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Most Successful Female Entrepreneurs and What You Can Learn From Them

Audra Wisor

When talking about successful entrepreneurs, images of beloved billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Ellon Musk probably come to mind. It is not surprising since only 14% of the top 100 wealthiest people in the world are female.

For as long as women have been a part of the workforce, there has been a great imbalance between men and women in business, with only 29% of CEO positions being held by women worldwide and only 36% of small businesses being owned by women worldwide.

Despite this imbalance, there have been many successful female entrepreneurs who have risen to greatness and made their mark on the world of business. Here is a list of the 10 most successful female entrepreneurs and their stories of success.

  • Gina Rinehart 
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au, CC BY 3.0 AU <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

“There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire. If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself…spend less time drinking or smoking and socializing and more time working.”

Gina Rinehart is the Executive Chairman of Hancock Prospecting, a privately owned mineral extraction company based in Australia. Although she did not start the company herself, as it was founded by her father, Lang Hancock, in 1955, she did rebuild it from a struggling and bankrupt enterprise into the largest privately owned company in Australia.

Gina once said that women must work 20 times harder than men do to get ahead, especially in a male-dominated industry like hers. She says, “…if you want to go further up the ladder, what you should be doing is working through lunches, working later, and being willing to work later. Willing to, even on holidays or public holidays, be available.”

Although taking care of your physical and mental needs is important, Gina has built her legacy off being a workaholic, spending long hours dedicated to improving and building her company.

  • Sheryl Sandberg
World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that- and I’ll learn by doing it.”’

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, author of bestselling books Option B and Lean In, and the founder of LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit organization founded to support and inspire women around the world to achieve their goals. Since joining Facebook in 2008, she has gone on to turn the social media platform into a profitable enterprise by turning the site into a platform for advertising.

In a TED Talk Sheryl gave on why there are so few women leaders, she claims that women systematically underestimate themselves and do not try to sit with the men at the table. She says, “No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table. And no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve success.”

Success is something you chase after relentlessly, and especially for women, it is important to advocate for yourself and believe you are deserving of success. When you believe you deserve it, so will those around you.

  • Arianna Huffington
David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“I think especially as women; we need to recognize that feeling pressure is completely self-imposed.”

Arianna Huffington is the co-founder of The Huffington Post and the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, a health-and-wellness venture. She also serves on various boards, including Uber, Onex, and Global Citizen. She also wrote 15 books in genres ranging from self-help to politics, including two bestsellers, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder and The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

Arianna believes that her success is attributed to finding balance in her life and creating a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. She does this by getting enough sleep, exercising, meditating, and eating healthy. “For me, it’s just a question of building the foundation,” she says, “and then I find it much easier to get a lot more done and do it without this constant sense of pressure.”

Promoting a healthy mind and a healthy body is important when cultivating your own creativity and productivity, so taking a step back to get your life in order can set you up for success in the long run. 

  • Sara Blakely
Gillian Zoe Segal, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“Don’t let what you don’t know scare you because it can become your greatest asset. And if you do things without knowing how they have always been done, you’re guaranteed to do them differently.”

Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx, an American company focused on making undergarments, leggings, swimwear, and maternity wear. She founded the company in 1998 selling one product, footless shaping pantyhose, for $20 each, making $4 million her first year. Since then, she has expanded the brand to include various other products for women and even products for men.

Sara believes the most important thing to learn is to not view failure as something negative but rather something essential to succeeding. She says, “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome; failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.”

If Sara had been afraid of failure when she got the idea for Spanx, she might have listened to the countless people telling her that her idea was crazy and doomed to fail and might have never even started the company.  

  • Cher Wang 
  • VIA Gallery, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“It takes humility to realize we don’t know everything, not to rest on our laurels, and to know that we must keep learning and observing. If we don’t, we can be sure some startup will be there to take our place.”

Cher Wang is the co-founder and chairman of HTC Corporation, a Taiwanese electronics company, and VIA Technologies, a Taiwanese manufacturing company that makes integrated circuits, CPUs, and memory. She is considered to be one of the most influential and successful women in computer technology.

Cher believes that you need to be honest about what your talents are and be open to change. Following your passion sounds lovely, but it isn’t always practical. Cher originally dreamed of becoming a concert pianist, but when she found she lacked the natural talents of her classmates, she switched gears, taking into account what she was naturally talented in, which happened to be business and economics.

Following your passion is great in theory, and if your dream job is truly attainable, you should strive for it, but if your natural talents lead you elsewhere, you might consider making a career off of what you are good at rather than what you are passionate about. 

  • Indra Nooyi
JeffBedford from Arlington, Virginia, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“As a leader, I am tough on myself, and I raise the standard for everybody; however, I am very caring because I want people to excel at what they are doing so that they can aspire to be me in the future.”

Indra Nooyi is the CEO of PepsiCo, an American-based multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation. With the decline of soda sales in the U.S., She has switched the focus of PepsiCo towards creating health-oriented product lines with less sugar, salt, and fat, leading to a steady sales growth in the company.

Indra has been highly regarded for her excellent leadership skills, believing that a good leader is someone who is both a kind person and a tough leader. She believes that leaders need to have a deep emotional intelligence, treating their employees as individuals with their own uniqueness and building relationships with them. She says, “If you only want people to help you when you need them and not have an ongoing relationship with them, they don’t know you, they don’t know where you come from, and they are doubtful whether you really are interested in the issue, or are you just trying to skate over a current problem?”

Developing meaningful relationships with your employees can help you to become a more compassionate leader and make your employees want to strive to meet the expectations you set for them.

  • Melanie Perkins
Web Summit, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“Plant lots and lots of seeds and hopefully one will grow!”

Melanie Perkins is the co-founder and CEO of Canva, a graphic design app used to create graphics, presentations, posters, documents, and other visual content for social media. Canva started as a modest yearbook design business based in Australia and grew to become a global platform used in 190 different countries.

When it comes to pitching your start-up, Melanie believes it is better to focus on just one or, at most, a few highly influential people rather than attempting to meet and pitch your idea to hundreds of different people. Finding one influential person to help start up the business can lead to meeting more people through them, in a process she calls the butterfly effect.

Seeking out influential and powerful people through conferences, LinkedIn, email, telephone, and so on, and focusing solely on these people who can expand your network, is a lot less exhausting and time-consuming than trying to grow your network by yourself.

  •  Anne Wojcicki
TechCrunch, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“I was brought up with a scientific outlook on life. It’s the way my father deciphers the world… whether it’s football, politics, or hairstyles. So, I don’t get anxious about the future because I was raised to believe and accept that nothing stays the same, and the best way to survive is to adapt.”

Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, an American personal genomics, and biotechnology company best known for providing personal genetic testing for customers. Her company is the only direct-to-consumer genetics testing company that is cleared by the FDA for health tests.

Anne believes everything can be improved or done better, and nothing is ever really done or finished. She says, ‘I was raised in this family culture where there was the assumption that you’re never done…you can always make something better. I would write a paper, and then I’d give it to my mom, and it would come back solid red, and she’d be like, “You can either turn this in and you’ll get a C or a D, or you can rewrite it.” And then you rewrite it. “Well, now it’s better. Now it’s a B.” And you want to rewrite it again.’

Every project can be added to or fixed since nothing is ever perfect, and giving employees feedback on a project, both good and bad, is essential for encouraging yourself and your employees to do better and create the best product possible.

  • Sheila Johnson
David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“It’s important that women support women. It gives me a great sense of well-being to know that I can make a difference in people’s lives.”

Sheila Johnson is the co-founder of BET, an American cable television channel that focuses on African American audiences, and CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts. She was the first African American woman to reach a net worth of 1 billion USD and the first African American woman to own or partner in three professional sports franchises: the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA), and the Washington Mystics (WNBA).

Like so many women in business, Sheila has faced prejudice from men in her profession, sometimes even from her own employees. She believes that as a woman, you need to respect yourself enough not to let others disrespect you. She says, “You just don’t put up with that kind of disrespect…There are so many people out there that don’t take women seriously. You be very firm, and you let them know that you have power. You have to empower yourself.”

In business, often male coworkers, potential investors, and employees will not take women seriously, underestimating their capabilities or not offering the same level of respect they might find a man. Having enough respect for yourself and supporting other women in business is essential to success. 

  •  Reshma Saujani
Adrian Kinloch, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“Computer science is not just for smart ‘nerds’ in hoodies coding in basements. Coding is extremely creative and is an integral part of almost every industry.”

Reshma Saujani is an American lawyer, politician, civil servant, and the founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization with the goal to increase the number of women in computer science and close the gender employment difference in the field. She also wrote the award-winning book Brave Not Perfect.

Reshma preaches the idea of rejecting the concept of perfectionism for women, which she believes is harmful and a waste of time. Instead of being perfect, she encourages women to be brave and make bold moves in order to move towards the goals they want. She says, “I think perfectionism today in society is doing two things. One, it’s making women really unhappy…Women are twice as likely to be depressed as men, and I think secondly, it’s causing a leadership gap. I think bravery is the antidote to perfection. I think bravery equals joy.”

Women are often held to a higher standard of perfection than men, and learning to overcome the societal pressure to be perfect and striving to make bold moves in the pursuit of success is one way to combat this.

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