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Being Female and CEO – Observations

3 min read

Mary Jo Johnson

Women’s History Month (March) provides the perfect opportunity for EO Johnson Business Technologies CEO/Owner Mary Jo Johnson to share her observations on women as top leaders in business.   

Male dominated industry

I am a female CEO/owner in a male dominated industry.  Finding my way since I stepped into this position in 1999 provides for some interesting observations. The first that comes to mind is around the conversations my male counterparts invited me to be part of.

The questions that came my way early on tended to be about the administrative functions of my company, assuming of course, because I was a woman, I would have expertise in this area.  I wasn’t asked about the financials, sales results, or new product development.  I didn’t let it bother me, instead I would make it positive and turn it around to an opportunity to share with them the innovative things we were doing in administration.

Then, when it was time to golf, I would get asked if I would be joining them, but I always sensed hesitation.  I assumed they were worried I would slow their game down if I said yes.  I have never been a golfer so declined and the reply was, “yes, I suppose with being busy raising children you haven’t had time to take the game up.”

Today, I am pleased to report I get the revenue questions and there are a few more female owners and C-level around the table.  I still haven’t taken the game of golf up – maybe when I retire I will.

The second role

In business we see a fair number of women successfully rise to number two roles.  The characteristics that rightfully earn women these positions tend to be dependability, consistency, kindness, and team building (among many others).  All are crucial skills, highly valued by business leaders, and seem to be skills women excel in.  However, we don’t see enough of these women moving from the number two role into the number one positions.


A great deal of what I see on the topic of confidence focuses on the lack of self-confidence women leaders have.  That said, I see a distinction between the confidence our society places in women in top leadership positions verses women being self-confident.  There needs to be improvement in both areas.

Simply stated, we women need to stop beating ourselves up – we do it far more than men do.  We need to silence the voice in our head that too often says “what if”, and we need to be more comfortable with humble self-promotion.  If we don’t tell our story who else will?

I love a story I read in an article that points out, rather tongue-in-cheek, just how more comfortable men are in the confidence arena.  The article cited a presenter who asked a group if anyone had experience breast feeding.  A man raised his hand saying he had watched his wife breast feed for three months.  The women in the crowd, which included mothers, didn’t come forward as experts.

We don’t have to do it all

There is no such thing as superwoman.  No one person can, or should think they have to do “it” all.

I have seen it over and over – the women who are successful do so by building a resource net.  This includes people that excel in the things they don’t, their team at work, their vendors, their community, and extends to their personal life.  Successful women have a “village” and are comfortable (and confident enough) to call on them.  We trip ourselves up when we think we have to do it all on our own – we don’t.

Servant leadership

This is a perfect segue into a topic I am passionate about – servant leadership.  Leading with the idea of serving first and encouraging leadership in others is a foundational principal of my company.

Using the management team for group leadership is very powerful.  With everyone focused on the goal we can examine the path to achievement from all angles.  That helps us understand potential impacts, roadblocks, and whatever other obstacles may present themselves.  Women leaders who lead with serving in mind, work with the circle of great people surrounding them, and work in concert toward a greater good will be well positioned to succeed.  And the same is true for men.


When I was new in my role as CEO I used to think I would never know what my dad knew.  Now my son, who is working in our company, says the same to me.  My message to him is:  “You’re going to do one better – you will know what you know which will be a combination of past lessons shared, leading as a servant, and creating a strong shared vision for the future.”



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