9 women leaders on how to build your best career

December 30, 2014, 12:00 PM UTC
Sallie Krawcheck Of BOA Merrill Lynch
Agency Neil Harris
Photograph by Jin Lee—Bloomberg/Getty Images

New year, new professional goals. As you start thinking about the career moves you hope to make in 2015, it’s helpful to reference advice from über-successful leaders who’ve navigated their way to the tops of their companies.

Fortune compiled a list of tips from some of the prominent women who spoke at its various Fortune Most Powerful Women events in 2014—and their wisdom will undoubtedly help guide you as you search for your next big gig.

Be open about your identity

Roz Brewer, President and CEO, Sam’s Club

Roz Brewer

President and CEO, Sam’s Club


“First and foremost, I love being a woman. I never have emulated a male at any point in my career. I love it, love it, love it. And then I always talk about my race and I talk about my HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) education at Spelman College and I talk about that everywhere…. I want to see more women do that: Feel good about who you are, talk about it, and lead in that light everyday.”

Find a company that’s purpose-led, not product-led

Christine Day

Christine Day



“[I love to] create the business model and the team that can actually go out after [disruptive opportunities] because I think if you wait for the evidence—by the time that happens, you’re actually not the first mover. So I love being in that first mover position. But I also love where [a company] is purpose and brand-led… When it’s a broader purpose, rather than just a product-led company, that is where you have that classic disruption opportunity taking place.”

Raise your hand for new opportunities

Alicia Boler-Davis, Senior Vice President, Global Quality & Customer Experience, General Motors

Alicia Boler-Davis

SVP, Global Connected Customer Experience

General Motors (GM)

“After being with General Motors for a couple of years, I raised my hand and said, ‘You know what, if I’m gonna work for the automobile industry, I need to know what it takes to build cars. I really want to work in a plant.’ And at that time, that wasn’t a popular thing to do… I had the opportunity to work at a plant for two years… And it was amazing because I spent two years there, I learned a lot about myself and I liked it. I was very good at it—and I ended up staying at the plant. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Do not let your career define you

Lynn Good

President, CEO and vice chair

Duke Energy (DUK)

“You are not your career. You are the asset… We often define ourselves by our career. Don’t do that. Define yourself as a professional, as a mother, as a friend and colleague and then put yourself to work doing whatever makes you happy and what you’re passionate about.”

Stop apologizing for who you are

Mellody Hobson


Ariel Investments 

“I was sitting with a woman and we were talking about Valentino dresses and we were at a conference and my business partner walked up and she said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. This conversation must be boring you.’ And I said, ‘Why are you apologizing to him? He entered our discussion, we were very much enjoying it and how many times have you walked into a conversation of two guys talking about the score last night and they have never apologized to me. Ever.’ And she said, ‘Why am I apologizing to him?’ And I said, ‘I stopped doing that.’ Once we embrace and hold that truth to be self-evident—we are who we are—I think it just opens up a whole nother world of candor and comfort and confidence.”


Embrace challenging jobs

Megyn Kelly in October at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, CA.

Megyn Kelly

Anchor, The Kelly File

 Fox News Channel

“When I think about my own daughter, I want her to do something that challenges—that makes her stand up and ‘fake it till she makes it,’ because [practicing law for ten years taught me] to be strong. It doesn’t matter who’s across from you, it’s about getting the job done with aplomb.”

Network, network, network

Sallie Krawcheck



“Who you know is what you know. And that exchange of ideas, particularly outside of your area of comfort—your next business opportunity is much more likely to come from a loose connection than a close connection.”

Do something you love...

Mary Barra


General Motors

“Do something you’re passionate about. Do something you love. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, you’re naturally going to succeed and a lot of other things will happen that you don’t need to worry about. There’s so many opportunities and choices that women can make—and that anyone can make—about what they do. Do something you’re passionate about. Life’s too short.”


But also know when it's time to leave

Meg Whitman

Chairman, President and CEO

Hewlett-Packard (HP)

“My advice to young people is if you find yourself in a company where you’re being asked to do something that you don’t think is right or you’re feeling uncomfortable about the leadership and the direction of the company, run, do not walk, for the doors.”

Read More

LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital