5 Female CEOs We Admire

Female CEO Amy Balliett with her new book, Killer Visual Strategies

The workforce, and in particular workforce leadership, has a major representation problem. For instance, just 37 of the companies that appeared on the 2020 Fortune 500 list were headed by women. That’s only 7.4% — a figure that points to the larger lack of equitable representation. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups all face systemic obstacles that make it more difficult for them to achieve career success. The lack of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list and woman-identified entrepreneurs receiving seed funding — just 2.8% of all startup investment in the United States in 2019 — is just one more symptom of this larger injustice. 

All of this came to the forefront for our team when Killer CEO and founder Amy Balliett published her first book a few months ago. Killer Visual Strategies: Engage Any Audience, Improve Comprehension, and Get Amazing Results Using Visual Communication is a comprehensive guide for marketers, brand leaders, and designers alike to information design best practices and to harnessing the power of visual storytelling for their communication needs. For Amy and for our company, the book was a triumph many years in the making. But the fact that there is no other comprehensive guide like this on the market wasn’t the only thing we were proud of. Just as much of an accomplishment was the fact that this book was written by a female CEO and entrepreneur — a perspective that’s been underrepresented in so many industries. 

So we thought we’d take this opportunity to celebrate some of the many other female CEOs who we admire. These women are leaders, innovators, and experts. Some of them are pioneers in new industries; others have dedicated their lives to building a better world. This list is by no means a comprehensive look at all the innovative women whose accomplishments deserve our recognition and admiration. But they’re a place to start, and we’re honored to have the chance to spread the word. 

Lauren Maillian, CEO of digitalundivided

Lauren Maillian leads a social startup called digitalundivided that is dedicated to supporting the economic success and growth of Black and Latinx female founders. 

Maillian brings to digitalundivided an impressive resume as an award-winning marketer and brand leader, including a number of firsts. She was the first Black woman to found an early stage venture capital fund and at age 19 became the nation’s youngest self-made winery owner. She has been a founder or founding member for a number of different companies. 

Killer has had the opportunity to work with digitalundivided on a number of projects over the last few years, from an interactive map to a recent motion graphic highlighting just a few of the most innovative Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs in US history. Check it out:

Lauren Maillian, CEO of digitalundivided

Lauren Maillian

Gail Koziara Boudreaux, CEO of Anthem, Inc.

Perhaps it was the fact that Gail Koziara Boudreaux started her career as a world-class athlete that brought her to lead one of the nation’s leading health insurance companies.

Boudreaux was a college basketball player at Dartmouth between 1978 and 1982 before pursuing a career that would result in leadership roles at such healthcare insurance companies as Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois. She appeared on Fortune and Forbes lists of the nation’s most powerful women for several years and was CEO of UnitedHealthcare before founding her own healthcare consulting firm. Today, she heads Anthem Inc. and leads the second-largest US company headed by a female CEO.

Gail Koziara Boudreaux, CEO of Anthem, Inc.

Gail Koziara Boudreaux

Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media

Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media

Shama Hyder

Shama Hyder is in high demand as a public speaker and digital strategist. It’s easy to see why: as a bestselling author and the founder of global PR and digital marketing firm Zen Media, she’s won more awards than we can count. These include being named one of the top 100 young entrepreneurs in the United States by the United Nations, along with other awards recognizing her leadership and innovation. 

Hyder is truly a thought leader in digital marketing, and countless people in the industry continue to look to her for insight on the latest trends and innovations.  

Way back when we were still called Killer Infographics, our CEO, Amy, got the chance to interview Shama:

Carolyn Parrs, CEO of Mind Over Markets

As CEO of Mind Over Markets, Carolyn Parrs envisions a world where brands take the lead in building sustainable business models. Since founding this marketing company in 2003, Parrs has helped thousands of businesses in more than 25 industries tell their sustainability stories and grow their businesses by as much as 425%. 

All of this places Parrs ahead of the curve as a marketing and business leader who recognized the need for sustainability and the demand for socially and environmentally conscious brands before most brands even realized it was coming.

Amy had the opportunity to interview Parrs during a fascinating session of the Strategic Content Summit just a few weeks ago. Watch a video of Parrs’ Strategic Content Summit session.

Carolyn Parrs, CEO of Mind Over Markets

Carolyn Parrs

Madam C. J. Walker, Founder of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company

We’ve focused mostly on contemporary female CEOs for this article, but we would be remiss not to mention the first female self-made millionaire in the history of the United States. 

Sarah Breedlove, born in Louisiana in 1867, became known as Madam C. J. Walker when she married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906. She became a pioneer in hair-care products for Black women when she started selling her Wonderful Hair Grower door to door. She went on to found a factory and hair salons, and employed thousands of women. She also supported other Black women in learning to build their own businesses and manage their money. 

You can learn more about the extraordinary story of this entrepreneur and innovator from the Netflix series Self-Made, a dramatization of the story of Madam C. J. Walker starring Octavia Spencer.

Madam C. J. Walker, Founder of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company

Madam C. J. Walker

What Female CEOs Do You Admire?

This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to female CEOs, entrepreneurs, and innovators who have transformed our world. Be sure to watch the digitalundivided video above, shown under “Lauren Maillian, CEO of digitalundivided,” to learn about just a few more. 

We’d love to know what female CEOs have been an inspiration to you! Please let us know in the comments below.

Erin McCoy

Author Erin McCoy

Erin McCoy is director of content marketing and public relations at Killer Visual Strategies. She earned her BA in Spanish with minors in French and Russian, and holds 2 master’s degrees from the University of Washington: an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literature. She has won nearly 2 dozen awards in photojournalism, and has dedicated those skills to boosting Killer’s brand recognition and thought leadership in visual communication. Since Erin took on her marketing/PR role, Killer has been named a member of the Inc. 5000 for 4 years in a row; has been featured in such publications as Inc., Forbes, Mashable, and the Huffington Post; and has been invited to present at such conferences as SXSW and SMX Advanced.

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