Candid Career Advice from Top Female CEOs

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The glass ceiling might be cracked, but it’s not yet broken. Learn from four successful women entrepreneurs and CEOs.

By Anna Rodionova (Contributing Writer, Project Eve)

The glass ceiling might be cracked, but it’s not yet broken. Fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and women still face a difficult climb to the top. However, it is possible for women to overcome prejudice and succeed in business, and there are many lessons to be learned from successful female entrepreneurs. Here is some valuable advice from the likes of Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman.

Marissa Mayer: CEO of Yahoo

Love what you do

When Marissa was offered the CEO role at Yahoo, her estimated net worth was $300 million. She was also pregnant with her first child. Many would have baulked at the thought of simultaneously taking on a baby and a new job — but Marissa chose to accept the role.

Mayer took on the challenge because she loves her work – she once stated that her priorities are “family and Yahoo.” It’s almost impossible to reach the top of the career ladder unless you truly enjoy your job, so choose a role you feel passionate about.

Believe in yourself

Mayer announced her pregnancy on the same day she was revealed as Yahoo’s new CEO -- a move that attracted great criticism. Many rushed to denounce her appointment, and it was widely believed that motherhood was incompatible with her new role.

However, Marissa has since proved that you can be a successful businesswoman and a good mother. Most women face prejudice and opposition at some point during their careers, but it can be overcome through hard work and self-belief.

Virginia ‘Ginni’ Rometty: CEO of IBM

Aim high

When Ginni began working for IBM in 1981, she was a simple systems engineer. However, she set her sights high, and proceeded to rise steadily through the company. In 2012, she became IBM’s first female CEO.

On her first day at IBM, Ginni could never have imagined that one day she might lead the company. By refusing to set herself a limit, she set herself up for success. Don’t let a fear of failure hold you back – always grasp career opportunities with both hands.

Think ahead

Rometty took on the role of CEO at a time of great turbulence. As a large company, IBM struggles to react quickly to changes in the technology industry, and is in danger of losing out to more agile organisations.

Ginni has publicly acknowledged the challenges IBM faces. Rather than focusing on the company’s past, she’s concentrating on the future: “We are transforming this company for the next decade… That is not a one-year job.” Looking to the future is essential if you want to stay ahead of your competitors.

Meg Whitman: CEO of Hewlett-Packard

Be flexible

Whitman is the perfect example of how job-hopping can help your career. Before taking on the role of CEO at Hewlett-Packard, she worked for a number of illustrious companies. Her previous employers include Procter & Gamble, Bain & Company, Hasbro, The Walt Disney Company and eBay.

Always monitor job openings within your sector, even if you’re satisfied with your current role. You can only take advantage of opportunities if you’re aware of them.

Inspire the next generation

Whitman learned about gender equality from her own mother:

“My mother […] volunteered for the Red Cross […]. The plan was that women would wind bandages and dab wounds in the infirmary […] By the end of her four-and-a-half-year tour, she was a fully certified truck and airplane mechanic.”

The glass ceiling is cracked, but not broken, and gender equality will only come about if we lead by example.

Sherilyn (Sheri) McCoy: CEO of Avon Products

Take risks

Sheri is a notorious risk-taker. She survived a dramatic career change at Johnson & Johnson, where she made the leap from chemical engineering to marketing. She later went on to resign from the company, taking up tenure as CEO of Avon Products instead.

Many people feel confined by a lack of experience, and as a result become trapped in one sector. However, with some hard work, you can overcome any knowledge barrier. As McCoy herself states, “Don’t limit yourself by setting your sights too low.”

Don’t settle for second best

McCoy worked for Johnson & Johnson for 30 years, and she was widely expected to receive the role of CEO when the current head executive stepped down. However, she was passed over in favor of Alex Gorsky, an external candidate.

Rather than remaining in second place, she chose to leave the company altogether, taking up the prestigious CEO role at Avon instead. Like Sheri, don’t settle for second best – get out there and make your own opportunities.

This post originally appeared on Project Eve and was written by Anna Rodionova from SSLs.com. SLLs.com is a reseller of SSL certificates from the likes of Comodo, GeoTrust and VeriSign. 

What mantras do you live by as a female entrepreneur?


About the guest blogger: Project Eve is an online community where over 2.5m women go to reinvent their careers. With engaging articles and interactive tools Project Eve motivates women to think beyond traditional boundaries, support one another, embrace change and view challenges as opportunities.