The lone woman in the room: women in the corporate world


Human rights are those rights which apply to every single person simply because he or she is a human being.  They are innate.  Human rights apply to every person in every part of the world without exception and therefore universal.  They are also apply equally to everyone regardless of race, religion,  gender, sexual orientation, skin color, age or other features that may distinguished one person from another.   The three dimensions of human rights are as follows:

  1. Political and civil liberty rights – this include
  2. Economic, social and cultural human rights – equality between men and women falls under this dimension
  3. Rights of groups

Gender equality is a human right, a right that has been denied for women for so long.  The advocacy for gender equality has been around for decades and one would assume that we have finally reached the era of achieving said equality.   We would think that women of today have it easier.   That the society would be more supportive and welcoming to the women who wanted to excel in the fields of their choice.   Well not really.  Take a look at the business world for instance.  There are currently only 20 female CEO in the top 500 fortune companies.   Studies after studies show that women hasn’t really made it yet to top of the corporate world yet.

Visit link for the complete list of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies


The documentary produced by PBS entitled Makers: Women in Business, featured stories of women in corporate America, women who defied the odds, fought against discrimination and changed the corporate landscape for the better.

For most part of our history, a woman’s success is measured through domestic life and being a wife and mother, which defines the limits of her ambitions regardless the field of her work.  In the 1960’s, women were deprived of power and opportunity.   When they came in for a job interview they would be informed that there is no job for a woman or that they can’t be executive but they can be assistants instead.  The most elite colleges and universities during that time are only open to men.  As early as that, women’s chances of success at the corporate world is already being limited.  For ambitious young women who wanted to earn their college degrees they have to go to exclusive colleges instead such as Barnard College.

One of success stories featured in the documentary is that of Mary Wells who revamped the lackluster image of Braniff Airlines while she was working for Jack Tinker & Partners. She was promised the presidency if her Braniff campaign become successful.  She succeeded in her advertising campaign but the promotion didn’t happened.   She was told that she will be given the salary and authority of a president but not the title because men are just not ready for a female president yet.   Wells quit her job and set up her own agency instead.   She had a rough start but eventually became the best advertising brand there is.   Almost everyone wanted her on their advertising team.  Wells was the first woman CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and was once the highest-paid executive in the industry.

Mary Wells

Another noteworthy story is that of Ann Hopkins, former consultant of Price Waterhouse, a leading accounting firm in the US.  Hopkins took four years to work her way to the ranks of Price Waterhouse.  She became senior manager and aspired to become a partner of the firm.  She was the only woman among the 88 nominees, a top consultant and won the firm its largest contract in history.  Despite that, her name wasn’t included in the final nominees for partner.   Her husband told her to sue the firm and she did.   During the legal proceedings, Hopkins found out that she was denied the partnership not because of her performance failure but because she didn’t acted in a “womanly fashion” for her male colleagues.  It turned out she was supposed to style her hair, wear make-up and jewelry and take a charm course.   They found her to be macho, overly aggressive and harshly; characteristics that are totally alright if you are a man and unacceptable for a woman.  They even go as far as to claim that she overcompensated for being a woman.   After seven years of litigation, Price Waterhouse was found guilty of gender discrimination and was ordered to make Ann Hopkins partner.   Hopkins went back to Price Waterhouse and led the most diverse and profitable team in the firm, validating her almost a decade fight.

Ann Hopkins

There are more success stories about women who fought for place in the corporate world despite discrimination and sexism.  They shattered the “glass ceiling”, paved the way for the next generation of women, and changed the landscape of the corporate world.  However, we are not there yet.  In 1990 only 3 Fortune 500 companies have female CEO.   By 2010 only 3% of Fortune 500 companies were led by female CEO.   Only 16% of the corporate board is made up of women.   Data painted a clear picture of gender inequality in corporate America but it was believed that women are actually making huge progress in the corporate world.   Until Sheryl Sandberg brought the issue to light in her TED talk in December 2010.   During that time only a few know her name despite being the COO of one of the hottest companies in the world, Facebook.   Sandberg decided to give the talk because she noticed that every year there are more and more men in the room with her and those who get the promotion were also men.  She was experiencing for ten years what the data show and that is complete stagnation for women at the top of corporate America.  There was no increase in leadership roles, CEO level jobs and board memberships but she believes that women can do better.  Sandberg is hoping people to notice that we are not in an equal world (for the awareness of inequality to set in) and to take actions to change their own lives.   Sandberg went to write the book Lean in, which turned up to be successful.  Lean in spent over a year in the bestselling lists.  Despite the success of the book, Sandberg had been accused of preaching individual female empowerment in the workplace instead of collective social action.  Some argue that her philosophy is only applicable to a particular class, women in the top management.

Sheryl Sandberg


I will be always grateful that I existed in this era.  I could not imagine myself living in a world full of stereotype and discrimination against women, not that they don’t exist anymore but the landscape is so much better now more than ever.  It is now my generation’s duty to continue the fight because there are still so much work to do as Sheryl Sandberg pointed out.  The fight for equality starts within each and every woman.   It begins with the awareness of the situation, then the decision that you want to change the status quo, and the lifelong commitment to be part of the revolution for gender equality.  We can’t rant about the issue without doing something about it.

The great thing about living in this age is that women are allowed to have any ambition that they can dream of, if you can dream, you can do it. (Shelly Lazarus)


Women don’t want to rule the world, we are not taking over.  Men shouldn’t be threatened by this movement.   We just want equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities.


Be ambitious, start out with big dreams, big goals.   Every single one of you has the ambition to run the world because this world needs you to run it.  (Sheryl Sandberg)