I recently came across an article in Harvard Business Review regarding leading female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and their personal journeys to the top of the corporate ladder.  How do ambitious young women get to the top? Will it take 23 years for you to become the next female CEO of a Fortune 500?

From an early age, we are taught that in order to be successful, one must get into a top university followed by a high paying, respectable job in a major city.  We have to be the best at everything we do. We must be the captain on the sports field, the president of school clubs, a philanthropist, and a scholar in the classroom.

Upon graduation, those that want to begin the climb are pushed into investment or consulting careers, assuming that because it is a more competitive industry, it will lead them to the top at a faster pace. Just because one career track is more competitive than another, does that mean it’s the best? According to the research shown in HBR, the answer is simply “no”.

HBR put the theory to the test and went on to study the career paths for 24 women who now head Fortune 500 companies across the country. The results were quite surprising: Only 2 of the 24 women attended Ivy League schools and only a quarter of the women hold an MBA.

What I found to be very interesting is that over 20% of the female CEO’s took low paying jobs right out of school that were not glamorous to say the least. These women are now running the companies where they first started, 20 years later. The general consensus of the article was around the impact of company culture on women. Women thrive in optimistic, supportive work places with strong mentors and female role models.  We need to realize our intrinsic value and continue to conquer the work place biases that delay women from being promoted.

At UDig, I’ve found a great environment – pushing my limits but also providing rewards and feedback.  Our organization is over 28% female (and growing, with 50% of recent hires being female), beating the national average of women in technology sector positions of just over 25%.  I’m proud to not only work here but also have the opportunity to help other women in technology do what they dig.

You can read the full article here and draw your own conclusions.  But I did want to share one inspirational quote per HBR: “…the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs. But they did have to find a good place to climb.” So, I’ll ask you, are you in the right place for your climb?

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