The business world has traditionally been a male-dominated sphere, with few opportunities for women to rise to the top. However, in recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of women entrepreneurs and CEOs, breaking through the glass ceiling and paving the way for others to follow. In this article, we celebrate the achievements of women in business, highlighting some of the most successful female entrepreneurs and CEOs and the progress made in recent years.
Women in Business Statistics
Here are some statistics that illustrate the current state of women entrepreneurship:
- One-third of high-growth businesses worldwide are now run by women (GEM)
- In 2022, women in the UK launched 151,603 companies, up from 145,271 in 2021 and more than twice the level in 2018 (Financial Times)
- Almost 40% of UK FTSE 100 board positions are now held by women (Gov.uk)
- Women owned and women led businesses now provide a total of 23.85% of private sector employment (FSB)
- Women currently in CEO roles: 8.2% in the Fortune 500, rising from 6.6% in 2019 (PRnewswire)
The Rise of Women CEOs
While women entrepreneurs have been on the rise, women CEOs still face significant challenges. However, there has been some progress in recent years, with more women breaking through the glass ceiling and reaching the top of some of the world’s most successful companies.
The share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high of 8.8% in 2021.
Here are some of the most successful women CEOs, who have broken through the glass ceiling and shattered the gender stereotypes in the business world:
1. Emma Walmsley: Emma Walmsley is a British businesswoman who is currently the CEO of pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). She is the first woman to lead a major pharmaceutical company, and has been recognized for her leadership in the industry. Walmsley joined GSK in 2010 and held various positions before becoming CEO in 2017.
2. Alison Rose: CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), owned by the NatWest group (NWG), one of the largest banks in the UK. She is the first woman to lead a major British bank, having taken up the position in November 2019. Prior to becoming CEO, Rose had been with RBS for over 27 years, having joined the bank as a graduate trainee in 1992. Over the course of her career at RBS, she has held a number of senior positions, including Head of Europe, Middle East and Africa, CEO of Commercial and Private Banking, and Deputy CEO.
As CEO, Rose has focused on transforming RBS into a more customer-centric and sustainable bank. She has set ambitious targets for the bank to reduce its carbon footprint, increase lending to small and medium-sized businesses, and improve diversity and inclusion both within the bank and across the financial services industry. In addition, she has overseen the bank’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the implementation of measures to support customers and employees.
3. Liv Garfield: CEO of water company, Severn Trent (SVT), one of the largest water companies in the UK.
She joined the company in 2014 and became CEO in 2014, making her the youngest CEO of a FTSE 100 company at the time. Prior to joining Severn Trent, Garfield had worked at a number of other utility companies, including British Gas and BT, and had also spent time in the civil service.
As CEO, Garfield has focused on improving customer service and driving innovation across the company. She has overseen major investments in the company’s infrastructure.
4. Carolyn McCall: Carolyn McCall is a British businesswoman who is currently the CEO of British Airways (ICAG). She has also served as the CEO of EasyJet (EZJ), and was appointed as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2016 for her services to aviation.
5. Karen Lynch: CEO of CVS Health Corporation (CVS), one of the largest healthcare companies in the world. She has been with CVS for over 30 years and has played a significant role in the company’s evolution, particularly in the areas of health services and community outreach. Under her leadership, CVS has expanded its focus on preventative care and chronic disease management, and has also taken a leading role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing testing and vaccination services.
6. Roz Brewer: CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), one of the largest pharmacy chains in the world. Prior to joining Walgreens, she held several high-profile leadership roles at companies such as Starbucks and Sam’s Club. Throughout her career, Brewer has been a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion, and has implemented a number of initiatives aimed at promoting gender and racial equality in the workplace.
7. Mary Barra: CEO of General Motors (GM), one of the largest automotive companies in the world. She is the first woman to lead a major global automaker, and has been recognized for her efforts to promote sustainability and innovation in the automotive industry. Barra has also been a vocal advocate for women in leadership, and has implemented several programs aimed at promoting gender diversity within General Motors and the wider industry.
8. Jane Fraser: CEO of Citigroup (C), one of the largest financial services companies in the world. She is the first woman to lead a major Wall Street bank, and has been recognized for her efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the financial industry. Fraser has also been a vocal advocate for sustainability, and has pledged to make Citigroup a leader in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
9. Julie Sweet: Accenture (ACN): Sweet is the CEO of Accenture, a global professional services company that provides consulting, technology, and outsourcing services to clients in over 120 countries. Sweet has been with Accenture since 2010 and has held a variety of senior leadership positions before assuming the CEO role in 2019. She is known for her ability to drive innovation and growth, particularly in the areas of digital transformation and sustainability. Sweet has also been a strong advocate for gender equality and diversity in the workplace.
10. Carol B. Tomé: United Parcel Service (UPS): Tomé is the CEO of UPS, one of the world’s largest package delivery and logistics companies, with operations in over 220 countries and territories. Tomé joined UPS in 2020 after a successful career at Home Depot, where she served as CFO for more than a decade. She is known for her financial acumen and operational expertise, particularly in the areas of supply chain management and e-commerce. Under her leadership, UPS has continued to innovate and adapt to the changing needs of customers and the marketplace.
The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs
In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in women entrepreneurship, with more and more women starting and running their own businesses. This trend can be attributed to several factors, including greater access to education and funding opportunities, as well as changing social norms and attitudes towards women in the workplace. Additionally, the rise of the digital economy has provided a new platform for women to launch and grow their businesses, as technology has made it easier than ever to connect with customers and reach new markets.
Despite the challenges that women entrepreneurs may face, such as gender bias and limited access to capital, many are succeeding and making a significant impact in their respective industries. As more and more women break through these barriers and succeed in entrepreneurship, they are inspiring a new generation of female business leaders and paving the way for a more equitable and inclusive future.
Top Women Entrepreneurs
Here are some of the most successful female entrepreneurs, who have not only broken through the glass ceiling but have also created some of the most innovative and successful companies in the world:
1. Jo Malone – Founder of the popular fragrance and cosmetics company, Jo Malone London.
Malone started her business from her kitchen in 1994, and by 1999 she had opened her first store in London. In 1999, she sold the business to Estée Lauder Companies (EL), but she remains involved as a creative consultant.
2. Martha Lane Fox – Co-founder of the travel and leisure website lastminute.com (LMN). She is also a board member of several organizations, including Twitter and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Lane Fox has been recognized for her entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and was appointed as a member of the House of Lords in 2013.
3. Tamara Mellon – Cofounder of the luxury footwear brand, Jimmy Choo (CHOO). She started her career at Vogue magazine, and then worked as accessories editor for British Elle before launching Jimmy Choo in 1996.
Mellon left the company in 2011 to start her own eponymous brand, Tamara Mellon.
4. Whitney Wolfe Herd – Founder of Bumble (BMBL): Wolfe Herd’s dating app puts women in control, giving them the power to initiate conversations and make the first move. At 31, Wolfe Herd is the youngest female founder to take a U.S. company public.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wolfe Herd attended Southern Methodist University and started her career at the dating app Tinder. After leaving Tinder, Wolfe Herd founded Bumble in 2014 with the aim of creating a more inclusive and empowering online dating experience for women.
Wolfe Herd has been recognized for her entrepreneurial achievements, including being named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. She is a prominent figure in the tech industry and a vocal advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
5. Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss – Founders of Rent The Runway (RENT): Hyman and Fleiss co-founded Rent The Runway, a fashion rental service that has disrupted the traditional retail industry.
The company revolutionised the fashion industry by allowing women to rent high-end designer dresses and accessories for special occasions. Both women attended Harvard Business School, where they met and developed the concept for Rent The Runway.
Hyman and Fleiss have been recognized for their innovative business model and leadership in the fashion industry, with Hyman named on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list and Fleiss on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. They have also been vocal advocates for women in business and entrepreneurship, sharing their insights and experiences through speaking engagements and media appearances.
6. Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey – Founders of 23andMe (ME): Wojcicki and Avey co-founded 23andMe, a DNA testing and analysis company that has helped millions of people learn about their ancestry and health risks.
Wojcicki, a former healthcare industry analyst, and Avey, a biologist with experience in biotech startups, founded the company in 2006 with the goal of making genetic testing more accessible to the general public.
23andMe’s DNA testing kits allow customers to learn about their ancestry, genetic health risks, and inherited traits. The company has also partnered with pharmaceutical companies for research purposes, leveraging its vast genetic database to develop new treatments and therapies. Wojcicki and Avey have been recognized for their contributions to the biotech industry, with Wojcicki named on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list and Avey on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.
7. Sara Blakely – Founder of Spanx: Blakely started her company with just $5,000 and turned it into a billion-dollar enterprise, revolutionising the fashion industry with her innovative shapewear.
Born in San Francisco, Lake attended Stanford University and went on to earn a degree in economics from Harvard Business School. She founded Stitch Fix in 2011 with the aim of revolutionising the way people shop for clothes by using data science to create personalised recommendations based on customer preferences and feedback.
The company went public in 2017 and has since expanded to include a range of clothing and accessories for men, women, and children. Lake has been recognized for her innovative approach to fashion and entrepreneurship, including being named on Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list and Forbes’ America’s Richest Self-Made Women list. She continues to lead Stitch Fix as it grows and adapts to changing consumer preferences and trends.
8. Dr. Kathy Fields and Dr. Katie Rodan – Founders of Proactiv: The dermatologists turned entrepreneurs disrupted the beauty industry with their acne treatment, Proactiv. Their groundbreaking three-step acne treatment system has helped millions of people achieve clearer, healthier-looking skin.
Dr. Fields and Dr. Rodan’s success with Proactiv has led them to become some of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the beauty industry. In addition to their innovative products, they are also passionate about empowering women to take control of their careers and become successful business leaders. Dr. Kathy Fields and Dr. Katie Rodan’s dedication to innovation and entrepreneurship has made them icons in the world of business and beauty.
9. Melanie Perkins – Founder of Canva: Melanie Perkins is an Australian entrepreneur and the co-founder of Canva, a graphic design platform that has taken the world by storm. Her vision was to create a user-friendly and accessible tool that would allow anyone, regardless of design experience, to create professional-grade graphics.
Under Perkins’ leadership, Canva has grown to become one of the most valuable software companies in the world, with over 55 million users in 190 countries. Perkins’ innovative approach to design and her commitment to creating a positive impact in the world has earned her numerous accolades, including being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
10. Emily Weiss – Founder of Glossier: Emily Weiss is an American entrepreneur and the founder of Glossier, a beauty brand that has revolutionised the industry. After working in fashion and beauty journalism, Weiss identified a gap in the market for a brand that put the needs of the customer first. Glossier was born out of that idea, and has since become one of the fastest-growing beauty companies in the world.
Weiss’ approach to building the brand has been focused on creating a sense of community and engagement with her customers, who she sees as the key to Glossier’s success. Her innovative use of social media and customer feedback has helped to shape the company’s products and messaging, and has earned her a devoted following of beauty enthusiasts.
Advancements for Women in Business
While there is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality in the business world, there have been some significant advancements in recent years to support women entrepreneurs and CEOs.
Here are some of the most notable:
- Women-focused venture capital funds: In recent years, there has been a rise in venture capital funds that focus on investing in female-founded startups, such as Female Founders Fund, BBG Ventures, and The Helm.
- Mentorship programs: Many organisations, such as Girls Who Code, Lean In, and Women’s Startup Lab, provide mentorship and networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs and CEOs.
- Business incubators: Business incubators, such as the Women’s Business Center and the Tory Burch Foundation, provide resources and support for women-owned businesses.
Women entrepreneurs and CEOs have come a long way in recent years, breaking through the glass ceiling and shattering gender stereotypes in the business world. While there is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality, the progress made so far is cause for celebration. With the rise of women-focused venture capital funds, mentorship programs, and business incubators, the future looks bright for women entrepreneurs and CEOs. However, continued support and investment are needed to ensure that women have equal opportunities to succeed in the business world.