Female representation in the C-suite is on the rise, but is it enough?
For the first time ever, more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, according to the latest data. But though female leadership is gaining some momentum, progress appears to be slower for women executives of color.
At AboveBoard, we’re here to change that. Our female-founded company is on a mission to change the face of global leadership, including advancing more women to C-suite and boardroom roles. In this article, we’ll hear from 10 female executives on their path to success. They’ll fill us in on their inspiration, insights, and hopes for a world where women and minority executives are the norm rather than the exception.
Female executives in marketing
Teresa Mueller, Head of Marketing at Form Health on purpose
Teresa Mueller launched her career in traditional brand management at companies like Johnson & Johnson and Heinz. In the early stages of her career, "it was all about training and having access to great leaders that I could learn from."
"Since then, what motivates me is working for a brand that I feel good about where I can have a big impact. For me, that means a mission-driven brand that matters in people’s lives. I really like building teams and value being a part of an organization where marketing is something that the Founder/CEO believes in and supports."
Kelly Hopping, CMO at HYCU, Inc. on intentionality
Prior to landing her current role as Chief Marketing Officer at HYCU, Inc., Kelly Hopping assumed the post of Chief Sabbatical Officer, taking "control of the narrative" about career gaps and giving herself space to step back and recover from career burnout.
Soon enough, Hopping began exploring possibilities for the next step in her career. But after two rounds of interviews with HYCU, Inc., Hopping realized she still wasn't ready. "I'm exhausted and need a break," she told the organization at the time. "Your company seems great, but I'm not ready."
Following her instincts and honoring her convictions ultimately led her back to HYCU, Inc. The recruiter from True, who connected with Hopping via AboveBoard, reached out to her in the middle of her sabbatical to let her know the company was still interested in her as a candidate. Moral of the story? Taking intentional time to ask questions about what you want to do, the type of company you want to work for, and where you'd like to take your career is worth it.
Sara Gelenberg-Field, CMO at Mommy's Bliss on connection
Throughout Sara Gelenberg-Field's journey from a public relations agency to marketing at The Gillette Company and onward to Starbucks and Mommy's Bliss, the "consistent theme" has been "consumer obsession and really diving into the heart of our consumers."
"If we can really dig into that and understand their lives, their motivations, their needs, their wants, their dreams, then we will be successful at building our brand and creating a really meaningful and deep connection with them," according to Gelenberg-Field. "On the personal side, continually being challenged, growing, and learning have always been really important. The minute I felt comfortable or like I wasn't being challenged or pushed to grow is when I raised my hand and said, 'I'm ready for something new.'"
Female executives in human resources
Angel Franklin, Chief People Officer at Hinge on leadership
Angel Franklin worked at Ernst & Young, the Kellogg Company, and Tesla before taking on an executive role at Hinge. She credits her "rapid ascension into leadership" to her willingness to think "outside the box," she says. "If you're coming from a non-traditional background, you've got to have some non-traditional approaches until we make the norm. There's not one version of what normal looks like, we're just not there yet.”
Franklin says her experiences prior to becoming an executive remain a vital part of her servant leadership approach. "It's very fresh in my mind, the experiences I had, the things that made me feel safe, that made me afraid, how I got help or didn't get help because of those things," Franklin says. "As a leader, I’m trying to remove all those barriers I experienced."
Kelly Scheib, Chief People Officer at Crunchbase on diversity
Kelly Scheib, the first Chief People Officer at Crunchbase—a prospecting platform powered by best-in-class proprietary data—is leading the charge on the company's human resource efforts, AKA the "people team." With more than 15 years of experience in the field, Scheib has seen HR grow from fighting for a seat at the table to leading the charge on some of today's most important initiatives.
"There's been a considerable amount of intentionality behind how employers show up in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) space in general. I'm probably unique in my perspective about how it shows up in an organization because I don't believe in isolated functions regarding DEIB," Scheib says.
In her view, "DEIB needs to be so well ingrained in your organization that you don't need dedicated folks leading the charge. It should be something that is led in everything we do—looking at everything through the lens of DEI really shapes the culture of an organization." Of course, a dedicated DEIB focus may be necessary, but the goal should be for it to "evolve" into a deep-rooted practice or lens.
Female executives in tech
Elaine Richards, COO at Basecamp on career transitions
Elaine Richards studied journalism with the intention of becoming a news editor one day. Now, she's running tech companies. Her secret to navigating career transitions? "Have a plan," she says, but be "open to the twists, turns, and opportunities that make life kind of wonderful."
"It’s great to have a plan and have your sights set on something," Richard says. "Throughout my career, I’ve always planned a certain next career step, and I’ve been wrong. Every single time."
Vanessa Jupe, CEO & Founder at Leva on being nimble
Vanessa Jupe work at DirecTV wasn’t what she thought it’d be, at least at first. Initially hired as a web producer, Jupe naturally thought she’d be developing code. Instead, her focus became managing the entertainment experience at DirecTV. It wasn’t the move Jupe expected to make, but it was ultimately “wonderful” for her career, putting her on the path to executive leadership.
Jupe eventually went from leading DirecTV’s search and discovery arm for entertainment to a director role with USAA, and, more recently, a Vice President role with H&R Block. As her career began to evolve, Jupe began asking herself: “What could I do if I were at a place that already understood the importance of digital?” That's what led her to AboveBoard and to her former role as a Senior VP at Clearcover prior to starting her own company. In the end, Jupe’s openness to evolve led her to the path she’s forging now.
Female executives on the leadership pipeline
Abby Coleman, Board of Director at The College Diabetes Network on the way forward
Entrepreneur Abby Coleman has seen it all, from launching a farm-focused catering company and working for Kraft Foods in global roles to commerce and marketing working for Amazon subsidiary Quidsi and two food ventures in the startup space. Now as Co-Founder of Amass, a launchpad for Black investors, and board director at The College Diabetes Network, Coleman’s experiences are evidence of a shifting paradigm in the world of corporate leadership. Still, “we have a long road ahead,” she says.
“Change has to happen at every stage, and right now there’s a lot of focus on hiring, which is great, but how different is it once you actually get into the room? The power is still currently held by the same powerful people. And when you get in the room with them, they still have this same limiting way of operating,” Coleman said. “The VC world operates on this concept of ‘pattern recognition’ which can have a negative side effect of promoting the same people over and over again. We need to overwrite the old patterns by actively seeking diverse success stories and hyper-promoting them, making them loud. I think AboveBoard is a key player in that effort.”
Isis Ruiz, Chief Growth Officer at Virgin Voyages, on mentorship
For Isis Ruiz, "the most important thing” that happened early in her career was an act of inclusion from the CEO of the insurance law firm she was working at. Ruiz was essentially the chief of staff, and the CEO regularly invited her into meetings.
“I didn’t have a speaking part, but it was the first time I was in the room where it happens, seeing how these decisions are made, seeing how influence is exerted. He gave me that level of confidence and trust and also pulled back the curtain a little bit. That was the first time I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I can be at these tables and I can help drive decisions. Not tomorrow, but down the road as I build on my career, maybe this is something I can aspire to.’ Because there was no one who looked like me at those tables.”
“I appreciated his mentorship, and the access to that space is what changed my understanding of where I might want to take my career,” Ruiz said.
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder and CEO of AboveBoard, on empowerment
Early in her career, Lucinda Duncalfe was tasked with figuring out what to do with the product from a company her organization had just acquired. But after several meetings, she came to the realization that, although she loved the team and their product, she truly could not "figure out why we owned it or how it fit."
"So I told my boss that," Duncalfe said. "From a career trajectory standpoint, it was the best thing I could have done." Her boss respected her opinion, and her bravery, and the company was later sold. It was through this experience that Duncalfe realized "the importance of being a leader who is open to others’ opinions and power."
"As leaders, our job isn’t to 'empower' our team, that implies that we’re giving them power," Duncalfe says. "Our job is to be open to them expressing the power they already have — to not disempower them."
Champion women in executive leadership with AboveBoard
Currently, recruitment for C-suite and boardroom roles is all about having the right connections and knowing the right people. AboveBoard is here to change that.
Each of the women featured in this article leveled up their careers, stayed true to their values, and did it all on AboveBoard’s efficient and transparent platform. We believe that access and transparency are key to opening up traditionally hidden opportunities for women and contributing to greater diversity and representation overall.