Last week, Forbes magazine published its annual list of the world’s billionaires. Featured on the cover: the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire, Sara Blakely, creator of Spanx. Spanx, a line of undergarment body shapers and hosiery for both men and women, is a concept Blakely has developed and expanded upon since her 20s. Now, at 41, Blakely is the youngest woman to make the list without a husband’s assistance or an inheritance, paving the way for women entrepreneurs to continue closing the gender gap in business.
Over the past 30 years, the higher education and professional gender gap has diminished in many fields and industries. For example, women outnumber men at most undergraduate campuses and have steadily received more bachelor degrees than men since the 1990’s. Graduate studies among women have also outpaced men, with more women receiving master’s degrees and eliminating the gender gap in medical schools and law schools. In 2010, women made education history in the U.S. by receiving more PhD’s than men. In fact, there has nearly been a reversal in the gender gap, with boys falling behind girls in academic achievement and new educational policies emerging to stabilize this trend. However, one industry where men continue to dominate is business.
To encourage women to enter the business sector, start business ventures, and enroll in MBA programs, women role models are key. Successes such as Blakely’s are truly inspiring — and rare. To date, Oprah Winfrey and Meg Whitman, among others, have also made headlines by appearing on the Forbes billionaire list as self-made women.
In 2003, Oprah Winfrey became the first African-American woman to join the billionaire’s club. Winfrey started her career as a news reporter and anchor, quickly becoming a popular talk-show host. She created The Oprah Winfrey Show and started her own production company, Harpo Productions. Today, “Oprah” is a household name and its own brand. Winfrey is a successful businesswomen, actress, author, TV personality, and entrepreneur. Her passion for women’s rights and stress on girls’ education also makes her a role model for female entrepreneurs everywhere.
Additionally, Meg Whitman has repeatedly appeared on the Forbes billionaire list. Whitman, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School, is presently the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Whitman is best known for serving as the CEO of eBay and successfully expanding the company into an international household name. In 2010, she was nominated to run for the position of governor of California. Although she did not win the election, her strong presence in business, and in politics, makes her an exceptional role model and woman to watch.
Although female enrollment in business schools continues to increase and women secure competitive jobs in the business sector, the field is still male dominated and women continue to earn less than men. In recent years, efforts to help women network, fundraise, and start business ventures have increased. However, women role models such as Blakely, Winfrey, and Whitman are extremely important in closing the gender gap and in encouraging women to enter the business sector.
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