Finding and grooming the next generation of talent is one of the most important—and hardest—challenges facing every organization. Finding and grooming talented women leaders is another. But even as Silicon Valley openly struggles to promote more women into leadership roles and as the rest of corporate America grapples to understand millennials, a new generation of seriously qualified women leaders is getting ready to take center stage.
On Tuesday, December 2, Fortune will host its first-ever Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit. More than 200 rising star executives from Fortune 500 companies, startups, nonprofits and more will gather at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco for two days to network, share stories, and hear from big-name executives, founders and leaders. The vast majority of delegates were nominated to attend by their bosses, some of the biggest CEOs and executives in the Fortune 500 and at fast-growing companies across the tech sector.
Ten of the nominees talked to Fortune about finding success, career advice they gleaned as they rose through the ranks, and more. Many of their nominators answered our questions too—executives like Facebook’s (FB) Sheryl Sandberg and IBM (IBM) SVP Bridget van Kralingen—and also explained how these young women caught their eye.
Nominees are on the left, nominators on the right. Additional reporting by Shalene Gupta.
Aicha Evans, Vice President and General Manager, Platform Engineering Group
Advice for young women interested in working at tech companies: Speak up when you have an idea or an opinion. Wallflowers don’t grow up to the executive suite.
On the benefits of working in a more male-dominated field: Men have a different perspective than women, which then drives different behaviors. I have learned that in a collaborative partnership there is no success unless both parties are successful. I have also learned that when an industry is dominated by one gender or the other, overall productivity is hampered.
Nominated by Renee James, President
On what makes Aicha stand out: Aicha is smart, tenacious and technically very competent. She is able to blend expertise in engineering with compassion and insight into how to motivate and lead a deeply technical team across the globe. She has many of the leadership attributes I look for in a leader. She listens, she knows her stuff, she argues with data and she delivers.
Naomi Gleit, Vice President of Product Management
Advice for women working at a tech company: Love yourself. As a woman, my biggest challenge has always been not always believing in my own worth and ability. It starts with realizing that sometimes, you underestimate your worth and your ability.
On Sheryl Sandberg: She’s shown me what is possible. I look at Sheryl and realize that it is possible to be a woman at a tech company and be successful and have a family and be a good person and so much more. She’s shown me that I have choices.
Nominated by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer
On Naomi: Naomi is Facebook’s longest tenured employee (other than Mark). She started in marketing right out of college and is now vice president of product management. There are posters at Facebook that say, “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” Naomi has always personified this – when she sees that something needs to be done she jumps in to help, regardless of whether it’s her team’s responsibility.
On being a future leader: Aim high. Know that you deserve to sit at the tables where decisions are being made, and make sure your voice is heard.
Kelly Chambliss, Chief Technology Officer and Strategy Leader, IBM Global Business Services
On advice for young girls interested in STEM: Be curious, be persistent, and be collaborative. Careers in STEM require a high degree of teamwork. Join organizations that rely on teamwork. I chose team sports. Someone else may choose a school orchestra or debate team.
On her greatest career challenge: Mine was overcoming a fear of making mistakes. I was fortunate to work for someone who recognized this and moved me into a role where the definition of success required risk taking. We were encouraged to explore new ideas and possibilities, with a focus on weighing the upside against the downside.
Nominated by Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President, IBM Global Business Services
Her advice for young girls interested in STEM: Go and go boldly, and certainly don’t let the fact of a male-dominated environment force you to select yourself out. In these disciplines, the demand for hard and soft skills is increasing fast. For the young women who hang in there, you’re going to find that the thing that might have looked like an initial barrier, actually creates an environment that’s going to make it easier for your distinct talents to stand in relief.
On male mentors: They were consistently empathetic to the issues and challenges of a young woman in business. They really helped me understand and anticipate the ‘legacy’ blind spots of some senior partners in the firm. And that’s how I think of them—blind spots, rather than intentional bias.
Natalie Fair, Head of Finance
On finding a job at a hot company: You need to be smart and really good at what you do, but you also need a genuine passion for the mission of the company. Sometimes the job just finds you. Find companies that resonate with you on a personal level, and from there things will fall into place.
On inspiration: I have always had a passion for learning and the pursuit of new knowledge. I was that student who went through the course catalog and circled 90% of the classes.
Nominated by Joanne Bradford, Head of Partnerships
On switching from corporate life to a startup: It might not be right for you. Decide what is important to you and how much risk you are willing to take. Do your homework on the people you are going to work with, do reference checks on them.
On the importance of mentoring: You have to pay forward everything in life.
Amy Gowder, Vice President and General Manager, Commercial Engine Solutions
On standing out in a big company: It’s about taking the initiative on relevant business challenges. When you see a gap or some part of the team is struggling, taking the initiative and helping the team sets you apart much more than trying to get noticed.
Advice for young women working in male-dominated industries: Focus on the business and the details of the business. Be confident in yourself and what you bring to the table, and don’t worry about being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Don’t change who you are. Everyone brings a unique perspective. Sometimes the fact that you stand out actually helps you to fit in.
Nominated by Tammi Lloyd, Corporate Talent Management Director
On standing out in a male dominated field: Be yourself and know your business. Too often, in an attempt to assimilate, young women (and sometimes young men) lose or suppress their true selves. Being comfortable with who you are will free you to focus on doing your best work.
On the best ways to cultivate young talent: Provide opportunities outside of their knowledge base and comfort zone. Each time we provide a challenge that requires someone to learn something new, both their business knowledge and their individual confidence grows.
Sheri Hickok, Executive Director, Global Supplier Quality
Best advice she ever got: No matter what, be yourself. It is the only way to be transparent and authentic, which leads to strong relationships and trust— the foundation for success.
On what excites her about her industry: Positively impacting lives. Vehicles are the second largest purchase a person will likely make after a home and sometimes it is the biggest decision. Vehicles enable people to get from one place to another for instance to a better job in order to provide for their family or to school to gain an education.
Nominated by Ken Barrett, Chief Diversity Officer
On spotting talent: I seek people who are driven; are passionate and have a clear vision on what they are looking to achieve and where they want to go. They don’t need to have the perfect resume or best internships or even the highest GPA. I seek those who truly want to positively impact the place where they work.
Advice for young employees: Be a sponge. Learn everything you can about the business you are in and broaden your reach outside of your functional area. If you feel comfortable in your current assignment, you should be looking to move to a new assignment and challenge yourself further.
Julie Eaton, North American Business Leader, Dupont Protection Technologies
On standing out at work: Make certain you operate with the highest integrity and allow your accomplishments to speak loudly for you. It’s also a good idea to find a sponsor who will advocate for you in forums where opportunities and talent are discussed. I succeed when my entire team is successful.
Nominated by Marc Doyle, President, DuPont Protection Technologies
On men hoping to mentor young women: My advice would be to be active in reaching out to someone whose accomplishments have impressed you. Join events like women’s networking meetings to learn more about the women in your organization. Listen to the challenges they face and try to understand where you can help and support them.
Advice for young women in male dominated fields: Don’t give up – be realistic about the unique challenges of being a woman in your field of choice, but work hard to overcome those challenges.
Christina Hennington, Senior Vice President, Health and Beauty
Best advice: To be myself. It’s not something that happens overnight. But once I started trusting myself and leading with my own authentic voice, I noticed better results, felt more satisfied personally and ultimately had even more opportunities come my way.
On mentorship: When it comes to mentorships, you need to be an active, engaged participant. The more you give, the more you’ll get. Be clear about what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship. It’s great to have a sounding board within your own industry, but looking outside of the usual suspects can help you expand your thinking.
Nominated by Jodee Kozlak, EVP and Chief Human Resource Officer
On how to stand out in a big company: Find a company that encourages you to be yourself and values what you bring to the business. Once you’ve found the right place, seek out mentors, make the most of every opportunity and never stop learning.
Peggy Abkemeier Alford, Vice President and CFO, Americas and Retail Services, PayPal
On her role models: I admire leaders who balance innovation, creativity and vision – without shirking the responsibilities of execution – across multiple endeavors, businesses and industries. Elon Musk is always the first name who comes to mind. As a woman, I also look up to and model my career progression after my mother, Dr. Mary Abkemeier. She’s been a professor and department chair of the math and computer sciences at Fontbonne University for over 34 years and raised six kids.
Nominated by John Donahoe, CEO
Jackie Goldberg, Senior Director of Design
On Marissa Mayer: Having a leader who deeply understands the power of design in the products we make is so very rare. Marissa embodies our standards. She considers absolutely everything we create from the users’ point of view, with a product insight and technical acumen that is astonishing. She is a true ‘maker’—and an inspiration.
Marissa’s best advice: “Design for the expert user.” Save the extraneous stuff, streamline, and get your users right to what they are looking for. Get to the heart of the matter quickly — because we are all experts in our daily routines.
Nominated by CEO Marissa Mayer