Dr. Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014

Dr. Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014

Words from a spiritually powerful woman:

“I am convinced that courage is the most important of all the virtues.  Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can be kind for a while; you can be generous for a while; you can be just

for a while, or merciful for a while, even loving for a while. But it is only with courage that you can be persistently and insistently kind and generous and fair.”

 A More Worldly Kind of Power

Late last week Forbes released its “definitive annual guide to the extraordinary icons and leaders, groundbreakers and ceiling crashers who command the world stage.”

The World’s Most Powerful Women 2014, headed up by Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel (for the 4th year in a row),  is a fascinating read, not least because it reminds me that although their numbers are small, there are women heading up companies like PepsiCo, Lockheed-Martin, DuPont, Sam’s Club, General Dynamics, IBM, Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, and – as we all know – General Motors.

Women also chair the Federal Reserve, run the International Monetary Fund, and chair the Securities and Exchange Commission.  In addition, they are Chief Financial Officers at Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Morgan Stanley, Morgan Chase, and Chevron. In fact, there are nearly three times as many female CFOs of Fortune 500 companies (11.4%) as there are CEOs (4.6%). Good to know, but still too low!

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Tucked away in the captions describing these women are tidbits about how some of them began their lives.  These tidbits motivated me to learn more.  Here is a just a small sampling of what I found.

Angela Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor, grew up in a village in East Germany just 50 miles from Berlin. She was 7 when the Berlin Wall went up; nine days later the first person died trying to cross into the West.

Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM, was born to an Italian-American family in Chicago. After their father abandoned his wife and children when Virginia (known as Ginni) was in her mid-teens, the family had to turn to food stamps to feed themselves. Rometty began working for Big Blue in 1981 as a systems engineer.

Maria Das Gracas Silva Foster, CEO of Petrobras, Brazil’s oil and gas colossus (and the world’s biggest deep-water oil producer), grew up in a crime-ridden and poverty-stricken shanty town on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. She lived there until she was 20.  In 1979 she joined Petrobras as an intern. In 2012 she became CEO. Her story reminds me of a quote from Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never, never give up.”

As you read the names – and see the many happy faces of these powerful women, remember that anything is possible in this world – even a world where Ad Week leads off their article on this years list of  “The World’s Most Powerful Women” with these words: “Forbes’ most estrogen-heavy annual list….”

I predict that in five years, we won’t see subtle digs like that in the mainstream media.  Won’t that be a relief?  

You may also be interested in these Forbes 2014 lists