Powerful Women - A Global Perspective

By Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., Cultural Business Expert & Author, Access to Culture

Among the lists that Forbes magazine issue each year is The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. An occasion that frequently brings attention to the continuing pay disparity between men and women, especially in business. The good news, however, is that the gap is narrowing.

According to a study by executive compensation firm Equilar, in 2015 the top female CEOs in the United States significantly out-earned the men. Although eight of the top 100 CEOs of the largest companies by revenue were female, they earned an average of $22.7 million, compared to $14.9 million for male CEOs on the list.

What’s more, Safra Catz of Oracle tied with her co-CEO, Mark Hurd, for the title of highest-paid chief executive.

Looking to the 2015 Forbes list, the world’s most powerful woman is German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, with U.S. presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, coming in at #2. It’s important to note that within the top 25 women on this list, several of them are female presidents, including Geun-Lye Park (#11) of South Korea and Cristina Kirchner (#16) of Argentina.

Turning our attention to the business arena and the kinds of industries and sectors that powerful women globally inhabit, let’s look at, not only the women in leadership positions, but also the kinds of businesses that they lead. When Fortune magazine analyzed the top industries headed by women CEOs from among their Fortune 1000 list, they found that the most common were specialty retailers; food production, products & services; and gas and electric utilities.

The results of a Social Trends survey from the Pew Research Center also found that among their respondents, 46% believed that men have the edge when it comes to running a large oil or gas company.

What you might be surprised to learn, is how many women around the world have been heading up industries that many people seem to more closely associate with men, and for quite some time. The following is only a selection of the many examples:

  • Elizabeth Filippouli, Founder & CEO of Global Thinkers, a UK-based and internationally operating strategic communications and business development consulting firm, as well as Founder & CEO of the Global Thinkers Forum, inspires others through a focus on women’s empowerment, social entrepreneurship, innovation, future trends and visionary leadership.
  • Mallika Srinivasan is Chairman and CEO of TAFE (Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd), a $1.4 billion (INR 93 billion) business based in Chennai, India, where she has worked since 1986.
  • Fellow Indian, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw founded Biocon in 1978, India’s largest publicly traded biopharmaceutical company. In 2014, she won the Chemical Heritage Foundation's Othmer Gold Medal for contributions to science through entrepreneurship, as well as Germany's Keihl Institute Global Economy Prize for achievements in business.
  • Africa’s “richest self-made woman,” Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria (#87 on Forbes Power Women list) is not just Executive Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil, but has a license “for one of the most lucrative oil fields” in the country.
  • Ana Patricia Botín of Spain became the first woman to head a major European lender in 2014 when she stepped up as Executive Chairman of Santander Group, the largest bank in the eurozone by market value.
  • In South Korea, Hyun Jeong-eun, has been Chairman of car giant Hyundai since 2004. In 2015, she was named one of Forbes Asia's "Asia Power Businesswomen," her second time being recognized on the list.
  • Isela Costantini assumed her role as President and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay in 2012, the first woman to hold the position.
  • In 2011, Christine Lagarde of France took over as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, the organization which serves as economic advisor for 188 countries.
  • Ranked the “#1 Most Powerful Arab Woman” in the family business category by Forbes Middle East in 2014, Raja Easa Al Gurg, has been instrumental as Managing Director in expanding UAE-based Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group’s trade and commerce to include 24 companies and 370 international brand partnerships.
  • Australian Gina Rinehart has been Executive Chairman of mining company, Hancock Prospecting, since 1992, and ranks second on Forbes Australia’s Richest People list.
  • In 2006, Griselda Hernandez became the first female country manager to lead Mexican operations of UPS (she now leads its North Latin America operations).
  • And in 1995 in China, Zhang Xin co-founded (and is currently CEO) of one of China’s largest property developers, SOHO China. She and her husband Pan Shiyi also established the SOHO China Foundation, a charity with the mission of alleviating poverty through the advancement of education.

Therefore, we celebrate the gains and significant strides women have made worldwide over the years, especially in cultures with different expectations about marriage, career, children, and elder care. As such, it’s invaluable to take a global perspective to see where women have made great inroads in business and politics.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D.

Cultural Business Expert & Author, Access to Culture

Sharon Schweitzer is an internationally recognized cross-cultural business expert, corporate trainer, speaker and the founder of Access to Culture. She is an award-winning entrepreneur and the author of the Amazon #1 best-selling book in International Business, Access to Asia (3rd printing), named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015.  Sharon has worked with brands such as CBS, GLG, Hilton, JPMorgan, KPMG, and Lexus as well as professional athletes to provide practical techniques for improving business communication and increasing revenue.

Sharon has received the prestigious recognition of being named the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award (small business category) at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards. She was the 2009 honoree in the City of Austin program Celebrating the Entrepreneurial Spirit of Austin Women. She serves on the 2018 Austin Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee.

Sharon is a media resource for BBC World News and NPR. She has been quoted in Investor’s Business Daily, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and numerous other media outlets. Sharon has appeared on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and BBC News as an expert in the field of cross-cultural business and global etiquette. Sharon serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie on Nat Geo People.

Published: 17/03/2017