This year marked another milestone for women in the highest-ranking corporate role: chief executive officer.
As of May 2022, there were 44 female CEOs spearheading America’s largest companies, up from 41 in 2021. And for the first time ever, there are two Black women running Fortune 500 businesses—Rosalind Brewer and Thasunda Brown Duckett.
Career development and recruiting consultant Dana Hundley says that seeing even one other woman with a path like yours can help influence and encourage you to achieve the same feat. “There’s this element of breaking down walls and breaking down barriers to entry when you see someone do something. It makes it feel more attainable to you, especially if that person looks like you, has similar experiences to you, shares some of the same challenges.”
Even though there’s a long way to go toward equal gender representation in the C-suite, we must take a moment to celebrate all of the women making strides and setting an example for young girls who have a business idea or want to grow up to be leaders. Highlighting these women is especially important since InHerSight data shows that 84 percent of women say it’s important or very important to see women filling leadership roles where they work.
Here are 15 inspirational female CEO role models and what makes them so great—whether it’s their incredible business idea, their commitment to supporting women and other marginalized communities, their non-traditional career trajectory, or being the first to fill their position. After hearing their stories, you might just feel compelled to follow in their footsteps and take a chance on yourself.
15 inspirational female CEOs making an impact
1. Rosalind Brewer
Rosalind “Roz” Brewer became the CEO of Walgreens in March 2021, making her one of only two Black women to lead a Fortune 500 company. She previously made history as the first Black woman COO of Starbucks and the first woman—and first Black person—as president and CEO of Walmart.
Throughout her career, Brewer has championed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). When speaking on the importance of advocating for diversity, she says, "I demand it of my team. Every now and then you have to nudge your partners. You have to speak up and speak out. And I try to use my platform for that. I try to set an example."
2. Tricia Griffith
In 2016, Griffith became CEO of The Progressive Corporation after prior roles as a claims representative, chief human resources officer, and Progressive's Personal Lines chief operating officer. At Progressive, Griffith launched the company's first-ever diversity and inclusion program, and she ranks on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women and Fortune’s Most Powerful Women lists.
In Progressive’s DEI statement, Griffith writes: “Yes, of course, the business case for DEI is important, but it's not just a business case. It's a human imperative. That's why...we're committed to a diverse workplace where there's fair and equal access to learning and career opportunities, and where everyone feels comfortable introducing new ideas and different points of view. Being able to speak up, debate important issues, and find common ground and creative solutions is key to our success.”
3. Michele Buck
Michele Buck is the first woman CEO in The Hershey Company’s 127-year history, and in 2021, Forbes named the company the most female-friendly for employees in the world. During the pandemic, Buck and her team launched the Pathways Project, a five-year plan to make Hershey’s workplace more diverse and inclusive. Under her leadership, the company is aiming to increase the percentage of women in its workforce to 50 percent by 2025, and they’re also attempting to close their gender pay gap at the company globally.
4. Lisa Su
Lisa Su joined semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in 2012 and became CEO two years later in 2014. According to Forbes, she’s led one the greatest recent turnarounds in the tech industry, seeing as AMD's stock value has increased more than 25-fold since Su became CEO.
Her list of awards and accolades is extensive. In 2021, she became the first woman to receive the IEEE Robert Noyce Medal, an award for outstanding contributions to the microelectronics industry, and in 2022, she was named the International Peace Honors Honoree "for her achievements in revolutionizing high performance computing, the donation of supercomputing power for infectious disease research, and inspiring people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM."
Read more: 20+ Women in Tech Who Inspire
5. Thasunda Brown Duckett
Thasunda Brown Duckett is CEO of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA), an insurance company whose mission is to expand financial inclusion and opportunity. She’s currently one of two Black female Fortune 500 CEOs (and just the fourth ever) and is known for her passion for helping communities of color achieve equal opportunities to education, career success, and wealth. In addition, she serves on numerous boards including Nike, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, Sesame Workshop, and the National Medal of Honor Museum.
6. Asma Ishaq
Asma Ishaq is CEO of Modere, a consumer products company that develops and markets clean, health and wellness products. The company was named a top 10 health and beauty eCommerce brand by Forbes and was ranked the number one fastest growing women-led company of 2021 by The Women Presidents' Organization. Under Ishaq’s leadership, company revenue has skyrocketed, growing by over 1,700 percent from 2016 to 2020.
Ishaq says the demand for health-related transparency and safer ingredients is more important than ever: “Consumers are prioritizing their health in a different way and are paying more attention to sustainability, safety, and the types of products they use in their household. The heightened interest in personal health and wellness and especially for clean-label, organic, and natural products is evident in market trends.”
7. Erin Loos Cutraro
Named as one of Entrepreneur magazine’s 100 Powerful Women, Erin Loos Cutraro is the founder and CEO of She Should Run, a nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to eliminate barriers for women in public service and increase representation of women in public office. Since its creation in 2011, more than 30,000 women have run for office because of She Should Run, and over 12,000 women have indicated they’re planning to run for leadership positions through the company’s flagship program.
8. Alina Morse
When she was just 9 years old, Alina Morse founded Zolli Candy, a company that manufactures sugar-free candy made with natural sweeteners. Now 17 years old, Morse is the youngest Inc. 5000 CEO, and her company has been named one of Inc.'s fastest growing private companies. She’s the youngest person ever to be featured on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine, and she was invited to the White House twice by former First Lady Michelle Obama, proving that age doesn’t have to hold anyone back from achieving their dreams.
9. Kate Torgersen
Motherhood was a gateway to entrepreneurship for Milk Stork CEO Kate Torgersen. After realizing how difficult business traveling was for breastfeeding moms firsthand, Torgersen sought a solution and founded Milk Stork, a breast milk delivery service for mothers. Working moms and surrogates can order milk themselves, or they can anonymously refer their human resources team, and someone from Milk Stork will reach out to help employers add more lactation and pumping benefits.
When discussing why she started her business, Torgersen says, “I want moms to be able to chase their personal and professional ambitions with unapologetic relentlessness, and I want our communities, workplaces, and the larger society to cheer them along the way. I want all of these things because now, more than ever, we need to harness the vision and achievements of people who hold themselves accountable to futures beyond their own. The world is starving for moms’ leadership.”
10. Melanie Perkins
Nearly 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Canva, the graphic design platform cofounded by Melanie Perkins. When Perkins was 19 years old, she started pitching the business idea as an online platform that makes it easy and free to create professional-looking designs, and now she’s one of the youngest female tech CEOs in the world. After growing her company to $1 billion in just six years, Forbes named Perkins as one of the world's "Top Under 30 of the Decade" in 2022.
To support an inclusive work environment, Perkins implemented policies that eliminate bias in the hiring process, such as unconscious bias training and using gender-neutral language in job descriptions. Now Canva has 41 percent female representation, a number significantly higher than the industry average of 28 percent in Australia where the company is based.
11. Karen Lynch
In 2020, Karen Lynch became the CEO of CVS Health, the fourth-biggest company in the country by revenue. Previously, she was the company’s executive vice president and has also held executive positions at Cigna, Aetna, and Magellan Health Services, giving her three decades of health care industry experience. In 2020, she was recognized by Forbes as one of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and for the past five years, she has been named on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.
Her next big move? Lynch recently shared her plan to expand the company’s health care access by transforming CVS’ neighborhood pharmacies into outlets devoted to primary care, capable of serving tens of thousands of patients a day as a whole.
12. Tara Mustapha
Tara Mustapha is an award-winning game designer and producer who founded Code Coven, a resource for women and marginalized communities breaking into game design through coding. She’s previously worked with game studios such as Microsoft and EA, and she’s been vocal about her passion for lifting up underrepresented voices. Code Coven aims to provide developers with the skills and confidence needed to thrive in the games industry through part-time courses built around online learning sessions and applied development.
13. Sonya Passi
Long-time anti-violence activist Sonya Passi is the CEO of FreeFrom, a nonprofit that supports domestic abuse survivors and helps them to achieve economic justice and long-term financial stability. Her team is made up of entirely queer and BIPOC abuse survivors, and they focus on data collection, storytelling, and research to shift the domestic abuse narrative from “crisis response” to one of systemic change where survivors can obtain the tools they need for sustainable security.
14. Shiza Shahid
Shiza Shahid is an expert on navigating career pivots while maintaining a bigger vision of making a meaningful impact on society. While studying at Stanford University, Shahid began mentoring activist Malala Yousafzai and subsequently cofounded the nonprofit Malala Fund alongside Yousafzai after she was shot for speaking up about girls’ right to education in Pakistan. Now, after a career change, Shahid is the CEO of Our Place, a cookware brand designed to fit the needs of the modern, multiethnic American kitchen.
"People wouldn't have assumed I would have made this move, but, as immigrants, my partner and I literally found our place by cooking and sharing foods with our new communities,” Shahid says of her career change. “That’s why we created Our Place—to bring people together. We believe in proudly celebrating all our traditions, building deeper connections across our dinner tables, and working to create a place that is truly ours. We create products that make it easier to feed yourself and those you love, tell stories that bring us closer together and donate thousands of meals. That is all in keeping with the values I nurtured at the Malala Fund."
15. Elizabeth A. Vazquez
Elizabeth A. Vazquez is CEO and cofounder of WEConnect International, a networking organization for women business owners around the world. Her company identifies, educates, registers, and certifies women’s business enterprises that are at least 51 percent owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women, and then connects them with member buyers. Vazquez is also a coauthor of Buying for Impact: How to Buy from Women and Change Our World, and is on the Procter & Gamble Supplier Diversity Advisory Council.
Vazquez is determined to set an example for other women of color who want to start a business. “If you've never seen anyone who looks like you own and grow a business, it's hard to imagine yourself doing that,” she says.