With more women rising to top positions in business and government, the topic of women and their capacity for leadership has been all the buzz in the media lately.

From Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s message to women to “lean in,” to Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer’s seemingly family-unfriendly human resources policies, societal expectations of women in power are shifting.

In fact, some of today’s top female business and political leaders have found success in shedding the “nice” factor from their work persona.

“I don’t subscribe to the notion that women manage or should manage in a gentler, more nurturing fashion than men,” says Gianna Angelopoulos, Greece’s Ambassador at Large, who recently authored a political memoir, “My Greek Drama: Life, Love, and One Woman’s Olympic Effort to Bring Glory to Her Country.” 

Angelopoulos, who is well known for winning the bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics for Athens, Greece and has been named one of the 50 most powerful women by Forbes magazine, is a contemporary example of a woman breaking the mold, as certain aspects of her leadership style may raise eyebrows where gender politics are concerned.

For example, in 2003 - with the 2004 Olympics less than a year away - as President of the Organizing Committee for the Athens Games she publicly made the decision to devote less time to her three children and more to her job. And she ruffled feathers when she banned miniskirts in the workplace and openly admitted she could be strong and businesslike, yet shrewd enough to flatter powerful men to get what she wanted.

The debate about whether women or men make better leaders has raged for years. Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, several studies and polls concluded men held the upper hand. Today, attitudes have shifted and newer studies have declared women the victors.

According to a 2013 survey of more than 600 board directors, published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, women are better at decision-making, translating into better performance for their companies.

Despite a clear shift in the way women conduct business, they still face uphill battles in corporate America. Women are paid 23 percent less than men on average, according to the American Association of University Women, and in 2012, women only held 14.3 percent of the Fortune 500 Executive Officer positions, according to the Catalyst Census.

While the jury is still out on why imbalances of power remain, decades after the women’s liberation movement, some are firm when they say it has nothing to do with fundamental differences between genders.

“Women are as talented as men and, quite often, stronger,” contends Angelopoulos. “I believe women can be most effective by using all their gifts: strength, intelligence, beauty, charm and female intuition.”

From Margaret Thatcher to Hilary Clinton, some of the most successful modern female leaders have defied gender role expectations. And today’s ambitious women continue to take cues from those who paved the way.