Nobody is going to start to pretend that we now have complete gender equality in the US workplace – or indeed across the world. The inequality in the boardroom, especially, has proved stubborn and difficult to re-balance.

However, recent years have seen a significant step forward.  A headline from a Forbes article of a couple of years ago hit the nail on the head, perhaps: “Female Leadership: The Glass Ceiling Is Cracked, Not Broken”

That’s a pretty fair assessment, all in all. But at least now we do see more women managing to get through those cracks and rising up into senior positions.

Number of female CEOs on the up

The Fortune 500 now has more women CEOs than ever. In 2017, the figure stood at 32, up from 21 the previous year. Not only that, the increase of more than 50% constitutes a new record.

Of course, the fact that there are now more female CEOs than at any time since the list began in 1955 is not to be sniffed at. However, when you look at the bigger picture it clearly shows how much work still needs to be done to achieve boardroom equality. 32 women CEOs represents just 6.4% of the overall total. When you look at it that way, the figure looks anything but impressive.

Celebrating female leadership and entrepreneurship

However, reality check or not as those figures are, there is still plenty to be celebrated. A quick look at how the rates of women entrepreneurship have increased shows how much things have improved. In 2016, 36% of all US businesses were owned by women – that’s an increase of a massive 30% in less than 10 years.

There are more female role models from all walks of life for aspiring women to admire and look up to. Take Elise Buik as a prime example. She is United Way’s first female CEO and president having risen right through the ranks. The initiatives she has introduced as CEO have done much to fight poverty and homelessness in Los Angeles.

Agnes Lew is East West Bank’s senior VP and director of Wealth Management. Lew has broken down and through many barriers in what is still a very male-dominated sector. Her record is exemplary, with the Wealth Management revenue increasing nearly ten-fold during her tenure.

Tips for women to succeed

There is much that aspirational women can learn from these and many other female role models. Indeed, any of the female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list are worth doing some research on to pick up some useful bits of advice.

All women who have risen to senior positions will have their individual stories to tell, but there are some general points that are well worth considering.

Statistically, it would seem that college degrees in STEM subjects are more valuable for women who want to progress to the boardroom. Similarly, the experience of managing a profit and loss statement seems to be a differentiating factor.

Other than that, it is resilience that is the common denominator. Women sometimes have to work harder and fight harder to be recognized. They have to fight, fend off or deal with sexism, discrimination, and outdated attitudes. A tough skin and considerable talent are required.