As women we have a lot to contend with, especially when venturing into the realm of business and entrepreneurship, a world that is traditionally the province of men. It’s not always easy to overcome such perceptions, stamp out the inequality, and demand a fair shake in life. We hold ourselves to impossible standards, expect perfection in all things, and often feel we have to do absolutely everything ourselves, or we have somehow failed. At times like this we need a little pick me up, a little encouragement, and some proof that what we can dream we can do. Here’s Part One of my list of inspirational women changing the world with their vision. Part Two will follow in a few weeks! Some you will recognise, others aren’t so famous (yet!).
#1 Arianna Huffington
A hugely successful business woman, author, syndicated columnist and occasional actress, Arianna Huffington was named as number twelve in Forbes’ original list of Most Powerful Women, and Time Magazine‘s 100 most influential people, Co-founder, editor-in-chief, and president of The Huffington Post media group, May 2005 she launched The Huffington Post, which swiftly became one of the most widely read news and blog sites on the web. Arianna has penned fifteen books, most recently The Sleep Revolution, which vividly outlines the problems that arise simply due to not getting enough sleep, and how small changes can make a huge impact on your health and lifestyle, and became an instant New York Times bestseller. Most recently, Arianna has announced she is stepping down as the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post to work on her new startup, Thrive Global.
The Greek American is originally from Greece, and moved to England at the age of sixteen to attend Cambridge University, where she became president of The Cambridge Union, a world-famous debating society, at the age of twenty-one, and graduated with an MA in Economics.
#2 Diane Von Furstenberg
Previously Princess Diane of Fürstenberg, Germany, Diane von Fürstenberg, is a highly successful Belgian-America fashion designer who initially came into the public eye when she married Prince Egon of Fürstenberg. After their divorce, in 1972 Diane founded her own eponymously named fashion label. DVF has become a global phenomenon. It’s main boutique is in Manhatten’s illustrious Meatpacking District, her designs are available in over seventy countries, and it has over forty additional stores world-wide.
Diane has been the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s president since 2006. Forbes listed her as the 68th most powerful woman in the world in 2014. She was also featured by Time Magazine in the Time 1oo as an Icon in 2015.
Her most iconic design, a knitted jersey wrap dress that she introduced in 1974, appears in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their Costume Institute collection. The dress, and other DVF designs, were so influential on women’s fashion that Diane’s career has gone from strength to strength ever since. She remains a shining example – and one of the earliest examples – of just how much women in the business world can achieve.
#3 Emma Watson
I’ve been a huge fan of Emma Watson since she lit up the silver screen as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. Since then she’s gone on to demonstrate that she’s far more than a cute kid with a flare of playing a magical misfit. Having grown into a stunningly beautiful woman, Emma has well and truly proved her acting chops, staring in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Bling Ring, as well as the TV adaptation of Ballet Shoes, a novel by Noel Streatfeild. More recently she has filmed the new live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, playing the iconic role of Belle. But Emma is far more than ‘just’ a talented actress.
Passionate about literature and education, Emma took time out from acting to attend Brown University and Worcester College, Oxford, study English Literature. She was insistent on being treated like everyone else, even sharing a dorm room with a co-ed, as any other normal student would in America. Emma embarked on a professional modeling career in 2005, becoming the youngest model to grace the cover of Teen Vogue. She has since modeled for Burberry and Lancôme, and in 2011 was awarded the Style Icon award from British Elle by Dame Vivienne Westwood. In 2014 she won the Best British Style award at the British Fashion Awards, beating out Amal Clooney, David Beckham, Kate Moss and Keira Knightley. Most recently, Enma pipped some impressive names such as Barak Obama and David Tenent to first place in Radio One’s survey of British Teenager’s top stars.
Yet the delightful young star’s talents do not end here. Emma has been very active in her promotion of education for girls, visiting both Bangladesh and Zambia. In July 2014 she was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and later that year gave an inspiring address at the UN Headquarters in New York City to launch the UN Women campaign HeForShe – a campaign calling for men to become proactive in advocating gender equality. In her speech Emma called attention to her own personal questions surrounding gender-based assumptions, which started at the age of eight when she was called ‘bossy’, while boys were not. She also discussed her sexualisation by ‘certain elements of the media’ when she was only fourteen years old. Her speech described feminism as ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities’. Emma furthered this by denouncing ‘man-hating’ as something that simply ‘has to stop’.
Within 12 hours of making her speech, Emma received threats, which she described as having the exact opposite effect as intended after they left her ‘raging’ and determined to continue her work. In 2015, Malala Yousafzai confessed to Emma that she was inspired to call herself a feminist by her UN speech (Malala will be featured on Part 2 of this list, so watch out for that!).
Emma has gone on to speak at other events on gender and equality matters, and has made numerous other prestigious lists of influential, powerful, and popular women.
[Tweet theme=”tweet-box-shadow”]@EmWatson’s UN speech described feminism as ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities'[/Tweet]
#4 Kennedy Walsh
Model, actress, and most recently the owner of a new line of accessories. Kennedy Walsh has an impressive resume by any standards, yet this phenomenal young woman is only fourteen years old. In addition to having a seemingly bottomless well of enthusiasm and ambition, Kennedy is determined to change the our perceptions of beauty, and fight for equality in all things, for people of all abilities. Kennedy herself has down’s syndrome, a genetic condition that usually causes some level of learning disability and is accompanied by characteristic physical features, particularly in a person’s face. Unperturbed by the supposed ‘disadvantage’ of this condition, Kennedy hasn’t let it slow her down, and has in fact used her difference to fuel her passion for life and campaign for equality.
Kennedy’s campaign began after she was flipping through magazines with her mother one day and noticed that all the models looked the same. While this may be a gripe that every overweight woman in the world has made at some point, the realisation struck Kennedy a little harder, as she realised it wasn’t just people’s looks that were judged, but their abilities, also.
There were no models like her.
Kennedy and her mother swiftly set about changing this and she has since gone from strength to strength, campaigning hard to raise enough money to travel to New York and strut her fabulous stuff as a modeling convention in 2015. At the convention she was ranked in the top 10 commercial beauty models, bagged an honorable mention in the swimming suit competition, and won the spirit and courage award. She also went home with a modeling contract. Since then Kennedy has gone on to model for some high profile brands and release a line of accessories called Kennedy Inspires.
#5 Janet Mock
Janet Mock is the bestselling author of two books, including Redefining Realness: My Path To Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More debuted at #19 on the New York Times bestsellers list. She is also a strong LGBT activist and trans woman. Janet is also an editor at Marie Claire, and in 2011 came out as a trans woman in an article published by the magazine. Since then she has gone on to speak out about transgender issues and is a fierce advocate for the rights of transgender people, in particular trans women of color, like herself.
Mock notoriously took issue with the title of the article published by Marie Claire, ‘I Was Born A Boy’, stating that her genetal reconstructive surgery did not ‘make her a girl’, she was always a girl, and was not born and raised as a boy.
“I was born in what doctors proclaim is a boy’s body. I had no choice in the assignment of my sex at birth… My genital reconstructive surgery did not make me a girl. I was always a girl.”
Janet sparked further controversy over the article in 2014, while promoting Redefining Realness, when she took the opportunity to reiterate that she didn’t choose the title of the article, and that it was very problematic. Lea Goldman, editor of the piece, later tweeted his agreement and support of Janet, saying he recalled both Janet and the author of the piece, Kiera Mayo, taking issue with it at the time but he went with it anyway and now regretted that.
In 2012, Janet started the Twitter hashtag #GirlsLikeUs to empower transgender women, and gave the Lavender Commencement keynote speech honoring LGBT students at the University of Southern California. Janet served as co-chair, nominee, and presenter at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards, and in 2013 joined the board of directors of the Arcus Foundation, a charity for the conservation of the great ape as well as LGBT rights. In 2015 delivered the commencement address for Pitzer College. Her work has earned her several awards, including the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s Sylvia Rivera Activist Award.
In 2014 Janet once more spoke out against the misrepresentation of transgender issues and her own personal story, after appearing on Piers Morgan Live. Her interview was supposed to be about publicising Redefining Realness and raising awareness of trans issues, but Janet felt both Morgan and the show’s producers were uninterested in this and instead shifted the focus and sensationalised her life, focusing on her personal life and physical journey as a trans woman. Janet and the LGBTQ community at large felt this only fueled misunderstanding of trans issues, and Morgan came under heavy criticism for it, prompting him to invite Janet back on the show to address the issue.