When it comes to being a woman in this century, representation is important — and consequently, so are role models.
In a society where most industries have been historically male-dominated, those tables have slowly started turning over the past few decades. These days, women are breaking more glass ceilings than ever before and are finding themselves seated at tables that initially seemed out of reach — serving as proof to other women that nothing is impossible!
“It takes an accumulation of role models — real life examples of what girls and women can do if given the opportunity — to change entrenched attitudes,” Dr. Nina Ansary, author and U.N. Women Global Champion, told Forbes.
These are examples that men have been shown throughout history, but women are finally coming closer to an even playing field. For this equalizing of power to take place, women need to see other women who are taking risks, defying stereotypes, and owning exactly who they are.
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“We women hold ourselves back. We think we aren’t experienced enough when in fact we are,” said Kathy Calvin, the former CEO and president of the United Nations Foundation.
That’s why it’s so important to remind each other and prove to each other that we women have everything it takes. In other words, we have to undermine our imposter syndrome one day at a time.
We also need diversity in our role models. This is a two-sided coin. We need to see diversity in the types of roles that are being showcased, as well as the types of wonderful women who are filling these roles.
So to lift your spirits and encourage you, we gathered stories of 11 powerful role models who have been shattering their own glass ceilings since day one.
1. Emmy Raver-Lampman on Audra McDonald’s impact.
“It wasn’t until I saw Audra McDonald in the original Broadway production of ‘Ragtime’ in 1998 that the whole game changed for me. … That night, watching her onstage, captivating every single person in the audience with her magnificent storytelling, made me realize that I too could exist in that space. That I too could be a storyteller.”
Emmy Raver-Lampman is an actress from original cast of “Hamilton,” who is currently starring in Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.”
2. Jen Morgan on Ruth Porat’s strength.
“There are so many amazing women that come to mind for me. … One of those amazing people is Ruth Porat at Google. Her story is amazing, her leadership style, her grace, her experience, her knowledge, and intellect. All of that combined together makes her amazing, but it’s really just who she is as a person that sets her apart.”
Jen Morgan is the global head of portfolio transformation and talent at Blackstone, but she is best known for her former role as Co-CEO at SAP SE — and for being the first woman to hold that role.
3. Holly Ridings on Brené Brown’s compassion.
“The woman I admire in business is Brené Brown. She teaches about leadership, and for me, and for NASA, and human spaceflight, that’s going to be very important as we head forward to the moon.”
Holly Ridings is the chief flight director at NASA — and the first female to do so.
4. Andra Day on Billie Holiday’s legendary talent.
“Billie Holiday is one of the women who helped me to step into my potential. Hearing ‘Sugar’ for the first time changed my very limited idea of what a great singer is and allowed me to eventually own my own voice and style. Hearing ‘Strange Fruit’ for the first time stopped me in my tracks and helped me realize the power I’ve been endowed with as a Black woman.”
Andra Day is a singer and songwriter who is currently breaking into film as the title role in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”
5. Frankee Adams on Arianna Huffington’s entrepreneurship.
“I have so many role models, both fictional and real! Fictional, I’d say easily Elizabeth from ‘Madam Secretary.’ I love love love how she leads. In real life, it would be Arianna Huffington, who has never failed to analyze and address tough issues and push forward a healthy entrepreneurship culture.”
Frankee Adams is the founder and CEO of Bare & Bond, an innovative perfume brand that skips retail stores and seeks to showcase incredible perfumes straight from the perfumers.
6. Shan-Lyn Ma on Mindy Kaling’s pathfinding.
“The woman I most admire in business is Mindy Kaling. She has trail-blazed her way as a writer, actor, producer, and mother, and done it all in her own way, and I would love to be her when I grow up.”
Shan-Lyn Ma is the cofounder and CEO of Zola, a digital wedding planning platform.
7. Monica Grohne on Miki Agrawal’s authenticity.
“My greatest role model has been Miki Agrawal. I initially came across Miki from reading her book. After reading [about] her journey of starting the company, THINX, I began following her more closely on social channels. Her primary message of looking for areas of life that have room for disruption and her approach to business of not trying to be someone she isn’t has been very inspirational for my own journey. You don’t have to wear a suit to be successful.”
Monica Grohne is the founder and CEO of Marea Wellness — the home of the “PMS Elixir,” a hormone-balancing multivitamin.
8. Sofia Wylie on Oprah Winfrey’s intentionality.
“The one person that has influenced me the most as an actress would have to be Oprah Winfrey. I was able to meet her when I first started in the industry. She didn’t know me from anyone, but she gave everyone her undivided attention. She told me to keep working hard, and I’ve taken it to heart!”
Sofia Wylie is an actress in Disney+’s “High School Musical” and the upcoming film franchise “The School for Good and Evil.”
9. Liz Brown on Kay Jamison’s determination.
“One female entrepreneur that motivates and inspires me is someone who’s making a huge impact on global health, Kay Jamison. Kay was 17 when she was diagnosed with depression. This soon developed into [a diagnosis of] bipolar disorder. Despite her struggles, she managed to become a skilled psychologist. Kay became the first woman to receive an endowed professorship in John Hopkin University’s psychiatry department. … She inspires me to overcome my struggles and become someone who pioneers for mental and emotional health.”
Liz Brown is the founder of Sleeping Lucid, a mecca for sleep-related tips, reviews, and any helpful sleep information you may be looking for.
10. DeWanda Wise on Cicely Tyson’s brilliance.
“Cicely Tyson not only blazed the trail of the path I walk but paved it with gold as well. As described in her autobiography, her seven-decade career surpassed hurdles that most Black actresses today can hardly fathom. … She not only survived but thrived with herself solely intact. She had confidence that cannot be faked. A haughtiness despite a world that undermines our worth. She was, and remains, the blueprint. Thank you, Ms. Tyson.”
DeWanda Wise is the lead actress in Spike Lee’s adaptation of “She’s Gotta Have It” on Netflix and “Fatherhood,” which premieres in April.
11. Katrina Villarreal on her grandmother, Lorene VanLeeuwen.
“I am most fortunate to have an incredible role model in my grandmother, Lorene VanLeeuwen. A child of the Great Depression, she knew that education and hard work were the keystones to success. At a time when most women stayed home, she worked as a teacher, secretary, and postmaster for her small town. At 89, she decided to learn computers and went back to take college classes. Today, at 105 years old, she has an iPad. … The key lesson I learned from her was to never stop learning. If you learn, you grow — and as you grow, you can teach others by your example.”
Katrina Villarreal is the SVP of global delivery operations at Lee Hecht Harrison in Zurich, Switzerland.
As women, many of us have had an extra set of hurdles to get through while pursuing our dreams and ambitions. But we must remember that we can always stand tall on the shoulders of those who have come before us and that is a gift we must steward well.
So this Women’s History Month, take some time to honor the role models in your own life and celebrate them by following in their groundbreaking footsteps!
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