For girls growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the world seemed full of promises of freedom and equality, but the reality was very tough indeed. Business was seen as a man’s world, and a woman who wanted to succeed needed to work three times as hard – and have a good measure of luck. A lot has changed since then, and though there is still quite a way to go to reach equality, girls find it easier to imagine themselves having a business career. This has a lot to do with role models, and these are some of the women paving the way.
Since joining PepsiCo in 1994, Indra Nooyi has secured a series of impressive deals, contributing to the corporate giant’s acquisition of Tropicana, Quaker Oats, and Gatorade. She worked her way up to President in just seven years, and is now listed by Forbes as the fourth most powerful woman in the world. Under her leadership, Pepsi became more successful than Coca-Cola for the first time in its history. She has also worked to make it healthier.
Few business sectors are seen in quite such a macho way as oil and gas, so Lynn Elsenhans’ success as Chair, CEO, and President of Sunoco really required her to break the mold. Though she has now stepped aside after four years at the top, she restructured it from the ground up to help it operate more efficiently, leaving a substantially stronger company. She now acts as a Non-Executive Director at GSK and also sits on the board of the Flowserve Corporation.
Louise Blouin, media mogul at the head of BlouinArtinfo Corp, has mingled business and philanthropic interests over the course of a busy life. She works with galleries and arts organizations across the world, oversees the publication of a diverse range of arts magazines, websites, and guides, and has a leadership summit that bears her name. She is proof that an arts-based education can be a route to success, and that you can make a living doing what you love.
If anybody is living proof that success does not depend on starting out with advantages, it is Ursula Burns, who was raised in the projects by a single mother but studied hard, won herself an engineering internship, and then worked her way up. Now she is head of Xerox, a Fortune 500 company worth over 9 billion dollars. She helped to rescue the company from financial troubles and is now in the process of buying up its subsidiaries.
Are girls getting the message?
Despite the existence of these inspiring women, girls still receive a lot of negative messages from wider society about what their expectations should be. It is vital for family members to be there to boost their confidence, and it is never too early to start. Girls need to recognize what is possible, believe in themselves, and know that others believe in their ability to make it happen.