As of this year, only 4.6% of S&P 500 companies had female CEOs. That’s 45.4% of female leadership we’re missing out on.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a study that does not support diversity in any kind of team environment.

Amcham’s most recent Women’s Network on Life-Changing Moments in Leadership featured two distinguished individuals with impressive backgrounds as leaders.


Heather Penney (Photo credit: Amcham Finland)

Retired United States Air Force Pilot Heather Penney, who helped protect Washington during the 9/11 attacks, spoke on how female roles take shape in a traditionally male-dominated field.

During her career in the Air Force she was tasked with increasing the retention of women in the USAF. She quickly realized that in order to do so, it was necessary to enable women to reach the 4-star general level.

“When there’s one low-ranking female in a mission, they tend to go along with the raunchy jokes told by the males on the team,” Penney highlighted. “But when you throw a high-ranking female into the mix, that behavior subsides.”

The locker room behavior is not mission-related – it’s all about culture.

Organizations need to incentivize metrics that support healthy team culture. She mentioned a number of studies supporting this claim, with the threshold of diversity to shift cultural norms to be at least 30%.

Not only do we need to empower the female leaders we have, we need to provide younger generations of women with the tools and opportunities they need for upward mobility.

“Female role models matter. Because if you can see it, you can be it,” Penney emphasized.


Elisabeth Rehn (Photo credit: Amcham Finland)

Former Finnish Minister of Defence Elisabeth Rehn took the stage next, opening with a story that many women in the audience could relate to.

“When the children are screaming and the porridge is boiling over, remember to stay calm,” she candidly advised.

“Stay calm and have courage in leadership. Life happens. You can’t predict what’s going to happen next.”

Sometimes life takes us in unexpected directions. For Ms. Rehn, life led her to become Finland’s – and the world’s – first female Minister of Defence.

Having this title has held a lot of weight in the years following her term. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, “give whatever you have from the resources you have. Lend your name to something new.”

She told stories about the work she did with the UN in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990’s. Both women echoed that having physical courage isn’t the hard part. “When you’re being shot at, you don’t really have a choice.”

The hard part is learning how to tap into that courage when we do have a choice.

As she closed her presentation, she took questions from the audience. One woman asked Rehn if she could have one wish, what it would be.

“That women are present when peace is being made – at the negotiation table,” Rehn answered with ease.

After all, women represent 50% of the solutions we seek every day.


The Women’s Network is a high-level forum that covers key developments and issues that are of particular interest to women in business. It is Amcham’s longest running program and continues to deliver what women want. For more information on the Women’s Network contact Jenni Isola.


Jenni Isola
Director of Membership Services
+358 45 126 7343