Women still face many challenges in the business world, including discrimination, harassment, and unequal pay. But the fight for workplace gender equity is making strides, slowly but surely.
Thirty-seven companies in this year’s Fortune 500 are run by female C-level executives, which is a new record. The Fortune 500 is a list compiled by Fortune magazine that ranks America’s largest corporations by total revenue. Many experts view the list as a microcosm of the U.S. business world.
The new record of female CEOs is excellent news, but there are some caveats. Women run just 7.4% of the Fortune 500 companies in 2020. For some perspective, women ran only two such companies 20 years ago. Also, most female-led Fortune 500 companies are near the bottom of the magazine’s ranking, and only three were women of color.
Nevertheless, this year’s ranking is a definite sign of progress. Here are five female CEOs that have risen to the top that you can emulate.
- Mary Barra
Mary Barra has been the CEO of General Motors Company (GM) since 2014, and she’s earned widespread acclaim for her leadership. Barra runs the largest corporation of all U.S. female CEOs, as GM ranked No. 18 on the 2020 Fortune 500 ranking.
Barra is the first ever female CEO of an auto manufacturing company, and she did it by rising from the literal bottom of GM’s corporate ladder. She began working for the automaker at the age of 18 and steadily took on more significant roles at the company, including managing an entire assembly plant.
Since taking over as CEO, Barra has led GM through some difficult times. The auto industry was in crisis around the time Barra rose to the top, and she also led the company through a series of public-relations nightmares and recalls.
- Gail Koziara Boudreaux
Gail Koziara Boudreaux is the leader of a Fortune 50 company, and Fortune also named her as one of the world’s most powerful women. Currently, she’s the CEO of Anthem, a leading healthcare provider that’s ranked No. 29 on the 2020 Fortune 500 ranking.
Boudreaux was the CEO of UnitedHealthcare before taking the top spot at Anthem. Her business savvy has proved invaluable at Anthem, as she’s implemented several positive changes and innovations and started a collaboration with Walmart in 2019.
Fun fact: As a student at Dartmouth, she was a star basketball player. She still holds several school women’s basketball records, and she did it all while graduating cum laude.
- Susan Wojcicki
Susan Wojcicki was one of Google’s founding members, and she’s now the CEO of YouTube. Google purchased the video-sharing platform in 2006, and it was Wojcicki who was one of the voices to urge for the acquisition. She has served as YouTube’s CEO since 2014.
Her rise to the top in the tech industry is impressive. Wojcicki graduated from Harvard with honors and planned to pursue an academic career. Those plans changed when she met Google’s founders and developed an interest in tech.
She’s worked in the upper echelons of the U.S. tech industry for 20 years, and she’s one of few women in an executive role at a tech company. Wojcicki told CNBC she’s mostly been treated fairly during her career, but sometimes faces micro-aggressions from men during meetings. When men try to speak over her, she says her approach is to call them out directly and not be timid.
- Safra Catz
Safra Catz has served as an Oracle executive since 1999. Last year, the computer tech company announced she would run the corporation as CEO while still reporting to the founder. Catz is also a billionaire banker.
Fortune regards Catz as one of America’s most powerful and self-made women, and she was close to serving as an official in the Trump administration. She’s educated as a lawyer, and she’s also an immigrant to America, as she was born in Israel.
Catz is known to not like the spotlight, but she’s an aggressive businesswoman behind the scenes. Fortune credits her with Oracle’s strategy to close more than 100 business acquisitions since 2015.
- Phebe Novakovic
Phebe Novakovic serves as CEO of General Dynamics, a huge American defense contractor. She’s a former U.S. intelligence officer, and she’s also an immigrant from Serbia. Like Catz, she’s a self-made and powerful woman. Novakovic is one of few female executives in the U.S. military-industrial space.
Novakovic has served in leadership positions at General Dynamics since 2001. According to moneyinc.com, she’s been happily married for many years, despite the intense demands of her career.
Given her background, she was a natural choice to lead a U.S. defense contractor. Her father was a U.S. Air Force officer, and she worked as a CIA operative for several years.