By | Maryville University
As of 2019, 244 of the 2,153 billionaires worldwide are women, according to Forbes. Becoming a powerful and wealthy leader in any industry requires dedication, perseverance, and hard work. Women pursuing leadership roles can learn from the stories and insights of a few successful female billionaires.
Gender Diversity Statistics
Women today have many opportunities to succeed in business – whether as a business owner or as a member of an executive team. Nevertheless, many women pursuing their dream careers still face challenges on the road to equality in business leadership.
Women in Business
In 2017, women constituted 22.2% of Fortune 500 company board members. This was the highest percentage since the Pew Research Center started tracking such data 1995. In 2018, it was determined that 4.8% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies were women, although this number does represent a drop from the previous year. Still, studies determined women owned 12.3 million businesses in the U.S., and 47% of these business owners were women of color. Collectively, these businesses employed 9.2 million people.
While these numbers are encouraging, there are nonetheless several big challenges women face in business leadership. These include speaking up confidently, sharing about their successes, letting go of perfectionist tendencies, requesting a pay raise or higher starting salary, and trusting themselves and their voices.
Lessons from Female Billionaires
Through the ups and downs, successful female business owners have preserved and learned valuable lessons along the way – lessons that can inspire and educate aspiring entrepreneurs.
The Founder and CEO of Lens Technology worked as a factory manager before starting her own business. Today, Lens Technology employs over 82,000 workers. Her company was valued at $11.4 billion as of May 2015, and her net worth is $3.4 billion as of May 2019.
Her career path produces the first three of the eleven lesson that can be learned from female billionaires. The first lesson is to continue learning throughout your career. The second lesson is to never give up. Zhou herself has challenged her executives to climb the Dawei Mountain in Hunan, China, to emphasize the importance of perseverance. Lesson number three is to always be prepared. Entrepreneurs should expect rejection and have several backup plans in place.
The Founder of Spanx initially invested $5,000 to start the company, something she’s parlayed into 100% ownership. Spanx products are sold in 65 countries, and Blakely’s net work is $1 billion as of May 2019.
Blakely’s career arc yields the next three lessons that can be learned. The first lesson here is patience; specifically, when building a business, don’t rush to quit your day job. Spanx was Blakely’s side hustle until she was sure the company was financially stable. The next lesson to be learned is to be willing to make mistake, as Blakely herself defines failure as not trying. The final lesson here is to create a space for productive thinking.
Hendricks co-founded ABC Supply with her husband, Kenneth, in 1982. Within three years, the company owned 33 stores. When Kenneth passed away in 2007, Hendricks continued to lead the business. Eventually, she launched a construction program allowing high school students at Beloit Memorial High to participate in the process of demolishing, rebuilding, and selling a new home. In 2018, the company had over 760 locations and $10.5 billion in sales. As of May 2019, her net worth is $6.7 billion.
Two key lessons can be learned from Hendricks. Firstly, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities when they come, as they may not come again. Secondly, it’s crucial to believe in your vision even when other don’t. In Hendricks’ case, banks were skeptical of the company’s rapid expansion and didn’t believe it could maintain long-term success.
The Chairperson and CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Harpo Productions began her career at age 19 in Tennessee as a news anchor for the local CBS television station. Since then, she’s gone on to launch OWN, serve as a board member and brand ambassador for Weight Watchers, and has donated over $425 million throughout her career. Her net worth as of May 2019 is $2.6 billion.
Winfrey’s success yields two more lessons. First, Winfrey says “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it.” Second, Winfrey says “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, never have enough.
The Vice Chair of Famfa Oil, Alakija’s first company she founded, Supreme Stitches, was a fashion label that dressed Maryam Babangida, the late wife of former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida. She launched Flourish Africa to empower and mentor women in Nigeria and across Africa, and she is one of two female billionaires in Africa. Her net worth, as of May 2019, is $1.1 billion.
Alakija’s journey produces the final lesson to be learned. According to Alakija, “I believe that leadership happens when you are able to empower and inspire others to achieve a set of goals.”
Folorunso Alakija and many other female leaders have accepted their responsibility to mentor young and aspirational women pursuing leadership roles. By empowering each other, women will continue to grow as leaders and achieve success in their careers.