From 2020 to 2021, we’ve seen a lot of ‘firsts’ for women.
First female vice president, first female secretary of treasury, and several ‘first’ female CEOs of major national brands, including the first black female Fortune 500 CEO (that would be Rosalind Brewer, former COO of Starbucks and now CEO of Walgreens).
We also saw a record number of women voted into political positions around the U.S.
I’d like to take a moment to thank a few women who have risen to inspire the world, so that future generations don’t need to think twice about whether they can do something because the role models will already be established.
She looks like me, will be the norm, not the exception in the future because there will be plenty of women in politics, science, finance, business, and entertainment — thanks to the women on this list.
1. Swati Mohan
Swati Mohan was the Indian-American aerospace engineer behind the scenes of the Perseverance Rover on Mars.
And while this should be big news (huge!), it feels like her role as Guidance and Controls Operations Lead wasn’t as highly publicized as it should have been.
Nearly 60 years after three brilliant mathematicians, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson helped NASA launch astronaut John Glenn (the first person to orbit the earth) into the atmosphere in 1962, women are still ‘Hidden Figures’ in the U.S. space program.
But thanks to Mohan, Johnson, Vaughan, Jackson and so many others, women now not only have a seat at NASA — we’re also in charge of the controls, too.
Photo Credit: NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
2. Janet Yellen
On January 26, Janet Yellen was sworn in as the first female U.S. secretary of the treasury. Already, Yellen has hit the ground running.
This year doesn’t mark her first ‘first’ either: from 2014 to 2018, she served as the 15th chair of the Federal Reserve.
She was appointed to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in 1994 and was named Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers in 1997. I have a feeling that Janet is going to show us the money in a new way through a lens of compassion and wisdom.
Photo Credit: SammyWaffle!, CC BY-SA 4.0
3. Amanda Gorman
At the age of 22, Amanda Gorman was named the first National Youth Poet Laureate (not just the first female youth poet laureate, the first-ever ever!) and is the youngest inaugural poet in the U.S.
She kind of ‘stole’ the 2021 inauguration with her poem, “The Hill We Climb”. Her words inspired us without sugar-coating our experience nor our history. Nor did it ignore the work we must continue to do to fight for democracy and equality.
Her performance was so talked-about that she didn’t just nearly upstage the president and vice president — but she also somehow managed to upstage J. Lo and Lady Gaga! More AG, please!
4. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first female finance minister of Nigeria was named Forbes’ African Person of the Year 2020.
On March 1, she was named director-general of the World Trade Organization. She is both the first woman and the first African to hold this title.
Bringing more women into leading trade and business for the world? Now that is going to bring change!
5. Jill Biden
The First Lady has started her term with so much energy, compassion, and empathy. Her commitment to education is just what we need to see in our leadership right now.
And can we talk about her inauguration dress?
(No, we wouldn’t be talking about a man’s inauguration outfit, but would a man even think to wear a cashmere coat embroidered with every state flower?)
We at EW can’t wait to see this dress in person someday in the (hopefully) near future at the National Museum of American History exhibit.
Photo Credit: The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
6. Kamala Harris
I couldn’t even think of a list of women that inspire me without Kamala Harris on it. Our first female, first black, first Asian-American vice president!
She’s officially the highest-ranking woman in government.
And this isn’t even her first ‘first’, either. She was the second black female and the first South Asian-American senator. She also served as San Francisco’s and California’s district attorney.
Kamala is bringing it, people – cannot wait to watch her leadership transform our nation.
7. Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is not only the highest-paid showrunner in Hollywood, but she’s also one of the first showrunners to land an exclusive deal with Netflix. And I for one am so glad she did.
Bridgerton, anyone? WOW. What it means to reinterpret our past through this lens of diversity (not to mention the Billy Elish classical dance music) is just so, so creative!
It’s so beautiful how the show normalizes equity and inclusion, making stepping into these themes so much easier in the present, and for the future.
Photo Credit: Greg Hernandez from California, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0
8. Jacinda Ardern
Jacinda Ardern is easily one of my favorite female politicians (not to mention leaders). She became the New Zealand House of Representatives’ youngest member at the age of 28 and the country’s youngest in more than one-and-a-half centuries!
But what has impressed me most over the course of the past year is her (and New Zealand’s) response to COVID-19. The country was able to control the virus with a death toll of only 25 people.
New Zealand was largely free of the virus for the majority of 2020, thanks to Ardern’s leadership.
Photo Credit: Governor-General of New Zealand, CC BY-SA 4.0
9. Ava DuVernay
In addition to the long list of TV shows and movies she’s directed and produced, Ava DuVernay has been a leader in both the black rights and women’s rights movements.
After speaking on diversity panels, telling industry leaders how to close inequality gaps, she decided to simply show them how to do it. And so she created a platform to help close that gap called ARRAY, a grassroots distribution, arts, and advocacy collective focused on films by people of color and women.
Photo Credit: MTV International, CC BY 3.0
Directors and producers can no longer cry, “I don’t know how to diversify my project,” because they now have a platform of diverse talent that they can now pull from.
Join me in celebrating these women (and all the other women that have had to ‘go first’ and bust holes in glass ceilings) not just for the month of March — but all year long.