21 women that are shaping the 21st century
Countless times history has shown that behind every successful man, lies a powerful woman, and now more than ever those women are visible, claiming the spotlight. Meet the female leaders who are at the forefront of creating a thriving society where equality prevails, as it should. Meet the inspirational women of this century, who are going further, doing more, breaking stereotypes, and breaching the gap so that others can follow their paths.
“There are two powers in the world: one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both: that of women.” - Malala Yousafzai
The contemporary female character differs exponentially from the traditional, already primitive, stereotype of the housewife. Women do rule the world now, from politicians, CEOs, engineers and public speakers, to scientists and entrepreneurs. They are present in all professional sectors as a truly remarkable force, and while there are still some inequalities that need to change, they are slowly but surely aiming for and achieving, a more equal society. Change can be slow, but even the smallest ideas can change the world when they are dynamic and innovative.
We have assembled a list of female leaders from a wide range of fields, with different expertise levels and social backgrounds, who have shown resilience and excellence in different forms and are making this century “the century” for change and female empowerment. Here are 21 female figures, of all ages, who won’t go unnoticed and will claim their place as essential changemakers in society. They are powerful examples to many and an inspiration for other trailblazers and rulebreakers.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” - Margaret Mead
- Karren Brady
She is known as the first lady of football and has worked in the game for over two decades. When she joined Birmingham City as the Managing Director in 1993, she received a devastating amount of sexism, a topic she often discusses in her interviews. A strong campaigner for women in business, she is a true impact character when it comes to encouraging women to pursue successful careers.
2. Phoebe Schecter
Britain’s first female NFL coach, Phoebe has grown to be an inspiring sportswoman. She joined the Buffalo Bills as their Coaching Intern, before being appointed the Tight Ends Coach for the successful American Football team. During her incredibly successful career, Phoebe was later named the Community & Grassroots Project Manager for NFL UK.
From such an influential position, Phoebe has changed the face of American Football. She continues to inspire budding female coaches across the globe, proving that a male-dominated environment is just lacking female influence.
3. Michelle Obama
This powerhouse leader needs no introduction. American lawyer and writer, Michelle Obama, became a source of inspiration to millions in the U.S. when she became the first African American First Lady in 2009, during Barack Obama’s eight-year presidential reign.
Her impact was felt so strongly that she has become a role model for women across the globe, and a leading advocate for health, wellbeing, and education.
4. Indra Nooyi
A Board Director at Amazon and a regular keynote speaker at The World Economic Forum, Indra Nooyi has earned a spot on the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
Knowledgeable, experienced, and a top-level Director, she has become a must-have authority at international conventions.
5. Bonita Norris
Summiting Everest is without any doubt, the challenge of a lifetime and one you would expect to take many years to prepare for. Bonita Norris, however, gained adulation for achieving senior climber status and climbing to the top of the world in just two tough years.
This amazing achievement made her the youngest woman ever to reach the summit, at just 22 years of age.
6. Emma Gonzalez
When her school was invaded by a gunman who killed many of her friends, she stood up to let the world know that she and her classmates demanded change. She brought the world to tears with one of the most courageous speeches of our time.
Still leading the fight, with her dedicated team, against gun laws, Emma Gonzalez will not be going away anytime soon.
7. Malala Yousafzai
Known as the youngest Nobel Prize laureate the world has ever seen, this remarkable young woman overcame an assassination attempt by the Taliban in occupied Pakistan at the age of fifteen, to campaign for women’s rights and children’s rights to an education.
To advocate in an area where the Taliban pose a serious threat makes her a
contemporary heroine. Yousafzai has fought life and limb for what she believes in.
8. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials AOC, is an American politician and activist. She has served as the U.S. representative for New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019, as a member of the Democratic Party. She is the Northeast-educated, Bernie-supporting, community-organizing and wall-protesting, powerhouse daughter of a working-class Puerto Rican family, who has broken down many preconceived prejudices and is aiming to transform the U.S. political scene.
9. Rep. Jahana Hayes
Sometimes for there to be a first, you have to become the first. This is what Rep Jahana Hayes represents for the many who will walk the path that she has built and leads to this day. She is an American educator and politician serving as the U.S. representative for Connecticut’s 5th congressional district since 2019. In her own words, lies a powerfully inspiring message.: “I never expected to win,” said Jahana Hayes, the first African-American woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. “I thought it would be a damn good try, and people would get encouraged, and then the next time someone else would do it.”
10. Brandi Carlile
Since the dawn of the suffrage movement, innumerable queer women — many of them artists — have played a key role in the battle for women’s rights. From suffrage songs to today’s pop hits, how do queer female musicians share messages about justice, equality, and change? How are modern artists informed by the past, and how does their music imagine a more equitable future? Brandi Carlile is a five-time Grammy-winning singer and songwriter and helps answer all these questions for us.
11. Kamala Harris, Vice President, US
Kamala Harris has been a trailblazer in U.S. politics and is the current Vice President. She was the district attorney general of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 and attorney general of California from 2011 to 2016. She is also the first woman and the first African American to hold these posts. During this period, she made headlines for criminal justice reforms.
12. Deja Foxx
You might have heard about 18-year-old Deja Foxx from her heartfelt testimony to former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake at a local town hall in 2017, which instantly went viral in the media. Featured as one of Teen Vogue’s 21 under 21 in 2018, Deja has become a fierce advocate for accessible and affordable reproductive healthcare for all women, especially those who live in poverty.
13. Lane Murdock
In the fallout of the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, DoSomething member Lane Murdock posted a petition to encourage a student walkout to protest against gun violence. The 17-year-old would never have foreseen that her petition would evolve into a nationwide movement, with more than 2,500 schools participating in the National School Walkout on April 20, 2018.
14. Dana Canedy
A former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times, in 2020 Dana became the first Black person to lead a major publishing house, Simon & Schuster. A decisive stepping stone for change and a leading point for black women to transform contemporary literature. She also authored the bestselling memoir, Journal for Jordan, about her deceased partner, a veteran of the Iraq War.
15. Dawn Davis
Dawn became Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appétit magazine — one of the preeminent U.S. cooking publications — in the Fall of 2020. She is the first Black Editor-in-Chief of the brand. In her first piece for the magazine, she wrote, “when the call came to leave book publishing to take the helm at this storied magazine as it reckoned with racial and cultural equity, it was impossible to resist.”
16. Samira Nasr
After a prolific career in fashion, Samira Nasr became the first Black Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar in 2020. “I just want to bring more people with me to the party,” she told the Washington Post in February 2021, “because I think that’s going to make it more interesting.” Before Harper’s Bazaar, Nasr worked for media companies such as Vogue and Allure magazines in New York City.
17. Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks)
As a professor and social activist, bell hooks changed how universities taught the intersection of race, gender, and class. Over the course of her life, she authored more than 30 books — including her 1981 foundational text, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, which transformed feminism in the 1980s and 1990s. “I choose to re-appropriate the term ‘feminism’,” she said in this text, “to focus on the fact that to be ‘feminist’ in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.”
18. Octavia E. Butler
Butler was the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur Genius Fellowship in 1995. In her lifetime Butler produced more than two dozen novels that explored themes of Black injustice, women’s rights, the climate crisis, and political issues. “I write about people who do extraordinary things,” she said. “It just turned out it was called science fiction.”
19. Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn is a novelist and creative writing professor at Tulane University. After receiving a degree in writing from the University of Michigan, Ward published her first book in 2008 and has published six novels since. Ward is the first woman to win the National Book Award twice for her works, Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017).
20. Fridah Ntarangwi — Kimathi
Fridah Ntarangwi — Kimathi is a managing partner in Zidicircle, a platform that promotes inclusive entrepreneurship and financing for the diaspora entrepreneurs and SMEs in Africa, collectively graduating hundreds of diaspora entrepreneurs. She has 16 years of financial sector experience ranging from entrepreneurial financing, impact investments management, crowdfunding, portfolio management, and more. She is a business coach and has supported several start-ups to scale up. In the last five years, she has actively participated in migrant and diaspora engagement activities within the European Union, being awarded by the EMEN project of the European Union (EU) for promoting inclusive entrepreneurship in the EU and bestowed the Duisenberg title ‘Woman in Finance’.
21. Robin Laird
Robin Laird is the founder of Health Curious, a platform that offers tracking tools and lifestyle support for bariatric surgery patients. Laird is a fashion model turned biochemist (with an MSc from the University of Amsterdam) and a certified health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
This blog was written by David Cabezon.