reflective, profitable companies. And the results speak for themselves – just take a look at this case study from GoCardless, who saw a 100% promotion rate within 6 months of their female leaders completing our leadership development programme.