Three decades after Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month, the number of women in corporate boardrooms across the country is rising. Albeit very slowly, the story behind the numbers is that women now occupy the C- Suite in major U.S. corporations across a range of industries. A 2017 Fortune list of the most powerful women in American business found they had a variety of backgrounds, work experience and educational pursuits. The top five women together have more than a century and a half of work experience, and a lot of wisdom to share. Let’s take a look at what drives these accomplished leaders.Mary Barra, CEO and Chairman, GM
Barra, heading the Fortune list for the second year in a row, is the first female CEO of a major global automaker. During her 37-year tenure at GM (which began before she’d even earned her first college degree, in electrical engineering), she’s had a front row seat to changes in the auto industry, from the push for lower emissions and fuel efficiency to the increase of electronics. And she continues to embrace change in the industry. In 2016 alone, GM acquired Cruise Automation, invested $500 million in transportation network company Lyft and launched the Bolt, the automaker’s first long-range, all-electric vehicle, confirming her commitment to driving GM forward through innovation.Indra Nooyi, CEO and Chairman, PepsiCo
PepsiCo’s Nooyi also paid her dues, joining the world’s second largest food and beverage business in 1994 and working her way up to CEO in 2006. Nooyi is credited with taking advantage of healthier eating trends and aligning the company’s products into three categories: “good for you” (oatmeal), “better for you” (diet or low-fat versions of snacks and sodas) and “fun for you” (potato chips, regular soda). Her mission for healthier living helps inform her approach to food and beverage products. "I grew up in an emerging market, and I cannot forget that," Nooyi is quoted as saying. "I have a basic belief that positive nutrition is important."Marillyn Hewson, CEO, Chairman, and President, Lockheed Martin
Since Hewson became CEO of the global aerospace and defense corporation in 2013, she’s led Lockheed to record profits despite shrinking revenue, in part by diversifying into cyber security and alternative energy. Hewson told CNN in 2016 that she realizes it’s important to be a role model for women, but prefers to be known more for her leadership skills.“ Good leaders organize and align people around what the team needs to do,” said Hewson. “Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they’re doing it. That’s purpose. And that’s the key to achieving something truly transformational.”Ginni Rometty, CEO, Chairman and President, IBM
Rometty, the second engineer among the top five, became IBM’s first female CEO in 2012.With decades of experience at IBM, she has credited her affinity for risk-taking for helping her get where she is. “I learned to always take on things I'd never done before,” she said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women's conference that same year. She also said her company’s increasingly global focus has led her to think more holistically about having more voices at the table. “I think this is a time of great inclusion. It's not men, it's not women alone. Whether it's geographic, it's approach, it's your style, it's your way of learning, the way you want to contribute, it's your age — it is really broad.”Abigail Johnson, CEO and President, Fidelity Investments
Although Johnson is the third generation leader of the company her grandfather founded, she’s never taken it for granted — her first position at Fidelity was taking customer service calls during a summer of high school. Her biggest challenge now is maintaining excellent customer relationships and growing the privately-held business. “Every day you get up and the world is changing, your customers are expecting more from you,” she told Forbes, while competitors never stop trying to win business away. She is tackling the challenge on many fronts, including by focusing on millennials and female investors and pressing for new technology to help investors interact with Fidelity.Inspiring the Next Generations of Leaders
These five women serve as strong role models as they continue to establish a foundation that others are building on. “I have read extensively about these women, and have followed them over their careers,” noted Stacey Jenkins, Aerotek’s vice president of Strategic Delivery Solutions. “It’s so important to find inspiration and build relationships that help you learn and grow. Throughout my own career, I have learned so much through working with others, men and women alike. I’ve found that role models provide an ideal of how high you can set your goals in the workplace, and mentors provide advocacy to help you reach those goals,” added Jenkins.
As we begin Women’s History Month, let’s continue to celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history, and the women making history right now.