Confessions of a Female CEO

“It is not who you are that is holding you back. It is who you think you are not.” – D. Waitley

For most of my career I have worked with male leaders. I have always been able to blend in and be one the boys. I am sure in my career, there were several times that opportunities were lost to me because I was a woman. However, I chose to ignore it and put on blinders. I focused on doing the best job and proactively finding ways to add value. I never let the fact that I was a woman define who I was.

Female CEO or One of the Boys?

I spent 19 years at the same company growing from a application developer to CEO. The company grew from a few million to over a $100+ million in revenue. When I assumed the top leadership role, I never really thought of myself as a “female” CEO. I focused on the duties of the role. I was the steward for ensuring we met the expectations of our customers and investors. I was responsible for 3,000+ families, keeping their jobs safe and delivering on the promise that our company was a great place to work. I was there to ensure that our company was a good corporate citizen in the communities where we resided.

There were 5 CEOs before me that were all men. During my 19 years, there were only 2 other women who were part of the executive team. While I did my part in mentoring and growing female leaders in the organization, I did not proactively seek out ways to bring in women for senior executive roles. It was not until I left, I realized I was part of the problem. While I was able to breakthrough the glass ceiling, I did not do my part to keep it open for others to pass through.

The Power of a Female Network

I had shied away from women’s networking groups, downplaying my female-hood. When I began to venture out into the entrepreneurial world, I was unprepared. I had not been proactive in forming a strong business network, both with men and women. I also did not expect to be treated like a businesswoman, I was a businessperson. I did not consider my sex a factor, yet it quickly became clear that it was. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it was indeed a significant part of my brand that I could not ignore. I have since realized that in fact it is one of my greatest assets.

“Empowered women, empower women.”

Strong Women Lead Strong Businesses

It was not until I started Execuity, did I realize the power of women supporting each other, embracing each other’s strengths and helping each other grow and succeed. I began to work with other strong women who relish in their friendships and business relationships with women. They made it part of my mission to lift others up and showing them they have the power to succeed. They showed me the power of all boat’s rise.

Today I am involved in many networking groups catering specifically to our needs and challenges as female leaders. I have surrounded my self with strong, smart and powerful women who work hard to help other women succeed. Being a woman does not hold us back, it is what is gives us the strength to succeed.

So, for those aspiring female leaders out there, embrace who you are and be proud of the fact that you are a woman. The business climate is beginning to change but it is going to take all of us lifting each other up to make a difference. Share each other’s success stories, encourage each other when things get tough. Together, we may just shatter that glass ceiling.

Linda Ruffenach

Founder / Chief Strategic Officer at Execuity. Linda is an experienced entrepreneur, skilled facilitator, and bourbon badass. Her 20+ years of C-level experience enables her to relate to the challenges business owners face every day. As the former CEO of a $100 million international enterprise, she has been through almost every stage a company can experience from fast growth, rapid decline, to complete transformation. In addition to running multiple businesses, Linda is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Louisville's School of Business, leading and mentoring undergrad and graduate students on their path to business ownership Linda’s superpower is turning strategy into results.