The notion of climbing the corporate ladder can be antiquated with all of the variables (student debt, older working ages, etc.) facing those entering the workforce; but in the spirit of the American Dream and our love of successful women in Business we’ve compiled a list of inspiring female professionals that have worked their way to the top.

Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg | Supreme Court Justice


Judge Ginsburg began her law career as a law clerk for 2 years, and was denied advancement due to her sex. After this she held research positions and eventually worked her way to a position as a professor of law, and became the first tenured woman at Columbia. Since then she’s put work with the ACLU under her belt, was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and was nominated as a Supreme Court Justice-  one of the most important positions in American government.

Julie Greenwald | Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Atlantic Records

Julie Greenwald photographed at Atlantic Records in New York. Photograph by Matt Furman.

Julie Greenwald photographed at Atlantic Records in New York.
Photograph by Matt Furman.

After working for Teach for America, Julie started a temporary position as a personal assistant for Lyor Cohen at Def Jam Records. In just 1o years she became the president of (renamed) Island Records- one of 3 women to hold this title in major record labels. Julie focuses on diversification, big picture strategy, and constant relationship development.

Indra Nooyi | President & CEO at Pepsi Cola

By World Economic Forum  via Wikimedia Commons

By World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons

Named Fortune Magazine’s #1 Most Powerful Woman in Business (2006) Nooyi got her start as a receptionist in her college dorm while working towards her Master’s Degree at Yale. Indra came to the United States without a safety net, and quickly climbed the corporate ladder with hard work, long hours, and a keen eye for the next big thing.

Karen Kaplan | CEO at Hill Holiday

Hill Holiday

Hill Holiday

Unqualified for every job at the firm- Karen Kaplan got her start at Hill Holiday in 1982 as the firm’s receptionist. Since then she has had 12 different titles, and after 31 years with the company she was named CEO. She has driven growth by over $1 billion and credits her success to being the very best at every job you’re in. You’re not going to be seen as a CEO when you’re the receptionist- but you can be the best receptionist a company’s ever had, and that will allow people above you to envision you with more responsibility.

Mary Barra| CEO at General Motors

Mary Barra, senior vice president at General Motors Co. (GM), speaks during the 2012 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. The Detroit auto show runs through Jan. 22 and will display over 500 vehicles. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mary Barra started her career as an intern with Pontiac. Due to her incredible worth ethic and company loyalty GM saw wise to invest in Barra’s MBA from Standford, and promoted her to CEO in 2014.

Ursula Burns | Chairman & CEO of Xerox

Before she was named the first black woman to serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 firm, Burns had her start as a personal assistant for Wayland Hicks, a senior Xerox executive. In just 8 years she was named Vice President of Global Manufacturing and continued her way to the top and was named CEO 9 years later and now tops Forbes’ lists of Most Powerful Women.

Oprah Winfrey | CEO of Harper Products Inc.

No rags to riches list is complete without Oprah- powerhouse behind her own empire with a net worth of over $3 billion, with a salary of $315 million per year making her the one of the wealthiest women in the word. Oprah came from a life of poverty and worked her way through broadcast journalism and now works as an Executive Producer, Actress, Philanthropist, and CEO of her own media corporation.