By: Christine Medina
For most women, the glass ceiling is the business world’s carrot-and-stick approach to female representation in coveted leadership positions. It’s no secret that women are not paid as highly as their male counterparts, nor are they promoted to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder as frequently as men, so while women can “˜see’ these positions of President, CEO and Board Member, and work just as efficiently as their male counterparts, they still can’t quite seem to reach them, or be paid equally for them.
There are undoubtedly factors (family demands and resistance to women’s leadership, among others) that prevent women from achieving the most powerful, highest grossing jobs in the workplace, but things are slowly beginning to change. Women are filling CEO positions, joining the Board of Directors and in some places, such as Europe, quotas that would mandate female members to serve on corporate boards are being considered to even out the over-representation of males in top positions.
For a select few, the glass has been broken, the symbolic carrot reached””and devoured. These six women from different countries across the globe have achieved what was once thought impossible for women, and are chipping away at what’s left of the ceiling, piece by piece.
Mexico: In a culture where machisimo still exists, and women weren’t allowed to vote until 1953, breaking through Mexico’s glass ceiling has been no easy feat. However, with women like MarÃa AsunciÃ³n Aramburuzabala, it’s starting to show some cracks. Aramburuzabala is the CEO and President of Tresalia Capital, a family-run business through which she’s invested in other companies. In one such investment with Mexican media giant Groupo Televisa, she bought a 20.62% stake and became Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Her résumé is lengthy and impressive: she was the first woman to become a member of the Mexican Stock Exchange Board and Chairman of the Board of Siemens Mexico. She is also a member of several prestigious university advisory boards including Mexico’s ITAM and Harvard. Forbes reports Aramburuzabala as Mexico’s richest woman with a net worth of $2 billion.
Argentina: Though Argentine President Cristina Fernandez isn’t Argentina’s first female leader (that title belongs to Isabel MartÃnez de PerÃ³n), she is the first woman in the history of the country to be reelected as President.
Serving from 2007-present, Fernandez also has experience as First Lady, when she served the country with her late husband Néstor Kirchner, who held office in the preceding term. As an advocate for human rights and poverty awareness, Fernandez has worked to improve economic development with social inclusion. Currently, six percent of the GDP is invested in education and culture, and 9.5 percent of the GDP is invested in health services (The World Bank). In addition to improving Argentina’s economy, she leads in style; Fernandez is widely regarded as a fashion icon ““ a well-dressed, confident role model for many women in her country.
Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff is the first woman in Brazilian history to ever hold that title. The fact that Brazil is Latin America’s largest economical superpower only adds to Rousseff’s impressive accomplishments.
Actively engaged in politics from a young age, Rousseff was involved in left-wing groups that fought against the military dictatorship, and was consequently jailed in the early 1970’s. After her release, she rebuilt her life, both personally and politically, while climbing the ranks of the political realm, highlighted by her successful run for president in 2010.
India: In 2007, Indra Nooyi was elected chairman of PepsiCo, ushering in a new era of women in power within the business world. Although an American citizen, Nooyi’s success is especially remarkable because she was born and raised in India, a nation known for favoring sons over daughters due to the traditional belief that daughters place a financial burden with the tradition of a dowry.
“As CEO, she has continued to pursue her unusual, and tremendously ambitious, vision for reinventing PepsiCo. She is trying to take the company from snack food to health food, from caffeine colas to fruit juices, and from shareholder value to sustainable enterprise. In doing so, Nooyi is attempting to move beyond the historic trade-off between profits and people. Captured in her artful mantra”””Performance with purpose”””she wants to give Wall Street what it wants but also, the planet what it needs. ‘It doesn’t mean subtracting from the bottom line,’ she explained in a 2007 speech, but rather ‘that we bring together what is good for business with what is good for the world'” (US News & World Report).
Nooyi was recently listed on Forbes’ 50 Most Powerful Women (currently at #4) and raked in a cool $17.1 million in 2011.
Germany: Named “the de facto leader of the European Union” by Forbes, Angela Merkel can count among her accomplishments being the first female Chancellor of Germany; ranked as the World’s Most Powerful Woman of 2011 (though she had made the list four times previously) and being a physicist before entering the realm of politics.
She played a crucial role in the European financial crisis, and although she’s often criticized for her decision-making, Germans’ embrace her as their leader: “Her personal approval rating today remains near 60 percent, and more than half of her fellow Germans say they trust her to guide Europe out of the crisis” (NPR).
Taiwan: Billionaire Cher Wang, has not only reached the ranks of chairperson at VIA Technologies, but she also co-founded HTC Corporation, a Taiwanese manufacturer of smartphones and tablets.
Though Wang’s ideas weren’t always successful (she and her team launched a design for one of the world’s first PDAs that didn’t capture the market), her persistence paid off: HTC has collaborated with Microsoft, HP, Compaq, T-mobile and continues to see dramatic growth over the last decade.
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About Christine Medina
Christine Medina is a freelance writer, aspiring photographer and wanderlust-stricken expat currently living in Andalusia, Spain. Upon graduating from The University of Washington with a BA in Communications and a BA in Social Science, she set off to Spain to immerse herself in a new culture and learn the Spanish language. She writes about expat life and all things Spain on her blog, http://www.christineinspain.
*For another dose of Women in Culture, check out our piece on 6 Women-Run Startups to Watch.
Photo of Indra Nooyi by: World Economic Forum/flickr