Pittsburgh office alum Patricia Woertz knew at an early age that she wanted to make a difference. She certainly got her wish. Not only is Woertz the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Archer Daniels Midland Company (No. 27 on the 2009 Fortune 500 list), but she also appears as No. 12 on Forbes magazine’s list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.”
As CEO, Woertz is today the ultimate insider at ADM. But when she came to the company in 2006, this was definitely not the case. “I was coming from outside of the industry, outside of the Midwest, outside of the company and maybe outside of gender expectations.” And on that subject, at a recent EY Women’s Leadership Conference, Woertz advised her audience not to try to fit expectations, especially concerning gender. “I know lots of women leaders, including many in male-dominated industries, and I’ve never heard one of them characterize herself as ‘Well, I am the woman in the automobile industry,’ or ‘I am the woman in energy.’ Don’t let anyone define what you want to do by your gender.”
When Woertz joined the Forbes “most powerful” list (which also features EY’s Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy, Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement), magazine Editor-in-Chief Steve Forbes remarked, “When society discriminates against one-half of its population, it’s not only morally wrong, it’s also economically wrong.” Woertz concurs: “It’s not a matter of who makes better leaders, men or women. What does matter,” she says, “is that the next generation of leaders includes more women alongside many of the talented men out there. Talent certainly matters, but so do intelligence and caring and passion and imagination and spirit — and there are many, many women who possess these qualities in abundance, and they deserve to be the leaders of the future.”
Even the current economic situation holds potential for women, says Woertz. “Crisis is just another word for opportunity,” she says. “It gives women a chance to learn additional skills and practice additional capabilities that are needed in turnaround situations and when pulling their companies out of crisis.”Crisis is just another word for opportunity
According to Ilene H. Lang, President and CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women at work, now is the time to realize and harness the positive effect women’s empowerment and women’s leadership can have on the global economy. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to bring qualified women into leadership positions, especially now when fresh perspectives are needed,” says Lang. “We can no longer afford to set gender boundaries around leadership.” And, as one of the few women running Fortune 500 companies, Pat Woertz is an example of this limitless thinking.