The number of female CEOs increases every year. A recent report from American Express, State of Women-Owned Businesses¹ found that, as of January 2017, there are an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States. These female-run business employ 9 million people and generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenues. The best part: over the past 20 years (1997–2017), the number of women-owned businesses has grown 114 percent.

Dr. Marsha Firestone, Ph.D. and founder and president of the Women President’s Organization, attributes this growth to one thing: innovation. In a recent Fortune article², Firestone says: “It’s definitely one of the characteristics these women have that drive growth.”

From fashion and food to technology and science, women are leading some of the biggest businesses in the world. In 2017, the number of CEOs on the Fortune 500 list³ increased by nearly 50 percent, up to 32 from the 21 reported female CEOs last year. In fact, you’re probably shopping with some of the world’s biggest female-run brands already. Take a look at our list of the top 10 female-lead brands to shop with this season.


Michele Buck

America’s favorite chocolate has a woman in charge. In March 2017, Michele Buck became the very first female CEO of Hershey. A seasoned businesswoman, Buck brings more than 25 years of experience to the role. After working in several senior positions in Nabisco/Kraft, Buck made the move to Hershey 11 years ago, and has enjoyed success in the company ever since.

Buck, known for her experience and ability to make decisions, was brought on during a time when Hershey needed to make some real changes. They had just experienced a failed merger, and since stepping into the position, she hasn’t shied away from making powerful moves.

In a 2017 interview with Fortune, Buck says: “We have an opportunity with mergers and acquisitions to go into spaces where our brand can’t currently travel. That will be one way we grow.” What could this mean? Interesting and innovative new snacks this Christmas, of course!

Burton Snowboards

Donna Carpenter

Donna Carpenter is no stranger to the challenges women face in the workplace, and as CEO of Burton Snowboards, she does all she can to work for workplace equality. In a recent post on the Burton blog, Carpenter describes the moment she realized that something had to change:

“My husband came to me after a global directors meeting: out of 25 leaders, there were only three women in attendance. It was my job to do something about it.”

Carpenter certainly has ‘done something about it.’ Following this realization, she founded the Women’s Leadership Initiative, and has been thrilled with its positive impact on the women around her.

Burton says: “What started as a short-term focus group carries on today as a powerful, grassroots team here at Burton. Together, with many years of hard work, the barriers started to come down and women began to advance in our company. 10 percent of our leadership was female 13 years ago; today, it’s over 40 percent. Our senior management is at 50 percent.”

When asked about the future for women at Burton Snowboards, Carpenter doesn’t bat an eye: “I happen to believe it will be women leaders who will envision a better future, and they will be the warriors who work to create it.”


Katia Beauchamp

Katia Beauchamp is now known as the founder of one of the most popular subscription beauty boxes, Birchbox, but has always been a self-described beauty enthusiast. In her last semester of Harvard Business School, she and one of her classmates, Hayley Barna, realized that there was a hole in the beauty business:

“We recognized that there were no new concepts when it came to beauty e-commerce and that beauty had specific needs/pain points when it comes to shopping online—touch, try, smell and experiencing products are essential to discovery,” said Beauchamp in a 2012 interview for She continued, “We realized that all women would love to have a best friend who could cut through the clutter and deliver the best products for them.”

For $10 a month, Birchbox delivers a box full of beauty goodies right to your doorstep. Founded by women and for women, they’ve recently expanded their repertoire into men’s products, too, with the launch of “Birchbox Men.”

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Maxine Clark

Maxine Clark always had an eye for business. In a 2012 interview, Clark said: “I was always curious about how people shopped. In 1971, after I graduated from college, I wanted to do anything that women weren’t doing at the time.”

As such, Clark became a buyer and worked her way up, rising to be the CEO of Payless ShoeSource. She soon became burned out, however, and knew that she wanted to try something different. Following a conversation with a friend’s daughter, Clark came up with the idea for children to come to a ‘factory’ and make their own bears. In 1997, the first Build-A-Bear workshop opened, and in just three years, Clark had so many businesses interested in investing that she needed to turn people away.

Though Clark retired from her position as CEO in 2013, she is still involved in the business and eager to explore the ways that business can benefit children.

In a 2017 interview for Ladue News, Clark credits her success to her curiosity, saying: “One thing I have is chutzpah, the guts to ask the question, to do something no one else would. My strength is that I know what I don’t know, and I’m always trying to figure it out.”

After leaving, the company hired a new female CEO to take Clark’s place, Sharon Price John, allowing them to continue empowering women within the company.

Pepperidge Farm

Margaret Rudkin

Margaret Rudkin became an entrepreneur at a time when women were not encouraged to pursue business. The Pepperidge Farm baking company began in Margaret’s kitchen, when she tried to bake bread that was both healthy and delicious for her son, who suffered from severe allergies.

After plenty of trial and error, Margaret produced a loaf that had her family and friends raving. Margaret took her bread down to the local grocer, who didn’t want to sell her bread because she was charging double the going rate. After tasting a slice, he took all her loaves and called her for more bread the very next day.

Margaret tells the story of that interaction on the Pepperidge Farm website: “Although I knew nothing of manufacturing, of marketing, of pricing or of making bread in quantities, with that phone call, Pepperidge Farm bread was born.”

After expanding into her own bakery in 1947 (and expanding her repertoire into cookies and cakes), Margaret sold her business in 1961 to Campbell Soup, and sat on the board of both corporations. During Margaret’s time at Pepperidge Farm, the growth rate averaged an astounding 53 percent. She attributes the success of her company to the fact that “Pepperidge Farm products are the best of their kind in the world.”

Owned by Campbell’s, Pepperidge Farm’s CEO is still a female, Denise M. Morrison.

Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Margaret “Meg” Whitman

Meg Whitman is the CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprises, a multinational enterprise technology company best known for the creation of the HP computers and printers. Whitman took over the company in 2011, and is responsible for the company’s recommitment to PC technology, and continued to focus on the company’s research and development division.

In addition to her work developing technology, Whitman was also CEO during one of HP’s biggest campaigns to increase diversity in the workplace. In September of 2017, HP.com¹⁰ reported that 61 percent of HP’s account teams and 51 percent of upper management are women, which represent increases beyond the campaign’s initial targets.

Whitman credits her success to her fearlessness, saying: “My mother taught me that you don’t have to be perfect as a leader, but you can’t be timid.”

Rent the Runway

Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss

Have you ever had a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear? Rent the Runway, founded by Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss, aims to get rid of that problem entirely by offering women the chance to own a rotating closet.

The company was a massive success after its launch, and went public this year after the massive success of their Series E round. A recent Forbes article¹¹ cites that the company has raised $60 million in funding, which is the largest round of funding for a startup led by women in 2016.

The company isn’t just led by females, though. Their employees (of which there are more than 1,000) and their leadership team are 85 percent female and minority, according to a recent article on the Rent the Runway blog¹².

Founders Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss have had an incredible journey working together, and strive to continue supporting women as they achieve their dreams. In a recent blog post¹³, Hyman says:

“I am proud to co-lead a foundation with Jenny that we continue to invest our time and energy into to support thousands of female-founded companies scale throughout the U.S. We have created a culture of kindness at Rent the Runway that celebrates our team and values our employees’ whole lives–their lives as parents, as fiancées and partners, as having-a-dream-to-travel-the-world, as continuous learners, and as founders of their own companies–after their time at Rent the Runway.”

Orangetheory Fitness

Ellen Latham

Ellen Latham is the brains behind the fastest-growing female led business in 2017, according to the Women President’s Organization¹⁴. Her company, Orangetheory Fitness, specializes in high intensity workouts that deliver fast results.

Latham herself is a fitness professional with a Masters degree in exercise physiology, and her corporation grew from a small studio with orange walls to more than 1,000 exercise studios worldwide.

In a recent article in Fortune¹⁵, Latham describes the franchising success they’ve experienced: “We really hit the ground running when we decided to franchise the company,” she says, “but I never thought it would explode to where it has.”

It’s not all orange walls and flat abs at Orangetheory, though. Latham is candid about how the exercise industry is dominated by men, and does all she can to set an example for other women in the industry. In a recent article¹⁶, Latham says:

“I have a couple of women who are in their 20s who have asked me if I would be their mentor in this industry. I meet with them once a month or talk to them on the phone. We talk about goals, what they want, this type of thing. Hopefully, I can be a role model and assist in some way.”

Pepsi Co.

Indra Nooyi

PepsiCo. is one of the largest businesses in the world, with American sales reaching $37.94 billion USD according to Statista¹⁷. With brands like Lays, Doritos, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Starbucks, and Tropicana under their umbrella, it will be difficult not to shop with this female-led brand this holiday season.

Indra Nooyi has been the woman at the helm of this empire for more than ten years, and as a woman of color in the business world, she is adamant that businesses do their part to recognize women for their talents.

In a 2016 interview with CNBC¹⁸, Nooyi spoke out about the representation of women in business. She said:

“Whether you are a male CEO or a female CEO, [employing women and minorities] is a business imperative, because if you look at graduating seniors from colleges, more than 50 percent are women. More than 50 percent! If you look at the best grades, women are getting them. So if you really want companies to be successful, we have got to draw from the entire pool, not just try to say ‘Hey, we are going to exclude a portion of the population.’”

Thanks to her personal mission of employing women and minorities, 27 percent of senior executives at PepsiCo. are women, a statistic that the company aims to increase each year.


Margo Georgiadis

Margo Georgiadis has a long history of working as an executive. Once one of the top advertising executives for Google, Georgiadis became the CEO of the toy company Mattel in early 2017. Mattel is behind toy brands like Fisher-Price, Barbie, American Girl, Hot Wheels, Tyco, and Matchbox.

As the CEO of a toy retailer in 2017, Georgiadis has had her work cut out for her. A recent Fortune article¹⁹ credits Georgiadis with “shaking things up, in a Google-y way, developing a shared technical infrastructure for toy development and investing in digital marketing.”

For example, one of the first things Georgiadis did when coming on as Mattel CEO was to dismantle a Barbie dream house, and find a way to make the house more efficient.

She’s also long been a champion of women in the workplace, and spoke at the 2016 Girls 4 Science Women’s History Month reception. During the speech, Georgiadis said²⁰: “We need to change our trajectory. We want the next generation of products being innovated to reflect our users. When women are not part of the equation, we won’t have products that reflect the unique needs and opportunities across our society.”


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