Oswald Letter

Women in business—we have seen progress, but challenges remain

Portrait Of Multi-Cultural Office Staff Standing In Lobbyby Dan Oswald

March is Women’s History Month. Let’s face it, the business world has been dominated by men for too long. Episodes of Mad Men come to mind, where just 50 years ago the majority of women served as assistants or secretaries. Sure, we’ve made progress, but has it been fast enough?

There are no more excuses for leaving women out of the inner circles of power. Qualified women are everywhere. Women are ready for leadership; they just need to be identified and asked.

Madeleine M. Kunin

Did you know that 51 of the CEOs on Fortune’s most recent list of the top 1,000 companies are women? At just over five percent, that number seems incredibly low, and it is. But progress is being made. Consider for a moment that in 1998, just 17 years ago, there were only two female CEOs who headed up a company on the list.

Today, some of America’s best-known companies and brands are led by female CEOs, including PepsiCo, Xerox, Campbell Soup, Williams Sonoma, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cracker Barrel, and Avon. Another female-led company on the Fortune 1,000 list is General Motors, the seventh largest company in the world. It’s noteworthy that a woman has climbed to the top of the auto industry, which for so long has been a particularly male-dominated business.

Many women have taken a different path. Instead of trying to claw their way to the top, they start their own businesses. Think of Debbi Fields of Mrs. Fields Cookies or Oprah Winfrey and the media conglomerate she has built. And the woman as entrepreneur isn’t a new phenomenon.

In 1963, Mary Kay Ash, according to her company’s website, “decided to write a book to help women survive in the male-dominated business world.” While making her lists of what she’d seen done both right and wrong during her time in business, she stumbled upon a plan for a company that would provide women an opportunity to achieve success in the business world. Today more than 3 million women are part of the Mary Kay organization.

The definition of a successful person is simply an ordinary person with extraordinary determination. You cannot keep a determined person from success. If you place stumbling blocks in her way, she will take them for stepping-stones and will use them to climb to new heights. The one who succeeds has a goal, a dream, and makes her plans and follows them.

Mary Kay Ash

Women have proven that they can lead and succeed when given the opportunity. They just haven’t been provided with enough opportunities. And while we are seeing more women in top jobs across the country, it just hasn’t happened as fast as it should have.

March is Women’s History Month, and looking back, there are countless contributions women have made in business. When there weren’t opportunities, they went out and made their own. And when they have been given opportunities, they have proven they can be successful. Let’s just hope the trend of more women in leadership positions in business continues. It’s good for everyone.