The current workforce has dealt women setback after setback during the pandemic. A report by McKinsey found that women experienced more exhaustion, burn out, and pressure than men in the workplace, and it’s no wonder that they also found that one in four women are considering leaving the workforce.
Many women who lost their jobs to COVID are now looking to re-enter the workforce as pandemic restrictions loosen. It’s important that women are empowered to return to the workforce and forge their own paths toward success and leadership. If you’re a woman looking for motivation to restart your career or climb the corporate ladder, check out this list of eight women leaders who blazed trails in their respective industries.
1. Julie Sweet
Taking the number one spot on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet is blazing trails as a prominent business leader. With a bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College and JD from Columbia Law, Sweet is breaking barriers in the C-suite with her unconventional background. Her background as a lawyer gives her an edge in business, helping her put clients first, make sense of vast amounts of information, and act with integrity.
Sweet is no stranger to breaking gender barriers. After seven years as a senior lawyer, she became the ninth female partner at law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore. She acknowledges that being a woman in corporate America is a difficult road to travel on and has since prioritized diversity and transparency in order to build trust and accountability as a leader. Inspired by Julie Sweet and eager to promote diversity and inclusion as a workplace leader? Check out her quote below to help you get started.
“Treat inclusion and diversity like every other business priority, which means you set goals, you measure, you have data, you have accountable executives, and you have an execution plan.”
— Julie Sweet
2. Helen Hanna Casey
Although women in real estate make up 67% of the industry, leadership across the board has yet to accurately reflect that statistic. One powerful woman in the industry is Helen Hanna Casey, CEO of Howard Hanna Services. Named the most powerful woman in real estate and one of Women’s Business Magazine’s Top 200 Women in Business (among numerous awards), Casey demonstrates that female leadership can take a real estate company to new heights.
Casey serves as a powerful role model for all women leaders aspiring toward the C-suite and is also a prominent leader at industry events. Check out her quote below for inspiration on how focusing on the success of your employees will bring your company growth.
“One of your goals has to be that you want your company and employees to expand and grow. […] You have to look at the talents of your people and decide how they can help expand the business.”
— Helen Hanna Casey
3. Shan-Lyn Ma
Shan-Lyn Ma is disrupting the wedding industry with her company, Zola, which is on the fast-track to becoming a unicorn (a privately-held startup that’s valued at over $1 billion). Founded in 2013, Ma used her previous experience as a product manager to revitalize the online wedding industry and provide a better experience that customers love. As someone who started her entrepreneurial journey after years of work experience, she’s showing other women that it’s never too late to switch up your career. If you have a great idea that solves a problem, hard work can lead you to success.
It can be hard being a woman in business, so Ma recommends leaning on a network of other female founders or professionals for advice. If you’re working on building your own network, take some of inspiration from her below on how it’s possible to do it all.
“I think every founder has to be a motivational leader in order to build a great team and business. I do feel an extra responsibility to show it’s possible to be a woman, be a respected leader, and run a fast-growing startup.”
— Shan-Lyn Ma
4. Cynthia Marshall
Cynthia Marshall is a strong woman leader who is changing the standards for diversity and inclusion in the male-dominated world of the NBA. As the first Black woman to be CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, Marshall has worked hard to develop a company culture where anyone at any level of the business can speak their mind. She accomplished this by having a personal one-on-one meeting with everyone in the Mavericks organization when she started. From there, she’s made sure that everyone has a voice and that all cultures feel welcome in her organization.
As a woman, we’re often faced with pressure to conform to certain standards of what a leader is, but those standards are so often biased. Remember that being a true leader is leading as yourself and bringing your authentic personality and work to the table everyday. If you are ever told to change who you are, let the following quote remind you that your identity is important.
“When you fundamentally try to change who I am, when you tell me I can’t say blessed, when you tell me I’m too loud, you’re actually telling me you don’t want me to be a Black woman.”
— Cynthia Marshall
5. Rosalind Brewer
With decades of experience in C-level positions across major companies like Starbucks, and Sam’s Club, Rosalind Brewer became one of the first Black female CEOs of a Fortune 500 company in 2021. Currently, she is #27 on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. Despite her vast experience and status as such a prominent figure in business, Brewer still faces the effects of bias and prejudice in the industry. She’s reflected on how her identity as a Black woman has caused others to underestimate her place in the C-suite and mistake her for someone of a lower position.
If you’ve ever experienced judgement and prejudice in the workplace, emulate Rosalind Brewer’s strength and keep her quote in mind when you need the courage to push back and demand the respect you deserve in the workplace.
“You can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect.”
— Rosalind Brewer
6. Melanie Perkins
Melanie Perkins is the CEO of tech unicorn, Canva, and is serving as inspiration for young female entrepreneurs across the globe. Recently, Canva’s valuation was set at $15 billion, making her and her co-founder husband billionaires off an idea they cooked up at university. Aiming to challenge design and tech giants in the industry, Canva is a graphic design platform that allows you to create things without the steep learning curve of programs like Adobe.
However, the Australian native had a rough time getting her company started up. Being far from the network of tech connections and funds that is Silicon Valley, Perkins had to take up kite-surfing just to get her foot in the door with investors at a kite-surfing competition in Australia. She was successful at securing funding and the rest is history. Without her vision and drive, Canva wouldn’t be around to make graphic design more accessible to all. For inspiration on being a visionary and a leader in your industry, follow Melanie’s advice below.
“As a leader, I feel my job is to set the vision and the goals for the company, and then to work with everyone to empower them to dream big and crazy.”
— Melanie Perkins
7. Mari Elka Pangestu
As World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, Mari currently leads the research and data group at the World Bank using her expertise in policy and management. However, she is well-known for previously serving as Minister of Trade for seven years and Minister of Tourism for 3 years in Indonesia. As Minister of Trade, she put a special focus on growing Indonesia’s economy and finding ways for women entrepreneurs to have better access to trade.
With a doctorate in economics, Mari has also led as an expert on global policy regarding food research, geopolitics, sustainable developments, and renewable energy. Although the international trade field is mainly dominated by men, Mari’s life and career show us that with hard work and dedication, your expertise and experience will be rewarded with high levels of leadership. If you’re interested in a job as a woman in trade, check out Pangestu’s quote on how tourism benefits women.
“Tourism is a very serious industry: it creates one out of 11 jobs, and benefits women and local communities, in particular.”
— Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu
8. Kathrin Jansen
Senior Vice President and Head of Research and Development at Pfizer, Katherin Jansen has played a major part in Pfizer’s global success. With 28 years of experience leading vaccine development, Jansen recently led a 650-person team to pioneer one of the first COVID-19 vaccines.
Although the race to a vaccine was one fraught with urgency, Jansen showed true and effective leadership by not sacrificing quality for speed. Jansen believes the science behind her vaccine speaks for itself and that should inspire confidence from the people. With a woman at the helm of such a leading scientific accomplishment, Jansen is a role model for other women in science. See her quote below for how women in STEM can help each other succeed.
“For me it was important to support female colleagues and make sure they have the opportunities, and you know, just look out for them.”
— Dr. Katherin Jansen
All women in the workplace should be empowered to advocate for their own career growth, but we can’t do it alone. Take inspiration from these examples of successful women leaders and motivate yourself to achieve just as much or more. Whether you’re interested in tech, business, real estate, sports, science, or trade, there’s a female leader out there who’s blazed a trail for you to succeed after them.
Ready to take your leadership to the next level? Try a leadership workshop or coaching to grow your skills and reach your career goals.