Careers Business Ownership Inspirational Women in Business Share PINTEREST Email Print Shannon Fagan / Getty Images Business Ownership Becoming an Owner Small Business Online Business Home Business Entrepreneurship Operations & Success Industries By Darrell Zahorsky Darrell Zahorsky Darrell Zahorsky is an expert in search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 09/01/19 Women-owned businesses continue to be the shining light in the current market. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, female entrepreneurs generate $2.3 trillion to the American economy and employ more than 18 million people. There are many examples of women in business success stories but we did not have to dig deep to find the truly inspirational female business leaders. The following women in business have overcome great odds and serve as a beacon for all those to follow. Each of these examples provides varying degrees of hardship and success. Some, like former Washington Post CEO, Kathrine Graham, had no idea of the ability in her until tragedy struck. Others, like Oprah Winfrey, have the spark of greatness within them. As William Shakespeare stated, "Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them." Katherine Graham, CEO Washington Post Graham's rise to publishing leadership was something "thrust upon" her. Following her husband's death from suicide depression, Katherine had chosen to fill her husband's shoes as the Post's publisher. Katherine had no idea of the greatness ahead of her but as stated in her autobiography "Personal History", "What I essentially did was to put one foot in front of the other, shut my eyes, and step off the edge". That courage led her to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Katherine's success can be summed up by her words, "To love what you do and feel that it matters—how could anything be more fun?" Ruth Handler, Founder of Mattel & Barbie Creator California female entrepreneur, Ruth Handler transformed her belief of girls playing with paper dolls, to dolls with breasts being vital to the child's self-esteem. That belief led to the icon everyone knows as Barbie. From a garage in 1945, Mattel grew to become a Fortune 500 company. Ruth's understanding of self-image continued later in life when she developed the "Nearly Me" breast prosthesis following a mastectomy. Disliked by feminists, Handler's ability to stick to her vision shows the trait required by all small business owners. Mary Kay Ash, Founder Mary Kay Cosmetics Probably one of the most significant impressions left upon women's opportunities to succeed in business was from the positive and giving attitude of Mary Kay Ash. Mary Kay entered the world of selling for a company called Stanley Home Products. Throughout her career, she won numerous awards and upon retirement decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge and build her "dream business". And what a business it was, Mary Kay Cosmetics has gone on to change the lives of millions. Success did not come easy to Mary Kay, her husband died one month before the company launch but her philosophy endured, "If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can’t, you’re right." Oprah Winfrey, Chairman Harpo, Inc. The first African-American woman to become a billionaire, Oprah overcame her own trials and tribulations stemming from child abuse. Oprah began her television career at seventeen and her star was lit when she turned around the failing "AM Chicago" show. Oprah's business and career success can be attributed to her passion for helping others. Oprah clearly states her corporate mission for The Oprah Winfrey Show "...is to use television to transform people's lives, to make viewers see themselves differently and to bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment into every home." These women represent a small sampling of many great women in business influentials. The one common thread among the stories of success is that success does not come easy. Success goes hand in hand with hardship and challenges. Never lose sight of your small business struggles, they are a requirement for great things.