This year, the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs reached an all-time high, with 37 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies. While the thought of breaking records seems promising when it comes to diversity in the C-suite, the bigger picture is still stark: Only 7.4% of Fortune 500-ranked businesses are led by women.
So in a world where women still have to fight hard to access opportunities, what can we learn from some of the most powerful female leaders in business? These executives have, after all, built impressive careers in sometimes male-dominated industries. They’ve had to relentlessly prove their worth and be subjected to scrutiny — a 2019 S&P Global study revealed that firms with female CEOs and CFOs are more profitable, citing the idea that women are held to a higher standard by the board of directors than their male counterparts as a possible explanation for these findings.
As we continue to make strides towards more gender diversity in the workplace, we can get inspired by the approach of women who’ve made it to the top and paved the way for others to follow. We’ve curated valuable career principles from leaders featured in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business list to help you carve your own path and inspire others to do so.
Here are four principles that some of the most powerful women in business understand and leverage for greater success.
Ginni Rometty – Diversify your experiences and transfer learnings
Ginni Rometty is currently the Executive Chairman of IBM, though she previously was the first woman ever to serve as chairman, president and CEO of the company. But did you know that the prominent business leader spent the beginning of her career at IBM in highly technical roles? She joined as a systems engineer before climbing management ranks and transitioning to sales-oriented positions. Her tenure as CEO included the acquisition of 65 companies, and she led the repositioning of IBM towards innovative technological sectors.
Rometty’s early career is a reminder that you don’t need to pigeonhole yourself into specific types of roles just because of your background, and that transferring learnings between different aspects of your industry can be beneficial in the long run — her transition to sales and marketing proved key to skyrocketing her career and rounding out her skillset.
Gail Boudreaux – Let your personal mission statement drive your career
Gail Boudreaux is the CEO of Anthem Inc., one of America’s largest health benefits providers. She was previously the CEO of UnitedHealthcare and has also held roles at Aetna, Blue Cross and Blue Shield — all health insurance behemoths. And while her business resume is impressive, the underlying foundation that has carried her through three decades in the healthcare industry is her passion for helping people access the care they need. “I do want to lead an enterprise where I can make a difference,” she told Forbes.
Many successful people have personal mission statements for their careers. What’s yours? Let it fuel you and guide your decisions when the going gets tough. It’s not so much about the company or the role but your personal values and the impact you want to make on the world.
Revathi Advaithi – It doesn’t matter if you’re the only woman in the room
Revathi Advaithi is the CEO of electronics manufacturing giant Flex. A mechanical engineer by trade, she started her career as a shop floor supervisor on a factory floor.
“I always tell people there’s nothing unique about my background or my trajectory that other people can’t do the same way,” she told Fortune. An advocate for STEM education for girls, she spoke about being the only female student in a room full of men. “Girls were going into engineering in India at the time that I went into engineering so that wasn’t unique but being a mechanical engineer was definitely unique. I was the only girl in a class of all boys and I would love to see more women and girls take up this field of engineering.”
Advaithi’s experience contains a precious nugget of wisdom: There might be times when the lack of gender diversity will be glaring. Don’t let them mean anything or stop you.
Ann-Marie Campbell – Be bold and seize opportunities
Ann-Marie Campbell is the executive vice president of U.S. stores at The Home Depot. It’s hard to imagine that the people-oriented leader who oversees over 2,000 stores began working at the company as a part-time cashier. How did she ascend to the top of the corporate ladder? It all started when she let her personality shine and pulled a bold move.
A Home Depot VP, Lynn Martin, was touring store locations when she asked all employees a question that nobody seemed willing or able to answer — except Campbell. Impressed by her boldness, Martin took her under her wing and became her mentor, encouraging her to develop her career and pursue promotions across different store operations. Let Campbell’s story inspire you to always recognize opportunity when it’s in front of you — and act fast to strike.