In light of International Women’s Day, March 8th – this month we focus on women, and the contributions they make every day. We certainly don’t need a month to give women much deserved recognition, we need women leaders top of mind every single day.
Women today are unstoppable, and their power and influence is rising.
Increasingly women demand a new society, a society that gives them choices – they can choose to do anything, be anything, and women are building the systems that enable them to do that.
So what do a professional sports team, a country and a dating app all have in common?
They are all led by women.
But a woman doesn’t need a business title to be a leader. A true leader shows up in their community to make a real impact. And women around the world do that every day, regardless of their job title or position.
In honor of International Women’s Day, here are 15 of the world’s most inspiring leaders. These women are motivating others around them, breaking the glass ceiling and paving their own paths—all while lifting up others around them and setting the example for the next generation of female leaders.
1 . Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States
Even before she became the first female vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris was breaking barriers. As an accomplished lawyer and senator, Harris has often been in rooms where no one else looks like her. During challenging times, she maintains a message of hope for the future and works to improve the world and motivate future leaders. Harris shows women and girls of all ages that they can reach their dreams—I had tears in my eyes watching Harris win the vice presidency with my daughter and dreaming of the world she will be a part of. No matter your politics, it’s incredibly inspiring to see a woman make it to the White House.
2 . Mel Robbins, Author and Speaker
In a world full of male keynote speakers, Mel Robbins brings a fresh female perspective to her insightful and motivational speeches. She provides an abundance of useful content that helps entrepreneurs and anyone in need of a boost. Robbins’ book The 5-Second Rule is a national best-seller. Robbins has the right combination of confidence and vulnerability and is able to talk about important topics that are often brushed under the table, such as recently sharing about her breast implants that were recalled. She shares videos on her instagram of taking her daughter Sawyer to college during COVID, and the tough conversations she has with her family. By taking the first step to start a conversation and encouraging others to join and be their best, Robbins encourages women to keep pushing forward.
3 . Bethenny Frankel, Founder and CEO of Skinnygirl
From event planning to entrepreneurship and reality TV, Bethenny Frankel can do it all. In a world of sameness, Frankel is a breath of fresh air with her unapologetic take on life and unique perspective. Her new podcast Just B is a must-listen – and is unlike any business podcast I’ve ever heard. I’ve listened to every episode. She also uses her platform for good—Frankel’s philanthropic work through her charity BStrong has raised awareness and money for causes around the world. I’m fascinated by this woman who is rewriting the rules of success, and she’s just hilarious and a lot of fun to
4 . Esther Perel, Author and Therapist
I’ve fallen down the Ester Perel content rabbit hole and I can’t stop watching her talks and listening to her podcast. During COVID, when many of us fight with our spouses and feel like we’re the only ones struggling, her podcast “Where Should We Begin” brings us altogether by sharing couple’s relationship struggles, making us all feel less alone. Perel is a relationship expert, and her advice and expertise is critical in today’s world. Her parents were Holocaust survivors – and she learned how to live with optimism and hope even in darkness. She speaks 9 languages and has travelled and studied around the world to combine her own unique upbringing with other global perspectives. Perel is bright and humble and has a poetic-feel to her captivating speeches. She isn’t afraid of big topics like sexuality and modern love. Her work has impacted individuals and couples around the world, but also helped big corporations improve their training and relationship-building abilities.
5 . Rachel Hollis, Author and Speaker
As the author of three best-selling books in three years, host of a successful podcast and blog, CEO of her company and the mother of four, Rachel Hollis has an unbeatable work ethic. Her big break was a photo celebrating her stretch marks that went viral, showing Hollis’s ability to be candid and talk about valuable topics that are often ignored, including stress and postpartum depression. Hollis is on a mission to help women be honest with themselves and reach their full potential. She gets a lot of slack from people online, but she perseveres and continues to bring value to her audience, with tangible ideas, hacks and how-tos – for people like me – moms with little kids that are trying to make it all work. 2020 wasn’t easy, as she got divorced and her events business imploded, but she continues to work with style, and is unapologetically devoted to her fans.
6 . Radhika Jones, Editor-in-Chief of Vanity Fair
In the glamorous world of fashion magazines, Radhika Jones has made a statement by not making a statement. After becoming editor-in-chief in 2017, she moved the magazine away from glamorous stylized covers and instead features celebrities in normal clothes instead of ballgowns and couture. Jones has moved the magazine and online content to be more representative of all types of backgrounds and lifestyles and to highlight the cultural zeitgeist. Her approach is resonating with readers—twice in 2020, Vanity Fair broke its record for new monthly subscriptions, a staggering feat in the changing world of media.
7 . Cynthia Marshall, CEO of Dallas Mavericks
When she was just three months old, Cynthia Marshall’s parents moved from Alabama to California to escape the Jim Crow South. Growing up, Cynthia didn’t see many Black women or girls in leadership. She changed that, starting with becoming the first African American student body president at her high school. Marshall has made waves her entire life and broken down barriers, all while facing challenges like domestic abuse, losing a child and being diagnosed with cancer. Today, Marshall is CEO of the Dallas Mavericks and the first Black woman to serve as the business leader for an NBA team. During her time with the Mavericks, Marshall has transformed a previously toxic and misogynistic culture to create an inclusive environment where everyone can speak up and have a voice.
8 . Kathrin Jansen, Head of Vaccine Research and Development at Pfizer
Perhaps no other woman on this list had as big a behind-the-scenes global impact in the past year than Kathrin Jansen. As Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Jansen was tasked with a nearly impossible task: to create and test a viable COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. Throughout the pandemic, Jansen led a team of 650 experts to develop the first successful coronavirus vaccine. But getting to this point required taking risks, including using unproven mRNA technology. Throughout her career, Jansen hasn’t backed down from taking risks, which have often led to major scientific breakthroughs including the world’s two best-selling vaccines against human papillomavirus and pneumococcus. Her bold leadership has changed the face of science and saved countless lives.
9 . Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder and CEO of Bumble
Instead of sitting back when faced with sexual harassment, Whitney Wolfe stood up and gave women the power. Wolfe left her role as vice president of marketing at Tinder due to a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit and started Bumble, a dating app where the women get to make the first move and where harassment is strictly policed. Bumble is now the second most popular dating app and worth billions of dollars. In 2021, Bumble went public, making Wolfe Herd the youngest woman to take a company public and the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire. Wolfe Herd frequently speaks to and mentors other female entrepreneurs, and under her leadership, an amazing 70% of Bumble’s board is women.
10 . Maria Eitel, President and CEO of Nike Foundation
Maria Eitel spent the early days of her career working for the White House and Microsoft before joining Nike as the company’s first vice president of corporate responsibility. In 2004, she founded the Nike Foundation and created the theory of The Girl Effect—the idea that adolescent girls have a unique ability to stop poverty before it starts. Eitel is also founder and chair of Girl Effect, an organization with a goal of helping 250 million young girls below the poverty line in four key areas: ending early marriage and delaying first birth, enhancing the health and safety of girls, increasing secondary school completion and improving access to economic assets. Her work has already helped millions of girls around the world and is only getting started.
11 . Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Leading a country is hard enough—but try doing it as a new mother. When she was elected Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017 at age 37, Jacinda Ardern was the world’s youngest female head of state. Less than a year into her term, she gave birth to her first daughter, and has since even given major speeches with her daughter on her lap. Tapping into her maternal instincts and femininity have helped Arden lead causes like unity and social change. At the same time, Ardern has taken quick and decisive action against gun violence. Her strong leadership during the pandemic led to only 25 New Zealanders dying from the virus.
12 . Melanie Perkins, Co-Founder and CEO of Canva
When Melanie Perkins realized it took an entire semester of college to learn just the basics of graphic design, she wanted to make a change. When she was 19, she started pitching the idea for Canva, an online platform that makes it quick and free to create professional designs. Perkins is one of the youngest female tech CEOs in the world and grew her company to $1 billion in just six years. In a world of typical male tech CEOs, Perkins stands out. A staggering 85% of Fortune 500 companies use Canva, and Perkins is on a mission to continue her company’s growth. Canva now has more than 800 employees around the world.
13 . Katrina Lake, Founder and CEO of Stitch Fix
Combining fashion and technology, Katrina Lake has turned Stitch Fix from a startup operating out of her apartment into a billion-dollar company. Lake’s vision for Stitch Fix was to combine data with real stylists while making it easy for busy women to find clothes they love. She believes in lifting her customers, especially women, to feel confident when they are dressed their best. She was the youngest woman in tech to lead an IPO in 2017. Lake’s creative approach to combining human stylists and data has earned recognition for herself and Stitch Fix and created millions of loyal customers around the world.
14 . Christine Lagarde, President of European Central Bank
Christine Lagarde has spent her entire career breaking stereotypes in banking. She was the first woman to serve as France’s finance minister, as managing director of the International Monetary Fund and now as president of the European Central Bank. In her current role, she has been faced with stabilizing the Eurozone banking system during the pandemic. In 2019, Lagarde was named the second most powerful woman in the world. Lagarde is a champion for gender inclusion and notes that although she has faced sexism throughout her career, she is breaking down barriers for future female leaders.
15 . Sonia Syngal, President and CEO of Gap
Sonia Syngal took over as CEO of Gap just before the pandemic hit, throwing her into a difficult time for retail. But she has led her team to pivot and expand during uncertain times. As the leader of Gap, Sonia Syngal is one of just a few female CEOs in the Fortune 500 and the highest-ranking Indian-American female CEO. Before becoming CEO of Gap, Syngal led Old Navy, where she made it the first Fortune 500 company to disclose and validate its pay equality practices. Syngal is known for being incredibly innovative and customer-centric and for furthering global initiatives, including Gap’s PACE (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement) Program that offers life-skills education classes to female garment workers.
These 15 women are powerhouses in their fields and inspire not just their employees and the people around them, but other women and the next generation of female leaders.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, keynote speaker and the author of the bestselling book The Customer Of The Future. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here.