Despite the existing challenges and the extensive work that still has to be done globally, it’s safe to say that women’s rights, opportunities and achievements were never in a better state than in 2021. Women and women’s rights around the world have made a long way since the rise of the suffrage movement in the mid-19th century, and with the first-ever female vice-president in the U.S. just inaugurated, the future might as well be female.

How did women leaders and entrepreneurs break their own glass ceiling, on their own terms, and took control over their destiny – showing the way to so many others after them? In this series, we will examine the progress that has been made, but also the remaining challenges to be solved.

But first, they say that if you want to change the world – work with it. Many women have understood that real change comes from the top, so they have made it their mission to get there. What are the advantages of having a woman in a higher position in the workplace?

 

Who runs the world?

Beyonce wasn’t the first to recognize it: the number of women in management positions is on the rise – although not fast enough. It’s estimated that in 2020, 87% of global mid-market companies have at least one woman in a senior management role. However, Mercer’s analysis showed that the higher up you go in the corporate ladder, the fewer are the women: where females occupy 47% of the support staff – 37% are managers, just 29% are senior managers, and only 23% are executives.

There are numerous proven benefits to hiring and having women in key roles: Female leaders are showing strong support for their employees’ development, bringing their empathy to build a compassionate culture in the workplace – but also are keen on paying attention to detail, establishing order, and are strongly committed to deliverables – which all help with boosting their companies’ performance. As Kathy Wright, general manager of Country Jam, one of the biggest country music festivals in the world summed it up: “That’s what women do. We get it done.”

Here are some honorable mentions of extraordinary women who tackled leadership in business and politics, and hit headlines last year:

 

Politics – Jacinda Ardern, Prime minister of New Zealand

“I want to be a good leader, not a good lady leader. I don’t want to be known simply as the woman who gave birth.”

New Zealand is known for its breathtaking scenery and friendly locals, but in 2020 it was in the news, repeatedly, for its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. The 40-year-old mother of one is mentioned time and again in the context of handling the Coronavirus crisis the right way.

Above all, Ardern is praised for her government’s approach and effective, yet empathetic communication of the ongoing situation to its residents. New Zealanders’ trust in their government and its leader have also translated to skyrocketing approval rates of 55% last September – winning Ardern her second consecutive term. 

 

Justice system – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

The late RBG was a role model to many. She was known for advocating for gender equality in the U.S., after experiencing sexism herself. To her surprise, it was challenging for her to find employment at first, despite graduating as the valedictorian of her class at Columbia University.

Climbing her way up all the way from starting as a law clerk, she was appointed in 1993 to the Supreme Court, only the second woman to be appointed (and one of only 4 to date), and held the position for 27 years, up until her passing in 2020.

 

 

 

Science – Emmanuelle Charpentier,Jennifer A Doudna and Andrea Ghez

Three exceptional women were announced as Nobel Prize winners in 2020.

In the field of chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna were awarded for their groundbreaking CRISPR tool – genetic scissors for editing DNA with extremely high precision. This invention, which has revolutionized molecular life sciences, basically allows us to “rewrite” the code of life. The committee wrote in its announcement: “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all… It will lead to ground-breaking new medical treatments”.

In the field of physics, Andrea Ghez was one of the recipients of the prestigious prize, being only the 4th woman to do so in this field. Ghez and her research-partner, Reinhard Genzel, discovered a “supermassive compact object (black hole) at the center of our galaxy”, by stretching the limits of the existing technology, refining new techniques, and building unique instruments to reach new discoveries.

 

Philanthropy – Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates is the most powerful woman in philanthropy, easily earning her the 5th place on Forbes’ 2020 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. With a $40 billion trust endowment, she and her husband Bill Gates have been working through their foundation for more than 20 years to “identify and fund the delivery of high-impact solutions that can reduce health inequities and give everyone the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives”.

 

Business – Mary Barra, Emma Walmsley

Following Gates in the 6th place of the same list is no other than Mary Barra, General Motors’ CEO since 2014 – and the first to lead any major automaker. Business-wise, she has been leading the company successfully, recently hitting a stock record – but also making sure that the company is pioneering in its culture – in 2018, GM was one of only two global businesses to have no gender pay-gap.

Emma Walmsley is GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO since 2017, making her the first woman to run a major pharmaceutical company. The company, one of the two biggest drugs companies in the UK, stated that it doesn’t intend to profit off the COVID-19 vaccine’s development stage. That decision, alongside her other outstanding achievements, granted her the honorable title of a “dame”, as well as the 12th place in Forbes’ list of the most powerful women of 2020.

 

One article alone couldn’t possibly cover the intricate dynamics of female entrepreneurship – in the next episodes, we will talk about conquering new territories, leading societal changes and will evaluate the current state of the notorious glass ceiling.