Women in Business

Friends and partnersThere are just 22 women at the helm of Fortune Top 500 companies, which is not many, true, but they’re definitely more than there were, say, 20 years ago. What does it take to get to the top of giants like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Lockheed Martin? These are not just industrial giants, which is impressive enough, these are traditional male territory. So, how did they do it? Are they superwomen or are they just lucky? Since we don’t live in the land of fairytales, the answer is simpler. They were just ambitious, focused and motivated enough to do it. And they were also patient.

Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin and Virginia Rometty of IBM both spent about three decades at the companies they now lead. Good things need time to happen, right? They also take effort and the ability to think ahead and have a clear vision about what you want to accomplish, but knowing the company inside and out is definitely something that helps up the promotion ladder. The third lady in the sample, Margaret Whitman of Hewlett-Packard, had no decade-long experience at that company, but had previously spent 10 year as CEO of eBay, so she definitely had the leadership experience. In fact, experience is, hardly surprisingly, what’s essential for rising to the top in the corporate world, together with what we already said about being motivated and determined about your priorities. It all sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? And it is common sense, only you need to have a very clear idea about what these things entail. What they entail is, above all else, hard work and if you can imagine the ferocity of competition in big business and not run away screaming, then maybe you’re fit for a chief exec of a major company yourself. As long as you have the experience and deep knowledge of the industry. And some personal qualities such as readiness to take a plunge into the deep and risk-taking in general — successful people are willing to take risks, standing still takes you nowhere. Also, fear of failure has no place in the mind of someone who’s set on getting to the top spot. Failure happens and the best way to avoid the fear of it from getting on top of you is to simply accept it as a possibility. Just stare challenges in the face and don’t back down unless you absolutely have to. And don’t rush things.

Did you know politicians in Germany are pushing for a mandatory quota of women on the boards of listed corporates? They’re also thinking of forcing companies to set such personal targets for their staff as to encourage more women to be promoted to managerial positions. Sounds like a good idea but you might wonder if it’s the right way to do things. Forcing someone to do something doesn’t always yield the best results possible. It rarely does, actually, and in this case particularly it can be seen as less empowering for women that what Ginnie Rometty and Marillyn Hewson are doing, which is promoting and encouraging the participation of women in the corporate world from within — one through her work on the Women in Technology Council and the Women’s Leadership Council at IBM, and the other with the foundation of the Women ‘s Leadership Forum. Nice and easy does the job, and who better knows how to be nice and easy than women?