Culture & Lifestyle / The Ceiling Is Breaking With Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018

The Ceiling Is Breaking With Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018

Culture & Lifestyle Jul 30, 2018

This year is certainly becoming quite the year for women leadership in multinational companies. Usually a boy’s club, with senior positions being held by men,  we are seeing a number of female leaders taking top spots in male dominated industries in 2018.  Are we in for more glass-shattering movements for women? We check it out! 

Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Lakshmibai (the Rani of Jhansi), Joan of Arc, Empress Wu Zetian, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman.

Do you recognize any of the names of these women?

Well, you should (and if you don’t, I highly suggest you do some investigating), because throughout history these women have been rulers, empresses, queens, prime ministers, and civil rights activists who have made impactful changes and, above all, demonstrated that women are capable of owning powerful positions.

Fast-forward to today, and it seems like the representation of women in leadership roles has decreased, which is disheartening. For instance, while women are certainly #pressingforprogress by climbing corporate ladders throughout the world, as of 2018, they are heading up just about 20% of firms as CEO or other top positions. Specifically, in South Asia, about 11% of firms are headed by female leadership, which is impressive. Granted these numbers may not be a substantial, but it is still a step in the right direction and we want to share our appreciation of these fabulous and fierce women by revealing our list of women who have dazzled us with their accomplishments thus far in 2018!


Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018
Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018: #TimesUp for glass ceilings for too! Photo Credit:


Check out our top three picks of applause-worthy female CEO’s, from all walks of life, who have been dominating in primarily ‘male’ industries:

Dhivya Suryadevara

Chief Financial Officer.

General Motors

The auto industry is long considered to be a male-dominated industry. Suryadevara, 39,  “is the first female CFO in the automaker’s 110-year history and makes GM one of only two Fortune 500 companies that have both a female CEO and CFO.” Raised in Chennai, India, by just her mother after her father’s passing, Suryadevara, had a strong female role model in her life from the jump, as her mother pushed her and her siblings to work hard and become educated, which likely contributed to her unyielding drive and need to seek out complex challenges. Suryadevara attained her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Com­merce at the University of Madras before coming to the United States, where she successfully completed her Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the prestigious Harvard Business School.

From there, Suryadevara was unstoppable: first, she interned at the Wolrd Bank, then moved into a new role as an investment banker at UBS, before landing a role GM, where she was determined to be as she believed “there [would be] no shortage of interesting things to do there.” Evidently, she’s been on the money about that, as throughout her 14-year term at the company, she has held various leadership roles, including “CEO and chief investment officer of GM Asset Management, [ran] GM’s $85 billion pension operations, and [has been] vice president of finance and treasurer [since] 2015.”

Suryadevara is married and has a 10-year-old daughter.  And even though her family is rooted in New York, her job is based in Detroit. This financial whiz of a woman and super mom makes her job and family-life work by travelling back and forth to spend weekends with her family and during the week, she tries to be as efficient as possible in order to maximize her time with her family. Who says you can’t have it all?


Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018
Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018: Suryadevara is a force to be reckoned with, and she’s not even 40! Photo Credit:


Stacey Cunningham


New York Stock Exchange

As of May 25, 2018, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) ushered in their 67th President, Stacey Cunningham, 43, making her the first female president in “its 226-year history.”

Cunningham has a long history with the NYSE, which began in 1994, where she worked part-time as an intern while attending Lehigh University for industrial engineering, according to Time. This experience as an intern as monumental for Cunningham, who was hooked, and in 1996, she returned to NYSE as a trading floor clerk. Cunningham credits her idol, Muriel Siebert, who was a trailblazer as she the “first woman to own a seat on the NYSE,” for paving the way for other women in the industry to believe that this path was possible for them too.

Cunningham brings a wealth of financial experience with her, including her work at NASDAQ, her role at the NYSE as Chief Operating Officer (COO), and her detour into the culinary world (a girl’s gotta eat)!In taking on this role, Cunningham is being championed as someone who will produce great results. However, part of that, for her, is to encourage diversity, which Cunningham believes “starts with telling young girls positive messages about their careers.”


Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018
Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018: Cunningham is a prime example of someone who is not afraid to follow her intuition and try new things, like culinary school, because why not?! Photo Credit:


Laura Schwab


Aston Martin-The Americas 

Laura Schwab, 44, was announced as the newest president of Aston Martin the Americas, in the male-dominated automotive industry. Schwab is “…the first female president in [the company’s] 105-year history.” Big into sports, Schwab had a tennis scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, where she completed her degree in Government and Spanish. Not knowing what to do next, she went to the University of Kentucky College of Law, from which she graduated and began “practising contract law,” which she despised. So she bravely quit.

She packed up and moved to San Diego where she worked at a digital start-up, before moving on to various roles at Land Rover (where she was a total loss and was resilient even when she didn’t feel it), including one that took her all the way to England. The move to England was life-changing for Schwab in more ways than one, as she met her husband in England (who taught Schwab about work-life balance), she welcomed a daughter, and she was offered the president position at Aston Martin.

What’s evident about Schwab is that she is fearless and a trailblazer for women, particularly in the automotive industry, as “she is on a mission to change that and regularly participates in leadership conferences that focus on female empowerment.”


Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018
Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018: Schwab is admirable and as brave as they come, with her impressive resume and dives into various roles (not to mention new homes) being the definition of #livingyourbestlife! #SlayGirlSlay. Photo Credit:


While these women have shattered (can I get a “YASS QUEEN SLAY?!”) the glass ceilings that often are at play to limit their success, that is not to say there are not still underlying problems and social constructs that exist and function to check or restrict a woman’s chance of achieving their goals. So, what’s the problem? What is holding back women back from rightfully earned and deserved ‘head-of-the-table’ positions?

Exploring the ‘gender gap:’

First, there is the obvious elephant in the room, gender, that contributes to inequality between genders. To provide context, “the gender gap is the difference between women and men as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes.” For example, in 2017, 144 countries were reviewed to examine how close they are to closing the gender gap and achieving gender parity (or gender equality), and the results were staggering: in North America, there is still a 72% gap and in South Asia, there is a 66% gap to work toward.



Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018
Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018: The gender gap comes with many struggles for women, including equality of pay and consistently having to work harder to prove their worth. Photo Credit:


While the intersection of race, ethnicity, social and economic status, sexuality, and politics can work to also affect women, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on gender. That said, this ‘gap’ works to affect women in multiple, stereotypical, and often covert ways, such as:

Gender roles: Although there has been a shift in gender roles, whereby males have been taking the lead within the household, while women pursue their career goals, there is still a societal and cultural expectation that exists for females. These limitations can result in women feeling guilty for wanting to chase their goals and so they will put their careers on the backburner. This restraint can be lesser for men, as they are not as often associated with the role of a primary caregiver, the way that a woman is, which allows them more freedom to pursue greater opportunities.

 Gender bias: According to Forbes, women in important positions of power are often pigeon-holed and labelled with certain stereotypes that seem to come hand-in-hand with their stature. On the other hand, these gender biases can be equally damaging for hopeful young girls and women who end up succumbing to the limitations of the barriers that they are more than capable of breaking. These stigmas and stereotypes include the following:

  • It’s just business: women are often seen as being weaker and unfit for leadership if they show their feelings. On the other end of the spectrum, when women check their emotions they are often typecast as “ice queens,” which consequently causes them to be viewed as being masculine.
  • #ForeverAlone: Some women can be deterred from pursuing their careers further as “powerful women are intimidating to men” and so if they ever hope to snag themselves a hubby, they need to dial it back a notch. Meanwhile, for women who are in power, they seem to be favoured more when they are unattached so they can “spend more time on the job,” according to Forbes.
  • For merit or for show? Forbes notes that “women hold just 16% of corporate board seats.” That said, when women enter into these regarded positions, instead of appreciating that they secured these roles based on their education and experience, according to Forbes, “they are often devalued as being a “token” of diversity.”
  • What’s the point? Some young girls are growing up with a ‘what’s the point’ mindset that is dangerous. For instance, according to News Wire, although these young ladies may have admirable goals, they are aware that they may be undervalued in their field and underpaid, there is a lack of female representation or role models that serve as inspiration, and sometimes, due to embedded cultural beliefs, they are not encouraged to pursue their goals. As a result, young girls (and women alike) feel less driven to attempt to break down barriers as it does not seem attainable or beneficial to them to try.

Insecurity: Women are less confident in the workplace than their male counterparts, in fact, this applies to about 75% of women. Women often undervalue the significance of their skills and experience due to their self-doubts and concerns about being well-received, not being viewed as less feminine or the ‘tough’ one, which deters them from pursuing as many opportunities, whereas men are less likely to underestimate themselves and just go for it. That said, females lack confidence for a number of reasons, including “asking for a pay rise or putting prices up (43%), standing in front of an audience to make a presentation or speech (40%), Networking (34%), being intimidated by my boss or other colleagues (27%), [and] competing with work colleagues (20%).”


Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018
Female Leaders Taking Top Spots In Male Dominated Industries In 2018: Without her bold ambition to keep pushing the envelope, Priyanka Chopra, would not be where she is today! Live your life boldly ladies! Photo Credit:


The corporate world just isn’t ready: Unfortunate as it is to say, “four-in-ten cite as significant barriers that women are held to higher standards than men and that many businesses aren’t ready to hire women for top executive positions.” This means that women have to do much more to demonstrate why they are worthy than men do. This in turn illustrates that, while businesses they seem to have come a long way, with regard to being seen as the ‘old boys club,’ they are not yet ready to fill leadership roles, specifically those at the top of the totem pole, with women as they seem to lack confidence in their ability.

What’s Next?

Here’s the kicker: what is viewed as being a ‘female’ approach to leadership, such as being “collaborative, empathic, nurturing,” and inclusive is actually conducive to conducting good business. In fact, companies that have females in top “…leadership roles” are often viewed as being superior to those headed by men, as “the way in which women approach leadership tends to foster an environment more conducive to creating cognitively diverse teams.” In today’s business world, diversity is crucial within the workplace, especially when it comes to dreaming up innovation and remaining relevant, and women get that.

In order to see a more impactful change and really shake up the gender gap, there needs to be a shift in the societal views, both within businesses and outside.

That said, seeing these strong women crushing it as top leadership roles, particularly in these male-dominated companies and industries, sends a powerful message to girls and women throughout the world that with perseverance and hard work, they too #pressforprogress and shatter those glass ceilings!


Main Image Photo Credit:

Devika Goberdhan

Devika Goberdhan


Devika (@goberdhan.devika) is an MA graduate who specialized in Political Science at York University. Her passion and research throughout her graduate studies pushed her to learn about and unpack hot button issues. Thus, since starting ANOKHI in 2016, she has written extensively about many challengi...


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