Top female leaders and How They Got There

As an undergraduate, the number of career venues open to you is daunting. Your friends, parents, tutors and well-meaning distant aunts will all give you conflicting advice. One way to seek unbiased inspiration for your choice is to look at the careers of women who are at the top of their fields. If their stories fuel your dreams, then you'll know which career is for you, and how to start.

So, we’ve profiled a successful woman in each of the Banking, Law, FMCG, Technology and Entrepreneurship sectors to show you what you could achieve. While you might not be ready to steer billion pound companies or advise the Prime Minister just yet, you've already got what these women had at your age: brains - it's just up to you where you you use them.

Banking – Ana Botín

Voted as the third most powerful woman in the United Kingdom by the BBC, Ana wields serious influence in the UK. She was CEO of Santander UK until late 2014 when she became the Chair of the Santander Group. Her route to success began at the American college Bryn Mawr with an Economics degree, followed by Harvard Business School. She joined top bank J.P. Morgan for 8 years and then began her career at Santander. She is also a director of Coca-Cola and has run her own private equity business.

Law – Penelope Warne

Bristol-educated Penelope started her career at Slaughter and May before joining CMS Cameron McKenna to set up their new Aberdeen office. While caring for her two young children, she qualified in Scots Law and started her own practice in Energy. She then rejoined CMS as their Energy Practice leader and set up offices in Brazil, Mexico, Dubai and Oman, and oversaw a merger with Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson. Now Penelope is CMS’s Senior Partner, a rare example of a woman leading a top Law firm in an industry where merely 18% of partners are female. 

Consumer & Retail - Angela Ahrendts

Until recently Angela Ahrendts held the distinction of being one of four female CEOs of a FTSE100 company. She grew Burberry from a £2 billion business in decline to a £7 billion company with renewed vigour and prestige. She has now joined Apple as the Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores and is masterminding Apple’s development of wearable tech. Her earnings are remarkable as she was not only the highest paid CEO in the FTSE 100, but Apple are paying her even more than they do their CEO Tim Cook. Her journey to the top initially took her from Indiana to NYC where she worked with various brands including Donna Karan, before making the trip across the pond to Burberry.

Technology – Joanna Shields

Joanna, AKA Baroness Shields of Maida Vale, started life in Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University. She got her technical chops through her experiences as an MD at Google, CEO of Bebo and as MD for Facebook EMEA. She headed up Tech City by appointment from David Cameron and remains a Digital Advisor to the government. She is now a Life Peer and devotes her time to promoting tech businesses in the UK and Europe.

Entrepreneurship - Sherry Coutu

Sherry Coutu was awarded a CBE for Services to Entrepreneurship and is both an active Angel Investor and Founder herself. She founded two financial services businesses, one floating on the NASDAQ and the other valued at $1 billion. She has an MBA from Harvard, an MSc from LSE and a BA from the University of British Columbia. Her speciality is early stage investment and she has raised over $200 million for ventures. What’s more, she has personally invested in over 50 companies, including LOVEFiLM, Zoopla, Yplan and Bonobos, and has more advisory positions and board membership than you can shake a stick at.


All of these women would cite mentors, their network and shared experiences as indispensible boosts to their careers. We're running Bright Network: Women in Leadership on the 25th March to help you in exactly the same way. Featuring top firms, female leaders, workshops and networking opportunities, it's an unmissable event for talented female students.