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Pinstripe suits, cigars, liquid lunches – there are countless stereotypes surrounding the financial world and its inherent masculinity. One of the most patriarchal arenas in our culture, the world of big business has been primarily populated by men. Yet, a quick scan through the lists of top executives proves that women are fast becoming major players in what can be an extraordinarily cutthroat industry.

1) Indra Nooyi

After completing her degree in public and private management at Yale, Nooyi worked her way up to chief executive officer of PepsiCo – the world’s second largest food and beverage corporation. She managed to increase company revenues by 72% and doubled net profits, making PepsiCo a stunning 5.6 billion annually. A member of many influential groups, she was awarded the “Most Powerful Woman in Business” award yearly from 2006 to 2010.

2) Andrea Jung

A self-described uninspired student, Jung gave up a career in law to become the first female CEO of Avon in the company’s 116-year history.  She revolutionized the failing company, bringing new products and new clients to a product line that had earned a rather laughable reputation. Not only is she the head of Avon, but she also finds the time to serve on the General Electric and Apple board. Despite her successes, she keeps her father’s advice – “cultivate the absence of arrogance and boastfulness”- in mind always, winning her both the respect and admiration of her peers.

3) Guler Sabanci

Although family connections were in place to help her rise almost effortlessly to her position of power in Turkey, Sabanci has worked incredibly hard to gain the respect and admiration of the people. The head of a 25-billion dollar business, Sabanci ensures that she devotes a good portion of her time to charity and the arts. In fact, she recently risked hosting an exhibition of Picasso’s nudes, despite the misgivings of Turkey’s Islamic government. In addition to this cultural milestone, she ensures donations of at least 1.1 billion to charity, garnering herself the coveted “Women of Distinction” award.

4) Irene Rosenfeld

Often described as retiring or ‘bookish’, Irene Rosenfeld is a business magnate who prefers to stay out of the public eye and in the company of her family. With degrees ranging from a bachelor in psychology to a doctorate in marketing and statistics, she has devoted herself to leading Kraft foods in a healthy, positive direction. Personable and dedicated, she completely restructured the business in America, Canada and Moscow while managing to keep her family and keeping the well-being of her company a top priority.

5) Dong Mingzhu

Although less personable than the previous women, Mingzhu has the undying respect of her over 40,000 employees. She has gone beyond a traditional ‘managerial’ position – setting instead a strict personal example for her workers to emulate. As head of Gree Electrical Appliances, she reformed both business practices as well as human resources in the company. She claims to have never taken a day off in 20 years and yet ensured that her employees were given 24 weeks of maternity rather than the 12 that is endorsed by the Chinese government.

It is inspiring to learn how women are changing the reputation of the financial sector. Rather than wallowing in hostile take-overs or worse, their excessive salaries, these women are all ensuring that they give some of what their companies earn back to the community. It’s unfortunate that so many women have been raised, knowingly or not, oblivious to their potential when it comes to business and finance. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they have never seen ‘a place’ for themselves in that environment. However, looking at the list of achievements these powerful women have accomplished is proof enough that a place does exist and it’s an important one.

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