Contributed by Pia De Los Reyes
Pia is a writer and content marketer with an M.A. in Communication. She specializes in topics in the business, personal finance, career, and insurance spaces, and enjoys informing and inspiring others through the power of search. In her free time, she can be found at the beach or cooking a new recipe. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.
In 2021, the pandemic dealt working women a tough blow. Many exited the workforce when faced with the overwhelming stress and burnout of navigating a new world of remote work with little to no alternative support for childcare.
As the world shifts back to in-person work and school, women have the opportunity to focus again on their careers. To help more women realize their leadership potential, we’ve assembled a list of 10 influential women leaders to learn from.
1. Helen Hanna Casey
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Helen Hanna Casey is one of the most prominent women in real estate. With more than 40 years of experience under her belt, Casey leads the third largest real estate company in the nation, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, alongside her sister, Annie, and her brother, Hoddy. As Casey’s empire continues to grow, so does her influence in several other industries, such as producing Broadway plays.
One of the biggest lessons you can learn from Casey is that despite being a big time industry leader and CEO, you always have time for family. Helen Hanna Casey acknowledges that although she has many great work achievements, her children and family are her most memorable achievements. She reminds us that even on our climb to the top of the corporate ladder, you should never forget the people in your life that matter the most.
2. Julie Sweet
In 2020, Julie Sweet completed her first full year as CEO of Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 company focused on professional consulting. From 2016 through 2019, Sweet was consistently named to Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women” list as well. However, Sweet didn’t become a powerhouse overnight. She began her career working at an NYC law firm for 17 years, before becoming a partner for 10. After that, she was recruited to general counsel at Accenture where she became CEO after only five years.
While Sweet is extremely powerful, she still advocates for the advancement of others. In fact, she has outwardly advocated for diversity, inclusion, and workplace gender parity at Accenture and the industry as a whole. Sweet supports Accenture’s mission to have an equal staff by 2025, and as of 2019, 42 percent of Accenture’s staff were female. Sweet is an incredible example of a true leader who strives for their own advancement and works hard to ensure equal opportunities for others.
3. Tsai Ing-wen
Tsai Ing-wen is known as the first female president of Taiwan and has made strides in country-wide LGBTQ+ rights, Taiwanese independence, and COVID-19 safety that has saved thousands of lives. After growing up in Taipei, Tsai studied law and international trade before becoming a law professor at Soochow University School of Law and National Chengchi University. She received an LBB from National Taiwan University, an LLM from Cornell Law School, and a Ph.D. in law from the University of London. Oh, and did we mention she was named in Time Magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People of 2020?”
Along with this, Tsai is also the first unmarried President in the history of Taiwan: cementing her as a beacon of independence and strength in a patriarchal society. She is the perfect example of being a strong woman in a major position of power. Facing pressure from China to challenge Taiwan’s independence, Tsai continues to put her country, the well-being of her people, and her beliefs first.
4. Rosalind Brewer
As one of just a few Black women to run a Fortune 500 company, it’s no surprise that Rosalind Brewer was destined to make history. As the current CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, she relies on her decades of experience in the C-suite in massive companies like Sam’s Club and Starbucks to lead the way.
Brewer is no stranger to both racial and gender bias in the workplace. She recalls being mistaken for someone who wouldn’t be the CEO because of her status as a Black woman. If you ever come across the same experiences on your rise to the top, follow Rosalind’s lead and put those people in their place by respectfully and professionally telling them who’s the boss.
5. Melanie Perkins
Melanie Perkins is one of the youngest female CEOs in tech thanks to her groundbreaking idea to start Canva while at university in her home country of Australia. She sought to make graphic design more accessible for all and plans on developing more products that go head to head with tech giants like Microsoft and Adobe.
As a leader, Melanie believes that she should guide her company with the vision and goals while also empowering everyone to dream big. If you’re an aspiring CEO, borrow from Melanie’s philosophy and make sure your team is supported in everything they do. Not only will they be grateful for it, but they may just reach wild new heights you couldn’t have on your own.
6. Cynthia Marshall
In a market as male-dominated as American sports, Cynthia Marshall has made strides as the NBA’s first Black female CEO. As the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, Marshall changed the playing field and championed diversity and inclusion in the NBA by hiring more women and people of color. Marshall has also been recognized as one of Adweek’s 30 Most Powerful Women in Sports.
As an inspiration to many, Marshall overcame adversity in her young life to prove that you can be a successful woman no matter what challenges are in your way. She continues to push boundaries and carry the conversation of culture and race while ensuring that every person in the organization is recognized, heard, and appreciated. If you learn anything from Marshall and her journey, it’s that the journey to the top may be hard but you have the power to change things for the better.
7. Kimberly Bryant
Working moms may be the boss at home, but they’re also capable of being the boss when it comes to business. Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE, started her business as a way for her daughter to explore her passion for tech and science. Her company champions diversity and inclusion in an industry that is primarily dominated by men, and it teaches young girls valuable skills in web and software development.
Bryant shows other working mothers that if you see a problem, you have the capability to fix it. Additionally, motherhood can be an asset that helps give you the drive, focus, and passion to change the world for your children. If you’re a working woman who wants to make her entrepreneurial dreams a reality, use Kimberly as a role model for you to follow your dreams.
8. Tricia Griffith
A prime example of working your way up, Tricia Griffith went from a claim representative for Progressive Insurance in the 1980’s to CEO in 2016. After her initial start at Progressive, Griffith held several management positions before being named the Chief Human Resources Officer in 2002. Then, she was promoted to claims president in 2008, where she oversaw all claims functions. Finally, in 2016, Griffith was named the President and CEO of Progressive by the board of directors.
Griffith is an amazing example of staying consistent and realizing the importance of company values. Griffith has always been sure to focus on people over profit, and providing opportunities for employees to grow within the company. With Progressive being a long-time Top Workplaces winner, Griffith’s leadership is a testament to the longevity of company culture and how great leaders are born from hard work and strong values.
9. Whitney Wolf Herd
Dating apps are all the rage nowadays, and we have Whitney Wolf Herd to thank for that. As one of America’s most renowned entrepreneurs, Heard is the founder and CEO of Bumble, an app that inspires women to take the first move in a romantic relationship. Prior to founding Bumble, she also co-founded Tinder, another extremely popular dating app. Both of these apps have made a huge impact on pop culture and the tech industry, in addition to revolutionizing dating worldwide.
With Bumble being an app focused on female empowerment, it’s no surprise that Herd is a successful career woman who is strong, self-assured, and knows how to take charge. Women worldwide should take inspiration from Herd and find ways to empower women in any way. Whether you start a women-owned business or advocate for other women and their careers, you can be like Herd and help women take charge of their lives through your career.
10. Melinda Gates
When we hear the “Gates” last name, many of our minds turn instantly to Bill Gates. However, his ex-wife Melinda Gates is a prominent force in the business world. Even following their divorce, she remained the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and refused to let any personal differences get in the way of her work. On top of that, Gates is a billionaire in her own right, having over $2.4 billion worth of stock in July 2021.
With all of this money, Gates still isn’t selfish. She is dedicated to helping all people lead healthy and productive lives, while also raising awareness for women’s and girl’s rights. Additionally, Gates is on a mission to close the funding gap for female founders through her investment company, Pivotal Adventures. Use Melinda as a shining example of using your success to pay it forward to other women and girls who may come after you. A true leader doesn’t just build success for themselves, but extends a hand and builds it for others too.
If you’re looking for that extra bit of motivation as you navigate the business and career landscape, take inspiration and tips away from these 10 powerful women leaders. They’re all amazing examples of how women can succeed in a industries like real estate, tech, sports, consulting, insurance, and government.
As a rising leader, set high goals for yourself. Use these examples as motivation to blaze new trails and pay it forward along the way.