As my wife gets nearer and nearer to having our first child, I realize more and more what a powerful woman really is and what a profound impact it has on my life. I get a clearer picture of what it takes to climb the "somewhat male dominated" World we're living in.
Below are eight historical power women represent mix of current and past figures who are driven by their inner strength, passion, and drive to make a difference. These are some of the best examples of women that motivate both myself and those closest to me to become better people.
Here are the stories of these trailblazing women:
Today's Power Women
From leading global companies to countries, these historical women are the here and now of feminine power:
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is self-made and one of the wealthiest women out there with an estimated net worth of over $1 billion. Long before she headed one of the biggest social media companies and began her Lean in Together Foundation to promote work equality, Sheryl came from humble beginnings in a tight-knit family that encouraged her education and success. Her father was an ophthalmologist while her mother taught French at a college. Her parents also founded the South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry at their local synagogue, exposing Sheryl to the idea of social consciousness and the ability to make a difference.
Sheryl attended Harvard and graduated at the top of the economics department, after which she decided to join the tech industry in Silicon Valley around 2000. Her first stop was Google where she became a business unit general manager in 2001. As it grew, she was promoted to VP for Global Online Sales and Operations. After seven years with Google, Sheryl started looking or other opportunities that eventually came in the form of Facebook. Since being there, she has helped Facebook grow on a global scale. She recently lost her husband, David Goldberg, SurveyMonkey's CEO, and is now raising their two children alone. However, in the midst of working as a strong female leader and social advocate, Sheryl always makes time for her family.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, serves as a symbol for the country's modern economy and proves that power doesn't have to come from being loud or brash. Instead, she proves that a quieter demeanor still gets it done. And, by getting that done she means running one of the most efficient and economically healthy countries in the world that now is also Europe's biggest creditor to those nations that don't have it so together. Angela defies a lot of conventions in terms of being the leader of a country because she is divorced but remarried without children, a scientist that specialized in quantum chemistry, and East German.
Although raised in a Communist state, she thought beyond those borders and took her mother's passion to pursue her interest in learning and keen interest in others and the world around her. Perhaps it was this and her analytical nature that led her into politics. When she experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new world opened up to Angela and it was then that she really pursued politics. Since then, this quiet woman has gone up against powerful male rulers from all over the world, held her ground, and continued to lead the country through multiple terms with no competition in sight.
Janet Yellen, Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve Bank, has a powerful and stressful job but one she seems to enjoy because of the purpose it holds. As she once noted, ""The mandate of the Federal Reserve is to serve all the American people, and too many Americans still can't find a job and worry how they'll pay their bills and provide for their families. The Federal Reserve can help if it does its job effectively." Throughout her life, she has held jobs related to her love of economics. After obtaining a Ph.D. from Yale University and teaching at Harvard University,
Janet began a long and storied career with the Federal Reserve that started back in 1977. She also taught at the University of California, Berkeley and served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers before returning to the Federal Reserve in 2004. She has been a leader in U.S. monetary policy after so many years working within the Federal Reserve, providing insights into the economic situations and even forecasting the housing crisis that occurred in 2008. While serving within the Federal Reserve, she has focused on ways to shrink unemployment and take risks with higher inflation to turn the economy around. President Obama noted, "She's a proven leader and she's tough--not just because she's from Brooklyn."
Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors, which may be difficult for some to imagine since the world of vehicles has so often been dominated by men. However, Mary has taken on a powerful role as the head of one of the world's largest vehicle makers, including all the criticism that comes with a job that has required attempting a complete turnaround of the company.
Despite all her power, Mary likes to stay humble by handling many of life's tedious chores, including the grocery shopping. She has paid her dues to get to the top after 34 years within GM, working as the executive assistant to CEO Jack Smith, serving as a plant manager, and head of Human Resources. Although she gets plenty of accolades for helping steer GM through many crises, Mary said her family still sees her as Mom, a leadership role that is just as powerful and important to her, it seems. Through it all, Mary has held her own, remained calm in the face of vehicle defect crises, and focused on creating positive change within and around the organization. She is a prime example of grace under pressure.
Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, has been on other rodeos before her current stint as a leader aimed at taking this social media channel to the next level. Previously, she was an integral part of Google--it was her garage where the idea grew and became an official corporation--and worked with the likes of Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Now, she is leading the way at YouTube, a company she helped Google buy nearly a decade ago. Susan has already gone to work, making significant changes and revamping the social media channel with resulting increased revenues and further opportunities for growth. She not only leads with a vision but clearly also has the knowledge, experience, and strategic direction.
The Feminine Power that Forged Today's Women
While the track records of today's current female leaders are quite impressive, these next three show that, even over past centuries and decades, there was a strong female presence that primarily led countries since companies were not so common in days gone by:
Queen Victoria of England not only led the United Kingdom, but she also oversaw the entire colonial British Empire, which covered 14.2 million square miles and spanned six continents. She pushed the limits to see how far her authority would go even in the face of Parliament that was supposed to wield the real power.
Queen Victoria was so influential that a whole period was named after her because of her involvement in religious and social attitudes, fashion, and politics. She was also a strong social advocate and pushed for many reforms, including abolishing slavery and providing for a more reasonable work day. Queen Victoria was smart, savvy, and strong, providing a great role model for women in her day and even now centuries later.
Margaret Thatcher was Britain's first female Prime Minister and took office 1979. She did not take the role lightly, gaining the nickname, "Iron Lady," and serving three terms until 1990. Her dedication was tested often with the fall of Communism, protests about her Conservative policies that moved away from the welfare state and reduced union involvement, an IRA bomb attack meant for her and as a mother of two children.
Margaret's father was influential in introducing her to conservative politics over the course of her working class background and education at a public school. Throughout her long career in politics, she made quite an impression with strong opinions that either invoked hatred or deep admiration. Even after she stepped out of a leadership role and after her death, Margaret's policies and actions are still debated and studied as well as benchmarked for their ability to enact significant change in the UK.
Golda Meir was Israel's first female prime minister who was born in Kiev, Russia, and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but later settled in Palestine to fight for Israeli statehood. Before serving as prime minister, she served in various roles in the Israeli government.
Similar to Margaret Thatcher, Golda was the Iron Lady of Israeli politics as was once described her as "the only man in the Cabinet" because of her strong personality, blunt honesty, and single-minded focus to serve the Israeli people. She once said, "There is a type of woman who does not let her husband narrow her horizons," and Golda was that woman. Unfortunately, her focus on politics led to the collapse of her marriage, but she spent more time on public service after that because she viewed that as the most important relationship for her energy and talent.
Powerful Individuals, Common Traits
While each of these powerful women are distinct individuals in terms of their life experiences and leadership styles, there are some common personality traits that stick out. None of them are willing to compromise, they are passionate and devoted, and they forged ahead even in the face of challenges and criticism.
They also showed their nurturing side by listening and standing for social change. Their ability to stay calm under pressure, execute strategies, and manage complex business models and countries just goes to show you leadership is not about gender at all.