7 Inspirational Women in Business and Tech

Two St. Kate's students present their data analysis research

In 2020, with Linda Rendle named chief executive officer of Clorox, the number of women CEOs on the Fortune 500 hit 38, constituting roughly 7% — the highest percentage ever. It’s been quite a journey since the late Katherine Graham of The Washington Post became the first woman CEO on the list back in 1972. 

Increasingly, companies see the benefits of women in leadership roles. In turn, these inspirational women serve as role models for aspiring women leaders in business and tech.

The Importance of Women in Business and Tech 

Companies succeed when gender diversity flourishes. Women leaders can transform business and tech, taking companies in new and profitable directions. 

Gender-Diverse Leadership Helps Companies Succeed

  • Fortune 500 companies that hired at least three women for leadership positions saw their ROI increase 66%. [BCG]
  • Companies with the highest gender diversity (wherein 8 out of 20 managers are women) earned 34% of total revenue from innovative products and services in a recent three-year period. [BCG]
  • Gender-diverse teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time. [Cloverpop]
  • Decisions from diverse teams delivered 60% better results than those from non-diverse teams. [Cloverpop]
  • Companies with a larger number of women leaders saw 76% greater profitable growth in a five-year period. [Forbes]

Women Leaders Innovate, Adapt, and Connect

  • Companies with higher numbers of women leaders are more likely to experiment, risk failure, and learn from it. [Forbes]
  • Companies with higher rates of female leadership forge unique, innovative paths. [Forbes]
  • Female leadership candidates scored 13% higher than male candidates in interpersonal sensitivity, a trait of effective leaders. [Forbes]

Inspirational Women in Tech

Technology is a driving force transforming our world. Women tech innovators have become movers and shakers in the arena, from innovating life-changing apps to questioning the equity and accuracy of existing algorithms. The following three influential and inspiring women are making a difference in technology with their perspectives and insights. 

1. Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO [Business Insider]

  • Education: BA in History and Literature, Harvard University; MA in Economics, UC Santa Cruz; MBA, UCLA
  • Early job: Worked in the Intel marketing department
  • 1999: Joined Google as its first marketing manager in 1999
  • 2003: Created AdSense, bringing Google more than $100 billion in 2018
  • 2006: Advised Google to buy YouTube
  • 2010: Promoted to senior vice president of ad products
  • 2014: Promoted to CEO of YouTube
  • 2015: Named one of Time’s most influential people [Time]
    • “Tech is an incredible force that will change our world in ways we can’t anticipate. If that force is only 20% to 30% women, that is a problem.”

2. Joy Buolamwini, Algorithmic Justice League Founder [Forbes]

  • Education: BS in Computer Science, Georgia Institute of Technology; MS in Learning and Tech, Oxford University; MS in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT
  • Early job: Helped develop an Android-based assessment system for trachoma research in Ethiopia
  • 2013: Worked with computer scientists in Zambia to empower youth in tech
  • 2017: Awarded $50,000 grant as the Grand Prize winner of a contest tied to the release of the movie Hidden Figures to support the next generation of female leaders in STEM 
  • 2018: Published an opinion piece in The New York Times on gender bias against dark-skinned women in facial recognition systems, prompting lawmakers to investigate the issue 
  • 2020: As a researcher at MIT Media Lab, identifies bias and develops accountability in decision-making algorithms
  • 2020: Oversees Algorithmic Justice League, a program that examines code for bias against underrepresented groups
  • 2020: Hosted a TED Talk on algorithmic bias that has garnered more than 1 million views
    • “Sometimes respecting people means making sure your systems are inclusive, such as in the case of using AI for precision medicine: At times, it means respecting people’s privacy by not collecting any data, and it always means respecting the dignity of an individual.”

3. Marita Cheng, Robogals and Aipoly Founder [Forbes]

  • Education: BS in Engineering, University of Melbourne
  • Early job: While still at university, founded Nudge, which reminds people to take prescription meds
  • 2008: Founded nonprofit Robogals in support of young women in robotics and STEM fields
  • 2015: Created Aipoly Vision, a mobile phone app that uses AI to enable visually impaired people to recognize objects
  • 2016: Launched Aipoly as co-founder
  • 2017: Won a CES Best of Innovation award for Aipoly Vision
    • “You start learning by taking the first step, and continue by learning along the way.”

Inspirational Women in Business

Inspirational business women are paving the way for the future of the defense and auto industries, finance, and publishing. 

4. Amany Killawi, LaunchGood Co-Founder and COO [Inc.]

  • Education: BA in Social Work, Wayne State University
  • Early job: Led a student fundraiser at Wayne State University
  • 2013: Founded LaunchGood, a crowdfunding financial platform focusing on the global Muslim community
  • 2015: Raised funds to rebuild Black churches destroyed by arson
  • 2018: Raised funds to pay for 11 Jewish burials after a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
  • 2020: Currently leads LaunchGood in supporting fundraising for aid to Turkey earthquake victims and Rohingya refugees
    • “Sometimes, that first run at building something feels really awkward. You have to let yourself sit in the awkwardness.”

5. Dana Canedy, Simon and Schuster Senior Vice President and Publisher [NPR]

  • Education: BA in Journalism, University of Kentucky
  • Early job: Reported for The Palm Beach Post
  • 1996: Joined The New York Times
  • 2001: Won a Pulitzer Prize for co-authoring the series “How Race Is Lived in America”
  • 2006: Promoted to senior editor at The New York Times
  • 2008: Published A Journal for Jordan, a memoir about her late partner who died serving in Iraq
  • 2017: Became the first woman and first person of color to administer the Pulitzer Prizes
  • 2020: Appointed senior vice president and publisher of Simon and Schuster, becoming the first Black person to hold the position
    • “In recent years in particular, there has been a lot more diversity of voice in publishing. A lot more to do, though. No question about it.”

6. Mary Barra, General Motors CEO [CNN]

  • Education: BS in Electrical Engineering, Kettering University; MBA, Stanford University
  • Early job: Checked fenders and hoods as a co-op student for GM
  • 2008: Became vice president of global manufacturing, engineering, for GM
  • 2014: Became CEO of GM and the first woman head of an auto manufacturer
  • 2014: Oversaw recall and reparations for a faulty ignition switch, including a compensation fund for families
  • 2017: Developed Chevy Bolt EV, the first electric car under $40,000 with a 200-mile range
    • “Do every job you’re in like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life, and demonstrate that ownership of it.”

7. Phebe Novakovic, General Dynamics CEO [Global Experiences]

  • Education: BA in German and Government, Smith College; MBA, University of Pennsylvania 
  • Early job: Worked for the CIA
  • 2001: Joined General Dynamics
  • 2012: Became General Dynamics president and COO, one of the few women executives in the defense industry
  • 2013: Became General Dynamics chair and CEO
  • 2018: Listed as one of Forbes’ 25 most powerful women in the world
    • “There’s a bit of an iconoclastic culture here, and maybe there’s a place for me.”