Recent research in to the number of women in the boardroom has resulted in a staggering statistic; the index of the UK’s largest listed companies feature just seven female CEOs, compared with nine named David!

Whilst progress is being made in terms of diversity and inclusion in businesses throughout the UK, at the top level it is not advancing fast enough.

With that in mind, we’ve looked towards some of the most influential women currently in leadership, and the lessons they can teach us to improve business performance, employee well-being and self-leadership.

Discover seven important lessons you can learn from today’s women in leadership.

Persevere – Ursula Burns

Hailing from a poor area in the lower-east side of Manhattan, it seemed unlikely at an early age that Ursula Burns would go on to become the first black woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company – holding the position at Xerox between 2009 and 2016.

Raised by her mother in a New York City housing project, Burns was encouraged to follow her passions, leading to her obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, before becoming Master of Science in mechanical engineering from Columbia University a year later.

Burns first worked for Xerox as a summer intern in 1980, and permanently joined a year later, after completing her master’s degree; working in various roles in product development and planning. Remaining in this position throughout the 1980s, before becoming executive assistant to Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive.

Working through a number of assistant roles to various senior managers, Burns worked her way to vice president for global manufacturing, before eventually becoming senior vice president of corporate strategic services in 2000, before being named CEO in July 2009.

Burn’s journey from summer intern to CEO in the space of 30 years highlights the importance of persevering and hard work – maximising the opportunities you are afforded, as well the opportunities afforded to others.

Know Your Business – Mary Barra

Mary Barra is the Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors Company, a position she has held since 2014 – becoming the first female CEO of a major global car-maker. Similar to Ursula Burns, Barra spent most of her professional career at the company she would eventually lead – starting work for General Motors at the age of 18.

Throughout her near 40 year career, Barra has held a number of different roles within General Motors, allowing her to see how the many different parts of the organisation connect. It’s also afforded her the ability to expand the breadth of her experience and expertise working across different functions of the organisation.

As well as increasing her own experience, working across multiple departments has also allowed Mary Barra to gain a greater understanding of General Motor’s core values, allowing her to instil the beliefs into others – leading by example.

Inspire – Carolyn McCall

Carolyn McCall

Voted the most admired leader in Britain by Management Today magazine two years in a row, Carolyn McCall is one of the most powerful bosses in the United Kingdom. Throughout her career, McCall has led three separate businesses; The Guardian, EasyJet and ITV.

During her time at EasyJet, the airline’s shares almost quadrupled, with McCall building a reputation for being tough. McCall, herself, has admitted she prefers “pragmatic approach to Human Resources rather than politically correct niceties”.

However, despite this, McCall understands the position she is in as one of only a handful of female CEOs in the FTSE 100 – believing that “women in leadership positions need to inspire female leaders”. At this effort, McCall has achieved great success, being awarded an OBE for services to women in business in June 2008.

Be Pioneering – Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty’s tenure, as the first woman CEO of IBM, has been marked by noteworthy awards such as Bloomberg’s 50 Most Influential People in the World and Time’s 20 Most Important People in Tech.

Focusing IBM on analytics, cloud computing, and cognitive computing systems since her appointment as CEO in 2012, Rometty has been responsible for modernising IBM, moving them away from traditional computer systems, considered at this time ‘shrinking businesses’ towards pioneering new systems and technologies such as block chain and artificial intelligence.

‘For her role as a pioneer in technology, and for her ongoing commitment to empower and elevate the next generation of women’ Rometty was awarded 2017 KPMG Inspire Greatness Award. Rometty’s leadership highlights the importance of leading your business forward, creating a business culture that strives to do better and explore new ideas.

Don’t be Afraid to Shake Things Up – Emma Walmsley

Emma Walmsley

Unlike some of the leaders on this list, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Emma Walmsley, did not spend the majority of her career at the organisation she would go on to lead. Instead, Walmsley spent 17 years at L’Oreal, where she held a variety of general management and marketing roles in Paris, London and New York.

Walmsley joined GlaxoSmithKline in May 2010 as President of Consumer Healthcare Europe and quickly rose through the ranks, before becoming CEO in April 2017. Walmsley has previously stated that her priority was for GlaxoSmithKline to become more adept at developing and commercialising new drugs, and, to this goal, she has not been afraid to shake things up.

Walmsley has replaced more than 50 top executives at the company, or more than 40% of her key reports, as well creating a number of new roles, creating a new culture for her organisation, as well as bring fresh thinking to key positions. So far, her approach has paid dividends – with GSK stocks up 15% during the middle of 2018.

Focus on the Long Term – Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi’s legendary career speaks for itself. Consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women. Under her tenure as CEO of PepsiCo, the business’ revenue grew from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017. Nooyi achieved this by creating a vision, having courage in her convictions and by unleashing the power of her people.

Understanding changes in consumer trends and behaviour, Nooyi inspired a shift towards healthier and organic products during her time as CEO. Nooyi’s belief in focusing on long-term goals has been clear throughout her time at PepsiCo, informing her team:

I told them they needed to just keep the performance going in the short-term. The medium-term focus was on what kind of acquisitions we were going to make to bolster the company’s portfolio in emerging and developing markets. For the long-term, we were going to invest in R&D, start the portfolio transformation to put in place multiple initiatives which will not pay out today, but require investment today to pay out in the long-term.”

Having a clear direction, and focusing on the bigger picture will provide you with a greater sense of where your business needs to go, making leadership a much easier undertaking.

Invest In Your People – Lynsi Snyder

Lynsi Snyder

The owner and heiress of the In-N-Out Burger company, Lynsi Snyder is the youngest American female billionaire. Snyder’s belief in her people, and the business’ investment in employee training programmes has led her to the No. 4 spot on’s list of the nation’s top 100 big-company chiefs.

As well as providing training that empowers her employees, Snyder invests time in her employee’s well-being arranging trips, days out, company perks and decent wages (a prominent fixture of positive employee comments). Snyder’s success in developing her people has led to fantastic successes for In-N-Out Burger, with revenue for 2018 estimated to have reached $1 billion.

Global Learning & Development

OnTrack International are a global learning and development consultancy working with some of the most successful organisations in the world. With a focus on developing learning solutions to meet precise business needs, we combine multiple methods of learning to deliver optimum business value.

Our industry-leading blended learning programmes include encapsulate a number of leadership roles; including Leading Self, Leading Others and Leading Teams. Find out more about how we can improve the performance of your staff.