When you think about success, which words come to mind? Most people would say money, status, or power — but in order to be a successful woman in business, the definition needs to take on a whole new meaning.
According to CNN Money, only 14.2% of top management positions are filled by women. “Success” then becomes a matter of defying expectations, overcoming the odds, and creating opportunities to succeed where they might not otherwise exist.
No one knows this better than the women in these leadership roles, so we chatted with 20 female founders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs about what it means to them to be a successful woman in a primarily male-dominated business world.
Heather Monahan, Owner of Heather Monahan LLC
Being a successful woman in business means different things to different people at different times in their lives. When I was younger I evaluated this solely on my title and my income. I was in a race to get the CEO title and find as much money as possible.
In my thirties, things changed immensely when I had my son. Then being successful in business meant providing stability for my son, while providing for us financially.
In my forties, things changed again. Today being a successful woman in business means making time for my family, friends and myself, while creating value at work. By finally incorporating my passion into my day to day, I am beginning to be truly successful in business and life.
My one tip to my younger self is do not chase the money. If you do, you will find yourself chasing a new career. Follow your heart and you will find yourself and your success.
Kirsten Curry, President and Founder of Leading Retirement Solutions
Being a successful woman in business means that I get to provide opportunities to other women who are becoming professionals and leaders. I am proud that ¾ of the Leading Retirement Solutions team make up an amazing group of females in the workplace and in the retirement plan industry, which is an industry that has been traditional dominated by men. Providing job and professional growth opportunities to these women, including young associates and seasoned technicians, has been rewarding and fulfilling as a business owner.
Kelly Ehlers, Founder & President of Ideas That Evoke
Being a successful woman in business means believing in yourself and trusting your instinct. There are people out there who will doubt you and your ability to succeed in the business world, solely because you are a woman. Sometimes in order to be successful you have to work that much harder in the face of those who doubt you, this is the time to rise to the occasion and prove to not only those people, but to yourself as well what you are capable of. Know that ideas, whether from a man or a woman, are only worth as much as the idea itself.
Kelsey Meyer, Co-Founder & President of Influence & Co.
Being a successful woman in business means to me the opportunity to help other women succeed. I am most satisfied in my role as co-founder of Influence & Co. when I am seeing some of the young women we hired right out of college flourish into amazing professionals. I am proud of what I have accomplished with Influence & Co., and know that I owe so much to the women who came before me who created opportunities for the next generation of women in business.
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com
Being a successful woman in business is all about having the right mindset. You have to be committed to giving it your all 150% of the time and have a great attitude with a can-do spirit. Even in uncertain times, being optimistic and positive pays off – it turns hard work into success which, in turn, makes you feel all the more confident in business. If you believe in yourself, enjoy what you do, and challenge yourself to keep up the good work (and attitude), then your mindset will reflect on you and your family, friends, and employees will believe in you too.
Laura Benko, Founder of The Holistic Home Company & Author of The Holistic Home
I attribute most of the success I’ve achieved in business to how I’ve utilized my strong female traits. Listening to my customer, really hearing what my buyers need has served me well. Also, tapping into my intuition – even sometimes when on paper, the logistics or financials don’t support it in the moment – has helped me to take risks to scale up my business to another level, where if I hadn’t, I would not be challenging myself or growing my company. When I blend my intuition with my creativity, whether it’s for product development or an ad campaign, I thrive and feel invigorated.
It may sound like a stereotypical, simplified breakdown, but for me, being a successful woman in business means I am celebrating these attributes and combining them with analytical, critical maneuvers when needed to allow the best to unfold. I aim to be a good example for my daughter, as she witnesses how I handle the ups and downs of the day-to-day activity of being a female business owner.
Dianne Crampton, Founder of TIGERS Success Series, Inc.
Being a successful woman equates to being a successful person. For me, the drive is to improve the world of work for both women and men and bring a felt sense of happiness to work.
In my thirty years as founder of my company, I have had the wonderful privilege of working with progressive leaders whose desire was to improve cooperation in the workplace. This translates into a deeper sense of happiness and satisfaction for employees, which improves revenue for the leader and also trickles back to families and the community. As a result, I have been able to launch other women into work positions that not only empowered their leadership but also made their hearts sing.
Phillis Chan, Co-Founder of Big Apple Buddy
To be a successful woman in business, one must rethink the conventional idea of success. Invest as much time in building relationships, strengthening your brand, and continuing to learn about tools and trends that will give your business an edge. In my experience, success will always follow passion. The fun of it all is that passion might be found in the pursuit of another goal.
Success can find you in unexpected places. It can mean putting time and effort into one goal, and finding that that effort led you in an entirely different direction. For me, success in school meant a law degree, and success after that meant forgoing a law career to start a business. In the pursuit of filling a niche need in customer service and e-commerce at Big Apple Buddy, I run into hurdles every day that can only be solved with the confidence that my brand, my staff, and my abilities can tackle whatever comes up.
Tracy Chamberlain Higginbotham, President of Women TIES, LLC & Founder of Women’s Athletic Network
Being a successful woman entrepreneur over two decades means I created a career opportunity that utilized my personal talents and allowed me to change the world for other women, while at the same time raising two beautiful sons and making my life the way I wanted it to be. Entrepreneurship opened up my world to amazing horizons, women and opportunities I would have never had if I didn’t take the risk to open the door one day and jump into my dream.
22 years later with both sons graduated from college and a big beautiful career still open in front of me with unlimited opportunities achieve more and work harder, I am grateful to have chosen the way I lived as a woman entrepreneur and for the positive impact I have had on thousands of women. Success now means I can dream bigger and do more to help the next generation of women business owners following in my footsteps. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Eveline Traxler, Mindset and Confidence Coach
To me, being a successful woman in business is more than just income – it’s fulfillment, work-life balance, and making a difference in the world. I started my career as a nurse – knowing that my purpose and passion was to transform the lives of others. Through two degrees, formal training in Solution-Focused brief therapy, and finally as a fearlessly successful entrepreneur, I now help other service-based women entrepreneurs to get clarity, transform THEIR confidence, and achieve success – whatever that looks like for them.
Neha Gupta, President & Founder of College Shortcuts
I spent my childhood daydreaming about one day finding the strength and courage to do things my way, and make money for it. I was always passionate about helping others, so being able to build a business centered around education and helping students of all kinds reach their maximum potential came so naturally to me. Because of the businesses I’ve built, I know that for me, being a woman in business means being able to assert my natural female ability to nurture & care for others in a way that brings both my clients, and myself, success.
Grainne Kelly, Founder of BubbleBum
A successful woman in business always has the ability to maintain a positive attitude. Energy is the fuel that feeds our attitude and it needs to be replenished on a daily basis. Having a positive attitude is a conscious choice, so when negative thoughts creep in, successful women stop them in their tracks and replace them with positive self-talk. These ladies repeat words or phrases that focus on affirming truths about them.
Successful women also surround themselves with like-minded women who are an inspiration and who will provide encouragement. Positivity allows successful female entrepreneurs to see the potential that lies within them and gives them the faith to step outside of the box to achieve their dreams.
Rebecca Deurlein, Founder & CEO of Teenager Success 101
I was passed over for a job for which I was eminently more qualified than my male counterpart, and at that point, I knew that not everyone appreciates a strong woman. So moving on and finding my own success was important to me. I had a mentor who used to say that cream always rises to the top . Today I believe more than ever that if you are authentic in your work, if you’re passionate about it, and if you always strive to better yourself, you will rise to the top. And that doesn’t always mean you’ll make a fortune. It might mean that you make less money but are truly happy and gratified in your work. That’s when you know you’re a true success.
Seena, President of Seena Music LLC & Vocalist/Bandleader of Seena And The Suits
To me, being a successful woman in business is feeling good about the product or service you are offering, combined with the financial numbers being in the green.
I feel most successful when I am completely on top of things, which in my field requires extensive planning. When I am in control due to planning out the smallest details, it allows for balance in the workplace, which manifests itself as less stress and more success, both in and out of the office. I love seeing the happy faces of my satisfied clients knowing that my employees and I delivered an extraordinary performance by staying true to our values.
My advice to other women wanting to start their own successful business is to focus on the bigger picture and don’t freak out if you have a bad day or a set back . Keep going and plan for your continued overall success.
Angie O’Grady, Partner & COO of StellaPop Consulting
A successful woman in business is three things. First, you’ve put in the time and work to reach a certain level of achievement.
Second, you are incredibly self-aware that there is no stifling your passion and fire to accomplish your dreams, your clients’ goals,while continuing to nurture your relationships and connections that have helped lift you up in life and in business.
Finally, a successful woman in business is one who builds other women business owners and entrepreneurs up instead of tearing them down, because enough people are doing that for us already. I have spent my almost 30 years in business developing a great network, many of whom are successful women. I attribute much of my success to the incredible women in my network .
Julie Austin, CEO of swiggies
I never really intended to become a business owner. I invented a product and was working on a licensing deal, which fell through at the last minute when the company went bankrupt. I had to learn how to do everything myself, including finding manufacturers and distributors, putting together packaging, doing publicity, etc. This was on top of working two jobs for years to pay for it all.
Being a successful business woman means I was able to rise to the occasion and do what I thought was impossible, completely on my own. It makes me proud that many of my international distributors are single moms who feed their kids by selling my product. It’s a lot of responsibility, but is all worth it to know I can stand on my own in the man’s world of manufacturing.
Jenny Dorsey, Professional Chef
Being a successful woman in business to me means being able to define my levers of success and see causation between work ethic and returns (whether it is monetary, status, or other self-defined levers). In 2016 I officially incorporated my consulting business and I defined my success in need for prospecting, percent of deals closed, total revenue, and work/life balance. I’ve been able to grow my business into a 6-figure business, renew most clients, have enough inbound funnel to close deals, and still work comfortably at home, take naps, find creative time in the kitchen and pottery studio, hang out with my dogs & husband.
Whitney Linscott, Bracket Dating, LLC
Every single woman who steps into a leadership role or founds their own company brings us one step closer to closing the executive gender gap. Ideally, one day we won’t have to discuss “women” entrepreneurs because we will have achieved a gender balance.
Despite a positive trend over the past half-century, women are disproportionately underrepresented. Women are starting companies at higher rates than has ever been seen, but because most venture capital funding and angel funding are still going to men it makes it hard for women owned enterprises to get a strong foothold in the market.
If you ask a person to visualize an entrepreneur 9/10 times the first person who will come to their mind is a man. My goal is to inspire and encourage more women to lead so that we can chip away at what gender is associated with “entrepreneur” .
D Verrengia, Owner of DVerrengia.com
When I first started as my business, I could go to networking events and rarely be recognized. Now, when I go to events I am stopped by women, and while I speak to women I even have men that have been affected by my message . Even if I never make a dollar off of that connection, knowing that my message fell on receptive ears is more than enough. It is humbling and I am gracious to each one of those occasions.
Alina Morse, 11-year old Founder & Inventor of Zollipops
To be a successful girl is to create a business and team that’s driven to constantly improve and help others. I have heard that women haven’t always been equal in business. From a young age, I have looked up to many successful women, such as Michelle Obama, as role models. To be able to bring my idea to market, have it accepted by families, teachers and dentists, while at the same time helping others and creating a great business feels like a WIN and success. Success does not happen overnight. My Dad says business is like running a marathon, you just keep running . We have been running for awhile and starting to feel like we are winning! It feels amazing!
What does being a successful woman in business mean to you?
You’ve heard what our panel had to say, and now it’s your turn to sound off. What does a successful business woman look like to you? Who are the lady bosses inspiring you in your own career? What advice would you give to a woman shooting for that CEO position? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!