Breaking the Glass Ceiling: A Woman’s Guide on How to Become a CEO


In the quest to understand the journey of leadership, the narrative of how to become a CEO as a woman, stands out with its unique challenges and inspiring successes. Over years of exploration in the executive search realm, I’ve been privileged to engage in discussions with numerous female leaders who’ve navigated this path.

These interactions have unveiled not just the stark statistics that underscore the rarity of female CEOs in Fortune 500 boardrooms but also the personal stories of ambition, perseverance, and resilience. Despite the gradual increase in their numbers, female CEOs remain significantly underrepresented, holding a mere 10% of the top positions. This reality frames the backdrop of our exploration into what it takes and what it means to become a female CEO in today’s corporate landscape, shedding light on the distinctive hurdles and the profound insights shared by these trailblazing women.

becoming a CEO as a woman in tech

How to become a CEO as a woman in the tech world? That’s a whole different ball game for female leaders. Picture this: out of all the venture capital floating around in the last decade, female-led companies snagged just 2% to 3%. And IPOs? Only 18 female founders/CEOs led their companies to go public out of over 2,000 in the U.S. from 2013 to 2020. 

The numbers are stark, but they’re not just numbers. They’re stories of ambition, grit, and resilience.

The Unconventional Wisdom of Female CEOs

The Feminine Edge in Executive Roles

Speaking of stories, the female CEOs I’ve met have shared some eye-openers. They’re not playing by the old rulebook. No “move fast and break things” mantra for them. Instead, they lead with a mix of honesty, emotional intelligence, and an incredible amount of grit. It’s refreshing and, frankly, inspiring.

Purpose with Profit: Visionary Companies Leading Change

One thing that really stands out? Their knack for blending purpose with profit. 

They’re not just businesses; they’re missions aiming to tackle everything from environmental issues to social inequities. And guess what? This approach is paying off, attracting customers and employees who want to be part of something meaningful.

Resilience and Purpose: The Core of Female Leadership

Embarking on the path to becoming a CEO as a woman has been an enlightening experience about the importance of having a clear purpose. It’s far more than a nice addition; it’s essential for steering through challenging moments. These incredible women have illustrated that resilience is key, especially when faced with obstacles, propelled by the meaningful impact they aim to achieve.

Breaking Stereotypes and Embracing Inclusivity in Leadership

Now, onto breaking stereotypes. The stories of these female CEOs and founders are rewriting the script on leadership. It’s clear that we’ve got a long way to go towards gender equity in leadership, but there’s a silver lining. Women are leading the charge, breaking down barriers and showcasing the strength in traits traditionally seen as feminine. And it’s not just about women; it’s about creating a more inclusive, effective leadership model for everyone.

The Future of Female Leadership

I’ve been tuning into Mo Gawdat’s podcast lately, and he’s got some fascinating insights on embracing these traditionally female traits in leadership. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue, and it’s making waves in how we think about success and leadership in the corporate world.

So, here’s to the female leaders out there making a difference. Your journey is not just your own; it’s a beacon for the rest of us, showing the way forward. Here’s hoping the corporate world takes note and that the future of leadership is not just diverse but inclusive, effective, and, above all, purpose-driven.

Trailblazing Women CEOs

benefits of having female leaders

Purpose Meets Profit: The Visionary Approach of Female Leaders

First off, the blend of purpose and profit that female leaders often champion is a game-changer. In today’s world, consumers and employees alike are looking for more than just transactions; they’re seeking connections with brands and companies that stand for something. Companies led by visionary women, are prime examples of how integrating a clear mission with business objectives can lead to success on multiple fronts. This approach not only attracts a loyal customer base but also cultivates a dedicated workforce, driving both growth and fulfillment across the board.

Resilience and Innovation: The Hallmarks of Female Leadership

Then there’s the aspect of resilience and innovation. The unique challenges faced by female CEOs and founders, especially in securing funding and navigating male-dominated industries, have fostered a breed of leaders who are not just tough but incredibly resourceful and innovative. Their journeys underscore the importance of adaptability and resilience, qualities that are infectious and can transform organizational culture for the better. You can find more on what makes a “great CEO” on my article about Female CEOs

Embracing Emotional Intelligence and Inclusivity in Leadership

Moreover, the emotional intelligence and honesty that these leaders bring to the table enhance team dynamics and decision-making processes. The ability to share emotions, be vulnerable, and connect on a human level can lead to a more cohesive, motivated, and productive team. It’s about creating an environment where people feel valued and understood, which in turn, drives performance and innovation.

The focus on traditionally feminine traits, such as empathy, collaboration, and inclusivity, doesn’t just make for a nicer workplace; it makes for a more effective one. These qualities are increasingly recognized as critical leadership skills in the modern business world, fostering environments where creativity and innovation can flourish. 

The Essential Role of Female Leadership in Today's Business World

In essence, the setup of having more female leaders is not just beneficial; it’s essential for businesses looking to thrive in a rapidly changing world. It’s about leveraging a diverse range of perspectives, experiences, and skills to navigate complex challenges and seize new opportunities. The success stories of female-led companies are not anomalies; they are evidence of what’s possible when we embrace and integrate these qualities into our leadership models.

Positive Scope in the USA

US female founders grab record share of VC dollars

Female founders increased their share of US VC capital raised in 2023, according to the latest US All In: Female Founders in the VC Ecosystem report sponsored by Deloitte, Pivotal Ventures, and Wilson Sonsini.

  •  Female founders and co-founders secured 27.8% of deal value last year. That figure drops to 22.8% if you exclude OpenAI’s $10.0 billion raise, but it still marks a record high.
  • In absolute terms, deal activity fell along with the broader venture market, with female founders securing 25.0% fewer deals.
  •  At the GP level, the share of female check writers at the largest VC firms grew slightly to 17.4%.  

A European edition of the All In report, sponsored by UBS, Shoosmiths, and Enterprise Ireland, is also available for download.

So, why does it make sense to have more female leaders? Because in doing so, we’re not just ticking a box on diversity; we’re unlocking a treasure trove of benefits that can lead to more innovative, resilient, and successful businesses. It’s a setup that makes sense not just morally and ethically, but fundamentally from a business perspective.

The stories of female CEOs and founders underscore a powerful truth: leadership transcends gender. It’s about the ability to inspire and drive change, to foster innovation and inclusivity, and to navigate the complexities of the business world with integrity and foresight. As we look to the future, the role of women in the highest echelons of leadership is not just a metric of progress but a testament to the transformative power of diverse perspectives and experiences in shaping a more equitable and dynamic corporate landscape.

For aspiring female CEOs, the path forward involves embracing both the unique challenges and the immense potential of their journey. It’s about building a robust support network, seeking out mentors and allies, and seizing opportunities for leadership and visibility. It’s also about championing the values of empathy, collaboration, and purpose-driven leadership, which are increasingly recognized as pivotal to business success in this century.

In conclusion, becoming a CEO as a woman is an ambitious goal that demands not just exceptional skill and dedication but also a profound commitment to redefining leadership. By embracing the challenges, leveraging their unique strengths, and paving the way for others, female leaders can not only ascend to the CEO role but also redefine what it means to lead, inspiring the next generation of women to aim for the pinnacle of corporate leadership. The journey to the top is both a personal and collective endeavor, one that holds the promise of a more inclusive, innovative, and resilient business world.

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