By Fawn Germer
“If one woman gets over the wall, then brings two more,
who each bring two more… You get the point.
The world is ours.”
Midway into this book, I realized what the women leaders I’d interviewed had done.
They’d handed me the secret code.
I knew I’d been shown something that no one else had seen, and I was overwhelmed
by it, partly because of the power of the content, mostly because of the sincerity
of the women. They climbed over so many obstacles to get to the top, and now
they are reaching down to you-through me. There are more than fifty women in this
book, all of whom have no spare time-none-but they cleared time for you because
they don’t like being alone at the top.
Success is not a finite commodity. There is enough for all of us. If they help you
to succeed and you help the next women, our place in this world will grow. And
grow. They know that. They know we can only embrace our possibility if we embrace
Sometimes it seems like we are just crawling along. This year, women run thirteen of
America’s Fortune 500 companies. Last year, it was ten.
Wow, thirteen women at the very top, and there are only 140 million American
women in the running.
It is easy to be cynical-or jubilant. Your choice.
Not that long ago, women were banned from the Harvard Law School Library
because we might distract men from their studies. We couldn’t get credit in our own
names. Employers fired us if we got pregnant, or didn’t hire us because we might conceive.
We were excluded from jury duty because, apparently, our opinion didn’t count.
There were male bosses who freely demanded sex from the women who worked for
It wasn’t so long ago that classified ads used to be split in half, with one set of
jobs-the good ones-for men, and the rest for women. It was legal to pay men more
because, well, just because.
Our history inspires me because our gains were the result of a brilliant, deliberate
campaign for equality that began with the most crucial battle-the fight for the right
to vote. Ninety years ago, we couldn’t even vote! But our foremothers knew that, if we
could vote, we could make change. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Women’s Liberation
Movement and the National Organization for Women executed a strategy that made
discriminatory laws fall like dominoes. Reading that history is so exciting and inspiring.
The women who are now in their fifties, sixties and seventies fought those battles-for
us. We have a legacy to protect-and create.
There are times when I get so discouraged, like when I see a Catalyst report that
says only 6.7 percent of the top-paying positions in the Fortune 500 belong to women.
But then again, there are times like this moment when I see the potential that exists
because of who we are as women. We are growing into our power-together. We are
learning from our mistakes and triumphs-together.
The first time I tried to get an interview with eBay CEO Meg Whitman, I got the
same answer that I’d gotten from the other women CEOs on the Fortune 500-a
polite-but-firm no. The reason was the same, every time. The CEOs wanted to be
viewed as CEOS-not as “women CEOs.” It was as if the qualifier suggested “less
than.” But I asked Whitman’s spokesman if he would pass on a memo that I would
write. He agreed, and I spent quite a bit of time composing my argument.
It came down to this:
Some women know innately what it takes to break through in difficult environments.
They know how to use their strength without being punished for it. They know
how to fly above the politics and build teams that perform.
It doesn’t come so naturally to all of us. That doesn’t mean the rest of us are less
able or less deserving-it means we need a little guidance so we can get our chance to
prove our mettle.
If the intuitive leaders don’t share what they know instinctively, they always will be
viewed as “women CEOs” because they will be the only ones up there. If they share
their wisdom and enlighten the rest of us, they won’t be so rare.
Whitman wound up giving me an incredible interview. I loved her. The other
“women CEOs” didn’t come around in that book, and I couldn’t figure out why they
wouldn’t share their mentoring wisdom. Fortunately, a new lineup of great women is in
power, and they not only agreed to participate this time-many said it was their duty.
Whitman came through again in this book.
You are their legacy. What you do with what they teach you here will play out
over years and even decades. Just don’t do it alone. Remember the women coming up
behind you, and help them along. The more success you create for others, the more
you will succeed for yourself.
When I went through the interviews in this book and distilled “the rules,” I realized
that, collectively, their words created a legacy that could have a life-altering impact on
the careers of thousands of women leaders. Will this book create one more Fortune 500
CEO? A book won’t do that. But a movement to continue to share and reveal and help
and mentor will create one, then two, then a dozen, then a hundred.
It’s our moment. Our turn. Our rules.
If one woman gets over the wall, then brings two more, who each bring two
more… You get the point. The world is ours.