Who is the woman who makes it the top? Is she a workaholic, a charmer or schemer, a consummate networker?
All the stereotypes began to topple the moment we started to debate who deserved a place in our list of Britain's 50 most powerful women. The diversity of their qualities, skills and backgrounds became immediately clear. These women, unlike many male counterparts, are not united by the old school tie or other secret bonds. What you see is what you get: a group of intelligent, motivated high-achievers.
We talked to lawyers, accountants, industrialists, headhunters and leading figures in the City of London about who were the most powerful women in their spheres. The names that cropped up included the radical and the conservative, the educated and self-taught. Some were single, some married.
There were accountants and financial brains, and others with softer skills.
But each had the necessary clout to ring a company chairman or a newspaper editor and get a hearing.
It is worth singling them out, ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, if only because they are still so few. It is important to examine the female role-models we have and ask how we can encourage more women into the top jobs. Not for their sake alone but for the sake of all the organisations where they could make a contribution.
Studies show that women, left to their own devices, tend to have another kind of style and different insights and values from men.
Debbie Sandford, who traded her life as a McKinsey consultant to run Random House Children's Books, observes that organisations everywhere face a massive problem retaining their most talented women managers. Many companies are losing the brightest members from half the labour pool - and they don't know what to do about it.
Smashing the so-called glass ceiling is no large issue. Today the best women are rarely barred from entry to the elite; they are choosing different paths. Many find they want to spend time on other areas of their lives and are not prepared to make the sacrifices demanded by their employers.
We still live with the assumption that work and one's personal life are competing priorities; that every time an employee scores a victory, the organisation suffers a defeat. That need not be the case.
Research at the Wharton Work/Life Roundtable, as outlined in the Harvard Business Review, shows how companies are helping employees balance their careers with their personal lives. The results are impressive, yielding benefits both for the organisations and their employees.
There is still much to be learnt, and a good place to start is by listening to the women we have singled out. Whether they like to admit it or not, each has become a role model. Their challenge is to use their power to pioneer new approaches. The rewards to the companies that succeed in retaining their best women will be huge.