Marissa Mayer: I Learn Most When I Do Things I’m Not Ready To Do

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Barbara Bush, Fortune Editor-at-Large Pattie Sellers, and Google’s Marissa Mayer

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Marissa Mayer knew exactly what she wanted in 1999, when she graduated from Stanford University.

“I wanted to work for smart people, and I wanted to do things I wasn’t ready to do,” she told a room full of corporate female leaders last night. 

Meredith Whitney, Barbara Walters and Martha Stewart were some of the biggest names at Fortune‘s “Most Powerful Women” event, co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Also in attendance were Goldman Sachs’ Dina Habib Powell, Wal-Mart’s Susan Chambers, and Solera Capital’s Molly Ashby, who, along with Mayer, were selected by the event’s sponsors to serve as mentors to businesswomen in the developing world.

When Xerox CEO Ursula Burns took the stage, she talked about how she rose through the company’s ranks — from a summer engineering intern to CEO.

She recounted the story of when, during a downturn at Xerox, she nearly left the compa

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Pattie Sellers and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns

ny to take a job at Dell. She immediately got a call from Vernon Jordan, then a member of Xerox’s board of directors, who convinced her to stay.The clear message of the night was that in order to fill more C-suites, women need to band together.

According to McKinsey & Co., while women represent more than half of new hires, only 37% are promoted to managerial positions, and far fewer go on to become vice presidents and senior executives.