Discovering new sources of inspiration can keep us energized and motivated.
While admirable role models exist throughout history, keeping track of who’s currently dominating their respective industries offers a sense of immediacy to fuel your own progress. To that point, we’ve compiled a list of 15 impressive women killing the game right now in fields as diverse as media, activism, tech, entrepreneurship, and medicine.
Already an icon at 21 years old, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai became famous for her tireless efforts to promote and protect female education in her home country. Under Taliban rule, Yousafzai’s region of Pakistan periodically banned female students from local schools, and a teenage Yousafzai responded to these actions by writing a blog about her experiences for the BBC. After an assassination attempt on her life by the Taliban, Yousafzai refused to end her campaigns, instead growing her international profile and continuing to fight for the rights of female students.
After the 2018 school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, then-senior Emma González coped with the tragedy by becoming a passionate advocate for gun control. She regularly makes media appearances and gives speeches about the need for legislation to minimize underage access to firearms, and she joined together with fellow Parkland survivors to organize the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. As a result of González’s and her peers’ efforts, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a bill to raise the minimum age for gun sales to 21.
Since the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal broke in 2017, the #MeToo movement has become a ubiquitous topic, completely changing the dialogue surrounding sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The woman to thank for this critical reclamation of power? Tarana Burke, a New York-based activist who first founded Me Too in 2006 with the goal of exposing the constant presence and devastating consequences of sexual harassment. Burke’s advocacy earned her a spot alongside other female activists as Time’s 2017’s Person of the Year, and she now works with Girls for Gender Equity to support victims of sexual abuse and harassment and to push for gender equality in schools, workplaces, and community spaces.
2018’s midterm elections resulted in a thrilling wave of new female representatives in Congress. One prime example is Ilhan Omar, a Democratic politician from Minnesota who holds distinction as the first-ever Muslim former refugee elected to Congress. Born in Somalia, Omar and her family fled their home country during the Somali Civil War in 1991 and settled in a refugee camp in Kenya before immigrating to the United States in 1995. Now that she’s been sworn in as a congresswoman, Omar plans to use her platform to support new American citizens, the public education system, and economically-struggling families and individuals throughout the nation.
Another exciting new female voice in Congress, 29-year-old New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made a major impression on the American news cycles when she defeated longtime incumbent Joe Crowley and earned the Democratic nomination for her district. A self-described democratic socialist, Ocasio-Cortez openly promotes progressive stances on healthcare, education, gun control, and criminal justice. She’s already become a media darling, and New Yorkers (and Democrats across America) are eager to see how her career in public service grows and evolves.
Self-made billionaire Sara Blakely made her fortune as the founder and CEO of Spanx, but before she achieved success with her shapewear company, she worked at Disney World, sold fax machines door-to-door, and moonlighted as a stand-up comedian. When the idea for Spanx occurred to her, she accepted full responsibility for making her dream a reality, from design to marketing to fundraising to patenting. Now, she’s worth $1.14 billion, and she regularly uses her wealth and influence for philanthropic pursuits.
Tech entrepreneur Whitney Wolfe Herd garnered enormous success at a very young age; the 29-year-old was a member of Tinder’s founding team. However, she left the company in 2014 due in part to a pattern of sexual harassment for which she later filed a lawsuit. In response to the male-centric culture of dating apps at the time, Herd chose to launch Bumble, an app that requires female members to make the first move, offering them a greater sense of control and autonomy. Bumble became an immediate hit, and the company now boasts a value of $1.5 billion.
The world of finance has, historically speaking, existed as a “boy’s club”. However, one of its most powerful players, Abigail Johnson, refused to abide by that sexist tradition. In 2014, Johnson took control of her family’s investment firm, Fidelity, as its CEO. Now, the Boston-based company possesses assets with a worth of over $6.8 trillion, and Johnson uses her 30 years of experience working for the company to facilitate its continued growth. Also, Johnson’s leadership includes initiatives to encourage gender diversity and to eradicate sexual harassment from Fidelity workplaces; she spearheads female-centric recruitment at local high schools and colleges and publicly supports the #MeToo movement.
In recent years, we’ve seen a thrilling push from female-identifying professionals seeking to make impressions on numerous STEM fields. In the case of SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell, those areas of expertise include extraterrestrial travel. Shotwell and her team molded SpaceX into the only private company to design, build, and recover spacecrafts, and Shotwell’s plans for SpaceX include a transit system to take human passengers to Mars. By refusing to think small and urging her colleagues to expand their imaginations, Shotwell keeps SpaceX’s work engaging, aspirational, and focused on the future.
Well-known to TV audiences as one half of “The Little Couple” on TLC, Dr. Jennifer Arnold is also a world-class neonatologist currently putting her talents to work as a medical director at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. In addition to her professional work and her consistent advocacy for children’s health, Arnold, who lives with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, frequently gives speeches, leads workshops, and speaks with the media to dispel harmful preconceptions of her own condition and to prove that an influential, fulfilling life isn’t dependent on size.
2018 proved a seminal year for film director, screenwriter, and producer Ava DuVernay. DuVernay, who received major accolades for 2014’s “Selma”, was tapped to direct Disney’s 2018 fantasy epic “A Wrinkle in Time”, making her the first-ever black female director to helm a film with a budget exceeding $150 million. Now considered one of Hollywood’s most desirable directors, DuVernay never hesitates to use her very public platform to speak out on behalf of disenfranchised communities and to promote the careers of fellow female filmmakers; for instance, her OWN TV show, “Queen Sugar”, only employed female-identifying directors for its first season.
A business long fraught with toxic masculinity and exclusionary practices, the food industry experienced a sizable reckoning during the #MeToo movement, resulting in the righteous downfall of big-name figures like Mario Batali and Ken Friedman. On an even more positive note, this industry-wide attitude shift allowed female chefs to achieve long-deserved accolades and positions of prominence. One excellent example can be found in Samin Nosrat, a classically-trained chef and food writer with a James Beard Award under her belt. Nosrat, who approaches food education with unparalleled vigor and passion, became a famous face after the launch of Netflix’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”. Her warm presence, inquisitive nature, and prodigious kitchen skills made her an instant star and turned her show into a streaming-TV cult classic.
While much of the conversation about Netflix’s “Master of None” involved its creator, Aziz Ansari, and the sexual misconduct scandals surrounding him, the show launched the career of a creative dynamo: writer and co-star Lena Waithe. For her work on “Master of None,” Waithe won a 2017 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and her subsequent series, Showtime’s “The Chi,” premiered to rave reviews and quickly earned renewal for a second season. In addition to her impressive professional resume, Waithe regularly advocates for LGBTQIA rights, and her activism and creative talents both won her a 2018 GLAAD Media Award.
A remarkable multi-hyphenate artist and media personality, Janet Mock’s professional achievements include serving as an editor for People Magazine, penning a regular column for Marie Claire, writing a New York Times bestselling book, and co-writing, directing, and producing episodes of the hit FX show “Pose.” Mock’s social media strength and powerful storytelling skills allow her to effectively campaign for transgender rights and to create safe spaces for young people discovering their own gender identities, and her efforts gained her positions on The Advocate’s 50 Most Influential LGBT People in Media and Time Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People on the Internet”.
Activist Maria Garcia Ramos invests her energy in a personal and powerful cause: increasing the visibility of disabled individuals in traditional media. Ramos, who’s been wheelchair-bound since childhood due to a neurological condition, founded Mexican Women with Disabilities, a nonprofit group advocating for legislation to advance the rights of disabled people. She believes that increased representation of differently-abled people on television and in movies will shift perceptions and lead to a more inclusive and egalitarian society, and she makes her important views known by speaking in public forums like the SXSW Festival.