4 inspirational female business leaders
This quiz will help you decide which business programme best suits your wants and needs. Source: Brooke Lark/Unsplash

The conversation about the lack of women in STEM rages on, but there are other industries in desperate need of more female representation.

While statistics show that more women than ever before are receiving graduate business degrees from US business schools, women are still struggling to be on equal footing with their male counterparts in the corporate realm.

A study by the Forté Foundation found that women in the US who have graduated with an MBA earn a 63 percent salary bump with their degree, but the gender pay gap with men remains wide and gets worse over time.

The research uncovered “a predegree gender pay gap of 3 per cent, with women lagging men, widened to 10 per cent for the first post-MBA position and 28 per cent for current compensation, adjusted for years of experience.”

Elissa Sangster, Executive Director of Forté, urges corporate leaders to rethink promotion and family-leave policies. “An MBA is a great step for so many women to take but it does not necessarily solve all the problems all the way to the C-suite,” she said.

This issue is reflected in other countries to. “At a minimum, Canada is the same as the US or potentially worse when it comes to a lot of these gender and career issues,” says Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

For minority female executives, the gap is even bigger. The study noted that reported salaries come in at 52 percent less than their non-minority male counterparts.

Despite this gap, women should not be discouraged from studying business and working their way up in their careers.

Rotman MBA candidate Sarah Badun, Vice-President of the school’s Women in Management Association and a Forté Fellow, said that, “This is an issue both genders will need to get involved with to close the inequality and close the wage gap.

“We need women to create a community to support one another and help drive change. But we need the support of our male counterparts to recognize these issues, talk about them, support women and help drive the change.”

Hopefully, all women can draw inspiration from female success stories, including those who have risen to the top of their respective business fields.

In honour of International Women’s Day – which takes place tomorrow, on Friday March 8 – here are four women in business who have excelled in male-dominated fields to become strong and inspiring leaders:

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi is a classic example of a minority woman working her way up a male-dominated field. Source: Fortune

Former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi made headlines recently when she was added to Amazon’s board of Directors.

Her appointment raised the percentage of women on the board to 45 percent, a high for the industry. Among the Fortune 1000 companies, only 25 percent of board seats in 2018 were occupied by women.

It’s important that we strive for more female representation on boards, as research shows that having a more diverse Board of Directors can make a business more successful.

Born in Tamil Nadu, India, Nooyi is consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women

She received a master’s degree in Public and Private Management from the Yale School of Management in 1978. She worked for Motorola and Asea Brown Bovari before joining PepsiCo in 1994, working her way up until she became the fifth CEO in the company’s 44-year history back in 2001.

Indra Nooyi served as a role model for women in business, as well as other industries. According to, Forbes, “She pushed the public to have an honest conversation about the difficult choices many women face in the pursuit of ambitious roles in business and the constant tradeoffs between work and family.”

Mary Barra

Mary Barra is one of the few female leaders in the auto industry. Source: Fortune

As the first female CEO of a major global automaker, General Motors Company, 57-year-old Mary Barra receives the highest compensation ($22 million in 2017) of any leader of a Detroit Big Three automaker.

She started working for the company at just 18 years old as an electrical engineering co-op student with the GM Institute of Technology (now Kettering University),  encouraged by her parents to pursue her passion for STEM.

She was sent by the company to Stanford Business School to earn an MBA when they saw her potential to become a leader. After graduation, she continued to work her way up the company, holding multiple positions such as Executive Assistant to the CEO, Manager of the global HR department, and Senior Vice-President for global product development before becoming CEO in 2014.

Barra was recently listed as Number 5 on Forbes‘ list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. Over the course of her career at GM, she drove the company to new heights, moving them into the tech space with modern ideas such as automated driverless technologies.

GM ranked Number 1 in the 2018 Global Report on Gender Equality, and is one of only two global businesses that have no gender pay gap, an agenda that was pushed by Barra during her long tenure at the company.

Gillian Tans

Gillian Tans is the highest paid CEO in the online travel industry. Source: Thrive Global

Almost anyone who’s booked flight tickets or hotel rooms online has come across the popular website Booking.com, but not everyone knows that the CEO if the company is a Dutch businesswoman named Gillian Tans.

She is currently the highest paid CEO in the online travel industry, and under her tenure, Booking.com has expanded to more than 10,000 employees in 174 offices worldwide.

She has advanced the company’s operations and sales across more than 224 countries and territories, playing an instrumental part in the company’s growth from just a small footprint in Amsterdam with a second office in Barcelona since joining in 2002.

Before becoming CEO in 2016, Tans held positions running Booking.com’s Global Sales, Operations, IT, Content and Customer Care departments, working her way up to President and Chief Operating Officer in 2011.

Tans is also passionate about getting more women to be involved in the technology industry. She told Travel Weekly, “Technology is one of the key drivers of social and economic change, and as the CEO of Booking.com, I am able to play my part in that.”

“There are women all over the world who are making an incredible impact in technology every day. However, there is still a strong under-representation of women in tech in general. This needs to change. Not only do we need more women in technology, we also need to see more of these women in leadership roles.”

Isabelle Kocher

Isabelle Kocher is the only woman to head a CAC 40 company. Source: The Times

Kocher, a French businesswomen, is the CEO of ENGIE, the world’s largest non-state-owned energy company.

She has tackled climate change issues in several ways, such as implementing a three-year plan to shift the company’s portfolio from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, according to Forbes.

Under her leadership, ENGIE completed the plan ahead of schedule, divesting 20 percent of fossil fuel-related assets.

She is the only woman in the world to run a CAC 40 (a benchmark French stock market index) company.

Kocher holds progressive views on the environment and climate change, stating that “climate change is changing everything.”

She said, “It is leading us into a world very different from the one we have known; a world in which – this time round – no one can say “it’s not my problem.” We are all involved, because this step change encourages everyone to reevaluate their personal lifestyle. The 21st century will mark the end of fossil fuels, which will gradually be replaced by energy from decarbonized renewable resources, such as solar power.”

Kocher is also a strong advocate for women at the company, setting targets for at least 35 percent of “high-potential staff” to be women.

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