The last few years have demonstrated that workplace change is possible, when the force that drives it is strong enough to overshadow the way things have been done for centuries. However, when it comes to gender parity, more momentum is needed to ensure that future leadership positions are not predominantly filled by men.
A recent survey conducted by The IBM Institute for Business Value has found that, while C-suite level and executive board roles are increasingly being occupied by women, they need more support in their early careers so they can make that jump to the next level.
Perhaps the biggest incentive for businesses to take action is the evidence that organizations that take gender equity seriously outperform their peers and are setting themselves up for future growth and success.
Sometimes, all it takes is reframing the way we think about leadership and our self-belief that makes all the difference. Let these leadership quotes be a reminder that staying in your comfort zone just because it is easier is less rewarding than discovering your fullest potential and taking others on the journey with you.
Thirty quotes from formidable female leaders
Known as the first woman and first woman of color to serve as the Vice President of the United States.
“There will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane’. They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.”
Influential in her role as a philanthropist, businessperson and global advocate for women and girls.
“If I didn’t fill my schedule with things I felt were important, other people would fill my schedule with things they felt were important.”
Gained global recognition as a media mogul, talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist.
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.”
Known as the first woman of color and first immigrant to take the helm of a Fortune 50 company. PepsiCo benefited from her 12-year tenure as the company’s CEO, both in terms of profitability and environmental sustainability.
“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”
Influential as the first woman to lead General Motors – one of the big three automakers – in the United States.
“If we win the hearts and minds of employees, we’re going to have better business success.”
Known as one of Google’s first employees, she provided the garage space in which the company was founded in 1998. She recently stepped down from her role as YouTube’s CEO.
“Things are always changing. Part of being successful here is being comfortable with not knowing what’s going to happen.”
Influential as the Co-Founder and CEO of design software platform Canva.
“Every time we got a knock back and understood why people wouldn’t invest, we changed and revised our pitch. Failure was never an option.”
Influential for her compassionate leadership during her tenure as New Zealand’s Prime Minister and navigating the nation through unprecedented times.
“One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
Recognized as one of the most powerful women in business with her vision of ‘technology plus finance’.
“As a leader, you need to set the right direction, make sure that we’re getting the right answer and not having people all doing something that’s wrong – that’s the analytical me.”
Renowned for her work as a human rights barrister, activist and author, as well as her sense of style.
“Courage, as they say, is contagious. People who have had the courage to change their societies — in India, in South Africa, in the United States — inspire each other and create rights for future generations.”
Known as a fax machine salesperson turned high-net-worth business mogul and the inventor of Spanx, a female underwear manufacturer.
“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”
Known as the first woman to lead global tech company Advanced Micro Devices and one of the few women to run a Fortune 500 company.
“The world is starving for new ideas and great leaders who will champion those ideas.”
Influential in her role as CEO of software company Oracle and in maintaining its status as a global leader in the tech space.
“The most significant barrier to female leadership is the actual lack of females in leadership. The best advice I can give to women is to go out and start something, ideally their own businesses. If you can’t see a path for leadership within your own company, go blaze a trail of your own.”
Whitney Wolfe Herd
Recognized as the youngest female self-made billionaire, who transformed Bumble into a billion-dollar brand.
“Being able to put your blinders on, ignore negative opinions, and follow your strong intuition is what’s validating to me. It’s a great feeling to know you can trust your gut.”
Kelly Bayer Rosmarin
Known for her creativity and ability to disrupt traditional markets in her role as CEO of Optus – a leading Australian telecommunications company.
“One of the things I learned was always to question the status quo. And not to be afraid to speak up when you do discover something that needs to be said.”
Known as the youngest person to hold office in Finnish history.
“I’m in politics because I thought that the older generation wasn’t doing enough about the big issues of the future. I needed to act. I couldn’t just think, ‘It’s somebody else’s job’.”
Known as the podcast host, motivational speaker and bestselling author who invented ‘The 5 Second Rule’.
“You have been assigned this mountain so that you can show others it can be moved.”
Brown gained notoriety as a motivational speaker and researcher on courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.
“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”
Known as a businessperson who has held leading positions at Walgreens Boots Alliance, Starbucks, Sam’s Club and Walmart in the United States.
“I think about: ‘Have I been bringing enough people along?’ You can help a peer become a CEO… This is not a competition or a race.”
Influential for her role as the CFO for Microsoft, leading the company’s finance, tax, accounting, real estate and audit teams.
“Every job I took, I was deeply uncomfortable in terms of feeling unqualified. Every step, every risk I took, built confidence.”
Originally a journalist, Eitel is now the Founder and Chair of the Nike Foundation and The Girl Effect, which was established at The World Economic Forum in 2008 to end world poverty on a global scale. She was also the first person to be elected Vice President for Corporate Responsibility at Nike.
“Contrary to popular belief, the best way to climb to the top of the ladder is to take others up there with you.”
Known as a driven entrepreneur and a passionate designer who managed to turn a small startup into a billion dollar company across the categories of fine jewelry, home decor and beauty.
“I’m always looking for new mentors and asking people, ‘Hey, if you were in my shoes, what would you do?’ It’s pretty amazing what you can get from that.”
Influential Founder of The Huffington Post and the CEO of Thrive Global.
“I talk a lot about learning to become fearless in your approach to life. But fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s the mastery of fear. It’s all about getting up one more time than you fall down.”
Obama made history when in 2009 she became the United States’ first African American First Lady. During her husband’s eight years in office, she advocated for poverty awareness, education, health and wellbeing.
“Whether you come from a council estate or a country estate, your success will be determined by your own confidence and fortitude.“
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ginsburg was the second women to ever serve on the Supreme Court, holding the position of associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 to 2020. During the 1970’s she also directed the influential Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Lagarde is the first woman to have ever been appointed as President of the European Central Bank. She commenced her role in November 2019.
“To me, leadership is about encouraging people. It’s about stimulating them. It’s about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve – and to do that with a purpose.”
Best known as the Pakistani female education activist who, in 2014, was the world’s youngest person to be awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate at the age of 17.
“Some people only ask others to do something. I believe that, why should I wait for someone else? Why don’t I take a step and move forward?”
Influential as the former CEO of British luxury fashion house Burberry, Ahrendts significantly increased the company’s revenue during her tenure.
“The sign of a great leader is knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know.”
Known as the first female CEO in The Hershey Company – one of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers – where she harnessed the expertise of employees.
“Leadership is a combination of innate traits that you’re born with and experiences you gain along the way. That is what shapes you as a leader.”
Influential for becoming Germany’s first female chancellor and for the calm leadership style that she demonstrated over the course of 16 years.
“For me, it is always important that I go through all the possible options for a decision.”