The evidence is in. When women sit on corporate boards, their companies are more successful than those with only men. So it's no surprise that women are increasingly running the show at leading publicly traded companies.
The number of women at the helm of America's top publicly traded companies still pales in comparison to men, but there's no doubt women have made monumental strides in the corporate world.
This year, the number of companies with women CEOs hit a record 20. And one of the world's most visible companies -- Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) -- made headlines around the world this summer by naming Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) superstar Marissa Mayer to be CEO of the struggling company.
While a triumph for diversity, it's proving to be pretty good for business, too. A recent gender diversity and performance study from the Credit Suisse Research Institute found companies with women on their boards outperformed those with all-male boards in terms of share price performance.
With evidence linking greater gender diversity to stronger corporate performance, it seems there has never been a better time for women at the top.
With an eye toward some of the country's most high-profile companies, we've compiled a list of five whip-smart, determined and, frankly, fearless women at the helm.
[InvestingAnswers Feature: 10 of the Most Powerful Women in Finance]
Meg Whitman, president and
Fortune 500 Rank: 10
Meg Whitman might have lost California's 2010 gubernatorial race after spending more than $140 million of her own fortune, but she's now focused on a new challenge: turning around Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ).
Under her predecessor, Leo Apotheker, the technology giant lost about $30 billion in market capitalization. While HP's shares have fallen an additional 19% since Whitman took over in September 2011, she said she'll need several years to turn things around.
While the conservative Republican might have been a political rookie, Whitman is no stranger to the business world. The self-made billionaire is best known as eBay's veteran CEO, joining the company in 1998 when it had a mere 30 employees and leaving 10 years later after taking it public and growing it to more than 15,000 employees with $8 billion in revenue. She's also held executive positions at mega corporations including FTD Inc., The Stride Rite Corporation and Walt Disney Company.
In the last decade alone, Whitman was included in Forbes' list of the 400 richest people in America and Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people, while topping Worth's list of best CEOs. She's also been on Business Week's list of the 25 most powerful business managers annually since 2000.
Recently, Whitman announced HP will keep its PC business and has consolidated its top management -- and there is no doubt the world will be watching to see if her strategy will lead to its successful transformation.
Photo by Max Morse
Virginia Rometty, president and CEO of IBM
Fortune 500 Rank: 19
Like Whitman, Virginia Rometty is among the handful of women breaking into the upper echelons of corporate America. When IBM (NYSE: IBM) named her president and CEO in 2011, the company took a significant stride toward ensuring women play pivotal roles in the country's top corporations.
Rometty and IBM go back -- she began her career at the company in 1981 and has held a series of leadership positions. Her 30-year history as a Big Blue trailblazer undoubtedly made her the ideal candidate for the job, but the tried-and-true philosophies she has employed throughout her career are likely what elevated her to the top.
She has ranked consistently in Fortune's 50 most powerful women in business and was on the Time 100 list in 2012. Rometty is proving herself in a position historically occupied by men.
Photo by Asa Mathat / Fortune Live Media
Patricia A. Woertz, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland
Fortune 500 Rank: 28
Patricia A. Woertz enjoyed retirement only briefly. After she retired as Chevron's executive vice president, Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM) was anxiously hoping Woertz would join its team. And the recruit has been a success for ADM, which processes soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa into food. As chairman, CEO and president since 2006, Woertz has led the company to record financial results.
Sitting third on Fortune's latest annual ranking of the 50 most powerful women in business, what seems to be most impressive about the onetime accountant and former oil executive is her ability to push the massive agribusiness into global areas, including developing regions such as South America, while keeping her focus on the future.
Drawing on her three decades of petroleum industry experience, Woertz is accelerating ADM's BioEnergy business, focusing on turning its crops into fuel alternatives such as biodiesel and ethanol.
Under Woertz's direction, the $60 billion-plus company's revenue and earnings are climbing as it looks to the future.
Photo by Sebastian Derungs / World Economic Forum
Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo
Fortune 500 Rank: 41
The CEO and chairman of PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) is the company's fifth CEO in its nearly half-century history, but the essence of her high-profile status comes from something bigger: her ability to stand out from a list largely lacking in diversity.
"Being a woman, being foreign-born, you've got to be smarter than anyone else," Nooyi has said.
So far, it seems she is proving her ability to think outside the box amid some controversy. Riding the momentum of the health food movement, Nooyi is working to decrease PepsiCo's reliance on sugary beverage and snacks -- calling it the "fun for you, better for you, good for you" strategy -- that is transitioning the decades-long battle of the cola wars onto a new frontier, dubbed the yogurt wars.
Whatever the future financial forecast remains for PepsiCo, it seems Nooyi is set, coming in as the highest earner on our list of women. In 2010, her total compensation tipped just over $14 million. How's that for smart?
Photo by Michael Wuertenberg
Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods
Fortune 500 Rank: 50
As chairman of the global snacks powerhouse since 2007 and CEO since 2006, Rosenfeld has said, "I'm here to help the organization accomplish its objectives rather than employees being here to meet my needs."
But the real results of her latest and most surprising power play -- to split the food giant into two companies -- have yet to unfold. While she'll remain at the helm of the $32 billion global snacks maker, she won't be running the $16 billion North American grocery unit.
Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum