For generations, management was a position that was typically filled by men, but there has been a general shift in recent years where more and more companies are appointing experienced and highly qualified women to management and leadership positions. However, the number of women in senior management roles is still less than men, and women still face gender-related discrimination in the workplace. Learning from female leaders in business is a great way to inspire others and learn how to break down gender barriers.

The Benefits of Women in Leadership

Businesses with gender diversity in senior management and leadership positions experience a number of benefits. Having women in the workplace, especially those in leadership roles, is not only helpful to the bottom line but it’s also helpful for employee morale. The benefits of having female senior executives include:

  • Inspiring the younger generation: Seeing female managers at work enables entry-level female employees to see the possibilities for their career.

  • Engaging more deeply at work: Research shows that female-led businesses actually have employees who have more faith in their organization than those who work at male-led companies.

  • Closing the gender gap for pay: Having a greater proportion of women in leadership roles means there is a possibility that businesses can decrease or eliminate the pay gap, especially by having women in decision-making positions.

Providing equal opportunities for women at your small business enables your female staff to rise to meet their goals. Take a look at the employees in your management team to see whether you have gender equality at your workplace.

Removing Obstacles That Women Face in the Workplace

While there are more and more women breaking the glass ceiling, women still face many barriers in the workplace and in society that can prevent them from attaining the management positions they deserve. Barriers with which women have to deal on a frequent basis include:

  • Sexual harassment: Still a widespread issue for women in all levels of employment, this inappropriate behavior from their male counterparts causes absenteeism, increases turnover and costs both employers and employees greatly.

  • Gender stereotypes: Women in management roles are often called bossy, while men don’t face the same problem. Similar gender stereotypes are experienced by women in lower-level positions.

  • Unequal pay: Women still make significantly less than men for doing the same job. Even when experience, credentials, expertise and region are equal, women still receive less pay.

  • Lack of role models: Because there are fewer women in leadership positions, women who are just starting in the workforce don’t have as many women to look up to.

  • Unconscious bias: Many women are treated differently by their employers simply because they are women. Often, women are not seen as competent for the same roles.

  • Unavailable flexibility: Women are still the primary caregivers in families across the country, which means they require flexible work arrangements in order to balance the commitments of family life with employment.

There is a long way to go before women can experience gender equality in the workplace. However, small-business owners have the power to change their work environments so that it is welcoming for both women and men. By acknowledging the obstacles women face in the workplace and actively removing barriers, business owners can set up female employees for success.

1. Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most well-known women in business. Sandberg has served as the chief operating officer of Facebook, one of the world’s first and largest social networks, since 2008. She is also the author of "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead", which centers on her work philosophy of women focusing on challenging opportunities early in their careers.

While at Facebook, Sandberg positioned the company as an advertising platform for small-business owners. This move increased ad revenue for Facebook by 38% in 2018. Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg worked at Google as the vice president for global online sales and operations, where she developed the AdWords and AdSense programs.

Sandberg holds a Bachelor of Economics and a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard University.

2. Lynsi Snyder

Lynsi Snyder is president and owner of the fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger. While she inherited the ownership of the company from her family, she has made great strides for the business and established it as one of the best places to work in the United States. Since becoming president of the business in 2010, Snyder has added more than 80 new locations.

Focusing on the company culture has been key for Snyder. Providing a work-life balance has been vital to its policy, and Snyder has been instrumental in improving company perks, providing decent wages and facilitating social gatherings for the staff. Learning and development are also pillars of the organization under Snyder’s leadership, helping employees to feel more engaged and satisfied in their work.

3. Lynne Doughtie

Lynn Doughtie is the CEO of KPMG and one of the first female CEOs of the big four accounting firms. During her leadership, KPMG has become a more inclusive and diverse company, with a focus on business ethics. Doughtie has also concentrated on innovation and turning KPMG into a purpose-driven company.

Before becoming CEO, Doughtie was the vice chair of the advisory business at KPMG. During her tenure, it was KPMG’s fastest-growing business. She has consistently moved up the corporate ladder into senior leadership, having started in audit practice at KPMG in 1985.

4. Ursula M. Burns

Ursula M. Burns served as the chairperson and CEO of document-management giant Xerox. She was the first African American woman to hold the title of CEO for a Fortune 500 business. Burns started her career at Xerox in product development and quickly moved up the ranks.

When Burns became CEO, the company was facing declining revenue. Burns transformed the focus of the company from products to services and acquired Affiliated Computer Services. Later, she oversaw the creation of Xerox’s independent venture Conduent, which offers business services to government and private companies.

Burns grew up in a low-income housing project in New York with a single mother who ran a home day care and did extra ironing and cleaning to supplement her income. Burns attended New York University and Columbia University.

5. Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi is the former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo and is ranked as one of the most powerful women in business. During her tenure, the company acquired Tropicana as well as Quaker Oats and Gatorade. Since 2001, PepsiCo has seen a revenue increase of 72%, much of it thanks to Nooyi’s eye for growth initiatives.

Under Nooyi’s global strategy, PepsiCo beat direct competitor Coca-Cola in market value, which had not happened in 112 years. The company saw major restructuring and diversification during her reign, which enabled it to double its profits. Nooyi led the company to increase revenue from $35 billion in 2006 all the way to $63.5 billion in 2017.

Prior to her leadership at PepsiCo, Nooyi held other roles in senior levels at Motorola as well as engineering firm ABB. In addition, she was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. Nooyi earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Madras Christian College in India plus an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management. After she moved to the United States, she earned a second master’s degree, this time from the Yale School of Management.