Wall Street is notorious for its lack of female executives. A mere 4 percent of Fortune 500 businesses have a woman occupying the CEO seat.
Lately, however, a new trend is starting to surface. When once-great companies find themselves stuck in a dark place, they're beginning to appoint female leaders to get them out of the woods.
The New 'Feminine Mystique'
Women like Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Meg Whitman may stir up buzz when they take and hold the top jobs, but they're also generating results.
Forget whatever myths you might have held about the "fairer sex." These women are powerful and unafraid to tackle a challenge. Besides helping obliterate a glass ceiling, they're breathing life into tech companies that have encountered some seriously difficult situations.
Here's how these female execs are turning the beat around for companies we once thought were flatlining.
5 Women Who Are Saving Tech
5 Women CEOs Who Are Saving Tech
If there's a grandmother of the female-tech leadership movement, it's Weili Dai, who in 1995 co-founded semiconductor company Marvell Technology (MRVL).
Dai was the first woman to be a founder of a global semiconductor company. But co-founder isn't the only hat Dai has worn for Marvell. She's also served as chief operating officer and executive vice president, among other positions.
Dai's influence has helped the company become a dominating force in the semiconductor market. Marvell has brought in annual revenue of more than $3 billion over the past three years.
Meanwhile, Dai generates positive press for the company just by being herself. In 2012 she was honored with the Outstanding Leadership Award from nonprofit Upwardly Global. She's a truly inspiring executive, and not just if you're a woman or a techie.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) was in rough shape when Meg Whitman arrived as CEO in September 2011. Its stock had taken a colossal downturn from $48.64 that February to $22.32 in September.
Whitman faced the seemingly insurmountable task of saving the dying giant. Even after her appointment, HP's stock would sink even further to a low point of $11.94.
Still, with fierce determination and a thick skin, Whitman has brought better times to HP.
After the team working on Microsoft's (MSFT) search engine Bing awarded multiple server orders to HP competitor Dell (DELL) (the most recent for $350 million), Whitman called Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, and demanded to know why. Ballmer sent back a lengthy memo detailing nine reasons. Whitman analyzed it thoroughly and took action. The next time Bing needed servers, they went with a bigger order ($530 million) at HP.
It will of course take much more work than one order for Whitman to reshape HP. However, being receptive to criticism and using it to improve is a great quality in a CEO, and HP may already be benefiting from it. Since hitting that low point of $11.94, HP reached a 2013 high of $23.84.
Two years ago, IBM (IBM) picked one of its senior vice presidents, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty, to be its new chief executive officer. It was the first time in the company's history that a woman had been appointed CEO.
Since then, the company has seen another first: the first time its stock went above $200.
Rometty earned the CEO position after steering IBM's acquisition of the consulting unit of Pricewaterhouse Coopers in 2002. At $3.9 billion, it was the largest deal in IBM's history, and as Rometty herself said, the "first and only time a professional services firm of that size has been integrated into another large company."
Offering consulting services has diversified IBM's product offerings, which has in turn broadened the company's reach. In a fickle industry that is constantly changing, having a strong competitive advantage is a huge plus.
IBM went on to make more than $100 billion in 2011, the year of Rometty's appointment, and made $104 billion in 2012. If Rometty has her way, the company will maintain this upward momentum for a long time to come.
Like Whitman at IBM, Marissa Mayer was appointed chief executive officer at Yahoo! (YHOO) after a string of CEOs had jumped ship from the company. Yahoo! was struggling, and in 2011 its share price had dropped under $12, its lowest point since 2002. Morale was low, and the company looked to Mayer to save it.
Mayer, who was the 20th employee at Google (GOOG), worked quietly during the first few months following her July 2012 appointment, trying to get the clearest sense of Yahoo!'s business and culture. Then, in February 2013, she made major waves by announcing a controversial telework ban. The era of Mayer had officially begun.
The telework ban sparked a national conversation on the value of being able to work remotely, and arguably brought Yahoo! more attention than it had received in years.
Yahoo!'s share price is the highest it's been in more than four years, and for the first time since 2010, the company saw an increase in its annual revenue. Mayer definitely has a long way to go, but she's had some impressive results thus far.
It's pretty much impossible to talk about women in technology and not bring up Sheryl Sandberg.
The Facebook (FB) chief operations officer has brought copious attention to the subject through the release of her book, "Lean In," regarding the empowerment of women in the workplace. But her professional track record is remarkable by itself.
For a long time Facebook's future looked uncertain -- thanks in part to movies like "The Social Network," it was some were tempted to dismiss it as a fad invented by a nerdy college student in order to look cool, as opposed to a business that could be monetized.
Sandberg's mature, business-oriented presence has helped change that. Since her 2008 appointment, Facebook has achieved impressive earnings in the realms of mobile applications and advertising. The company has weathered its share of blunders (most notably, its disastrous IPO in May 2012), but its annual revenue has more than doubled since 2010 -- proof that, with Sandberg's guidance, the company is ready for adulthood and in a position to make some serious money.
Motley Fool contributor Caroline Bennett has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google, International Business Machines and Microsoft.