Decades Later, Women's Place in Business Is Secure, If Still Challenged

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When I was in high school and planning my career several decades ago, it would have never occurred to me to aim for the stars.

On one scholarship application, I wrote that I hoped to write for a small newspaper one day before, perhaps, having a family — and as a result presumably scaling back my ambition. I couldn’t even contemplate that only a few decades later, the majority of American and European women would routinely, though imperfectly, manage both a job and a family.

And I’m not even that old.

Yes, the world has changed a lot, and faster than many might have expected.

So when we began planning our special report " Women in Business ,"I was eager to learn how women are really doing in the workplace. Clearly, many women are successful, powerful and making money, as our special report shows. But do they occupy leadership positions and command respect—and what impact do they have on the workplace?

If these questions seem passé in our post-feminist world, I learned that the answers are not.

Plenty of women are redefining success by leaving Corporate America to start their own companies . Others, including Sandra E. Peterson, CEO of Bayer'sCropScience unit, advise women to stay in the corporate game. “Set out to be the best at your game and understand that you’ll make sacrifices, trade-offs, and changes during your journey” she advises.

Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report
Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report

Still others, such as Kelli McGarraugh, President, MD Records, say they stumbled onto their life’s work and consuming passion . “One day, the opportunity presented itself and I decided to take the plunge,” she writes in one of our first-person essays by women who have made it to the top.

I loved learning that women turn out to be amazing hedge fund managers : Research shows that women generally make better money managers, and that funds managed by women significantly outperformed those run by men, with 9 percent returns for women and 5.82 percent for men.

Of course, the news isn’t all rosy for women, as you might imagine. Another of our stories shows that the progress of women through the ranks to the top of companies has stalled . In fact, the number of female chief executives in theStandard & Poor’s 500 is just 17, a little more than 3 percent.

But what I really loved was the balanced approach advocated by Joyce Russell, president of Adecco Staffing U.S., who believes it can still be a rough road for women in the workplace. What she writes, though, rings true: “ The key to success lies in what many would consider old-fashioned values: hard work, determination and relationships with people.”

Sure, those are women’s values. But they’re the best kind of values for all good and successful people. So here’s to hard-working, determined and relationship-oriented women — and men.