Female engineers who have achieved top jobs at major companies
Fortune Magazine is known for keeping track of how executives and business leaders rank against their peers. In a recent look at the Fortune 1000, they found that 51 of these companies were led by women; still a small percentage, but an improvement over 2009. And while only 5% of these companies have females in the top job, their companies generate 7% of the Fortune 1000 revenue.
These executive women lead some impressive companies including IBM, General Motors, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, DuPont, Archer Daniels Midland and Fidelity Investments to name a few. And many share one other common trait, they have engineering backgrounds. In fact, 4 out of the 5 top female CEOs in the U.S. have at least an undergraduate degree in a STEM field.
Let’s take a look at some of these impressive leaders
IBM CEO, President and Chairman, Ginni Rometty, began her education with a double major in computer science and electrical engineering at Northwestern University. Spending most of her professional career at IBM, Rometty held positions on increasing responsibility until being named the company’s first female president in 2012.
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, has a story similar to Rometty. Barra was named CEO in 2014 during a turbulent time for the automaker. But she was very familiar with the company. Her father was a toolmaker and Mary had her first co-op assignment at the age of 18. After graduating with a BS in Electrical Engineering, she went on to get her MBA from Stanford. She is the first female head of an American automaker and a mother of two.
The CEO and President of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi, began her education in India receiving a combined degree with a concentration in physics and mathematics, followed by an MBA two years later. In 1978, she received a second Master’s Degree from Yale in Public and Private Management. Nooyi’s career led to her the Boston Consulting Group and Motorola. In 1994, she joined Pepsico and became CFO in 2001.
Ellen Kullman is Chair and Chief Executive Officer of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.She began her career at General Electric before joining DuPont’s medical imaging group in 1988. A Wilmington native, Kullman received her Mechanical Engineering degree from Tufts University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She is the first women to lead the 212-year-old company and is ranked 31st on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women in 2014.
Stemming the tide
While these women are in the minority of corporate leaders, their education and career paths underscore the value of a STEM background. Engineering experience can open doors for women; doors that may not be available in less technical fields. Coupled with a graduate degree in business management, you have a winning combination.
Given the success rate of female engineers, it is disheartening to know the disparity of women electing to pursue a STEM education. According to a 2015 National Science Foundation report titled Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering “Although the number of women earning degrees in engineering has increased in the past 20 years, women's participation remains well below that of men at all degree levels and in all nine fields of engineering.” Our educational institutions and parents need to encourage young women to pursue technical degrees and reverse this gender disparity. As we can see from these great female role models who are running some of American’s finest companies, women in STEM can and do make a difference.