It’s long past time for women to own their stories. That’s why, on this International Women’s Day, we’re learning about the women using the media to boost other women, reframing the public narrative, pulling up the next generation, reshaping our workplaces and so much more. Whether they are royalty or not, they are changing the game, and it’s time you knew their names.
Dr. Crystal Rose, Executive Director of Academic Affairs
It’s notoriously hard for women with children to climb the corporate ladder, particularly Black women. Among the Fortune 500, there is only one Black female CEO, but Duckett will become the second (and the fourth in history) when she takes over TIAA in May. The 47-year-old rose from a working-class upbringing to become a rock star financial executive, and she is heading to TIAA from her role as CEO of Chase Consumer Banking.
2. Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell: Women Standing Together
First the world learned about Gebru, a standout AI ethicist and diversity advocate forced out of Google after locking horns with company leaders over her research into the dangers behind the large language models used by the likes of Google search. Those dangers include harm to the environment, thanks to excessive energy use on servers, and racism, when the models pull in language from the worst corners of the internet. Mitchell, her colleague, openly rebuked the company for its treatment of Gebru and backed Gebru’s findings — only to find herself fired. Amid the public uproar, Google promised last month to change its research processes. Mitchell standing up for Gebru likely helped. According to the new McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2020 report, such solidarity can be key to improving workplaces for women.
3. Charmaine McGuffey: Flipping the Script
An out lesbian who rose through the ranks to become captain of the Hamilton County, Ohio, sheriff’s office and racked up numerous accolades along the way, McGuffey was fired in 2017 and says she was targeted for exposing use-of-force abuses and for being gay. So what did she do? She challenged her boss and defeated him at the ballot box in November to become the county’s new sheriff. McGuffey ran against homophobia and gender bias, excessive force and unfair treatment of inmates. And she’s working to clean her own house, recently booting a sheriff’s deputy who expressed public support for an extremist militia group.
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In an extraordinary interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday, Markle said there had been concerns within the British royal family about the potential skin color of her son, Archie, when she was pregnant. She also revealed that she had suicidal thoughts as a result of her mistreatment by the press and isolation. Last year, the couple executed a shocking “Megxit” from the royal family, and they now live along the beach in Montecito, California. Cut off financially by the royal family after their exit, the couple had to forge a new path: They have since signed a huge deal with Netflix. Markle told Winfrey that her love story with the Duke of Sussex is “greater than any fairy tale you’ve ever read.”
2. Princess Marie: Denmark’s Meghan?
This royal lives in exile in Paris, or so she claims. Speaking to a reporter about her and her husband Prince Joachim’s stay in France, now a years-long sojourn after what was billed as a short military training for Joachim, she said, “I want people to know that it wasn’t our choice.” The reason? A feud with Joachim’s older brother, Frederik — who’s next in line to the throne now held by Queen Margrethe — and his wife, Mary. It’s a shocking scandal for a country that prizes its humble, relatively drama-free royals.
3. Princess Latifa: A Harrowing Ordeal
She tried to escape before and was punished with torture and imprisonment. But the Dubai princess’ most recent attempt to leave the shackles of the patriarchal monarchy was thwarted again in 2018 and she hasn’t been seen since. The BBC recently published cellphone videos Latifa shot detailing her brutal capture and time as a “hostage” in a villa, but the United Nations says it’s waiting for proof from the United Arab Emirates that its most high-profile prisoner is still alive.
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Looking for some inspiration in your life? Join Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts and American Family Insurance Chief Operating Officer Telisa Yancy for an unforgettable discussion on March 18 about overcoming obstacles and staying true to your dreams — while lifting up the next generation. Sign up here for this special virtual event with American Family Insurance’s DreamBank to hear from these trailblazing women.
As CEO of Oliver Scholars, a program dedicated to equipping Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) youth for success at top universities and colleges, Moss is on a mission. People are tuning in by the millions to her TED Talk about “the forgotten middle” because of her surprising takes about how to repair America’s tattered education system. Dreaming big on The Carlos Watson Show, Moss said: “I want a completely desegregated New York City public school system. I want the reality that the Black and brown kids are 60 percent less likely to be identified for the gifted and talented programs, simply because of teacher bias, to no longer be the case. I want the elimination of student loan debt.”
A video of crying 4-year-old Ariyonna saying she was “ugly” went viral last year, reminding us of the importance of self-confidence — and that it can be in short supply among women. Enter ABC correspondent Claire Shipman and BBC presenter Katty Kay, authors of The Confidence Code, which provides a realistic look into powerful women around the globe, including their faults as well as their triumphs. “We’re trying to normalize failure and struggle,” Kay says, while showing “the inspirational stories of girls who are really changing the world.”
Racism, gender discrimination, toxic masculinity: This singer/songwriter from Jackson, Mississippi, takes all of it on through the power of song. “I feel like music disarms people and opens up their hearts in a way that simple verbal conversations cannot,” she told GlobalMindED. The folk and soul singer dove into last year’s Black Lives Matter moment with her seventh album, Black Empress. She’s donating half of the proceeds from her recent song “Angry Man” to The Loveland Foundation, a safe space to help BIPOC women and girls heal.
4. Rebecca Proctor: Open Invitations to the Party
The creative director for MacKenzie-Childs, a home decor company known for its playful, hand-painted items that give off an Alice in Wonderland feel, Proctor is all about using design to spark joy in others. And the three-decade veteran with the company is hoping to diversify the people behind those designs. MacKenzie-Childs is hosting a scholarship for Black students to break into a white-dominated design world.
5. Nzambi Matee: Making It Up as We Go Along
How's this for a building block to success? Kenya has an abundance of plastic bags but a desperate lack of building material for roads. So Matee, a 29-year-old inventor from Nairobi, put two and two together. She’s created a machine to transform surplus plastic into building bricks that are stronger than conventional concrete blocks. And the possibilities go far beyond roads, to new homes and other projects. The materials engineer has helped win a U.N. Young Champion of the Earth Award for her company, Gjenge Makers.
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media as a platform
1. Tamara Eagle Bull: Building Equality
The co-founder and president of Encompass Architects and a member of Oglala Lakota Nation caught on early to the importance of design. When she was young, her grandfather, a tribal leader, uttered a prophecy she never forgot: “One day, our tribe will be in a position to rebuild and change our situation, and we are going to need architects and lawyers to do it.” So she became the first Native American woman to earn her license as an architect. Having seen the downside of designs that fail to respect the culture for which they’re built, Eagle Bull makes sure each of her buildings serves the people first.
2. Nia Dennis: Jumps of Joy
Dennis wasn’t always this comfortable in her skin. “I got back to my roots,” the UCLA gymnast told the Los Angeles Times. “I know who I am as a woman and a Black woman at that.” Growing up in the sport, she often felt she was an outsider; now she no longer fears her “otherness” — she embraces it. By launching into floor routines set to music by Black artists, she’s scored viral videos, invitations from The Ellen Degeneres Show, and social media buzz from the likes of Simone Biles and Michelle Obama. She helped lead UCLA’s novel Black Excellence meet to call attention to racial injustice, with the whole team wearing black and gold leotards featuring a raised fist.
3. Monica Wise and Lupita: Keeping the Light On
Wise, a director-producer, teamed up with a young woman to create the short documentaryLupita, detailing the 1997 Tzotzil-Maya massacre in Mexico. The gripping film, produced by The Guardian, explores how the young woman who lost most of her family in the massacre grew into the voice for her tribe. Lupita speaks boldly about the need for justice as she shifts through the roles of mother, feminist and ultimately defender of a people who have not seen wrongs made right after more than two decades.
4. Erika Rischko: Exercise of Grandeur
Rischko proves that 80 is the new 50. A blossoming TikTok star at 81, this German went viral for her pandemic lockdown exercise videos. It all began so innocently, with just a 12-second upload dancing the “Cha-Cha Slide,” but she’s since produced more than 100 videos and garnered 2.5 million likes. And while her moves aren’t difficult to follow, she has young followers huffing to keep up with her pull-ups, planks and push-ups. Step aside, perfectly sculpted Peloton instructors. It’s Frau Rischko’s time.
a world of activists
1. Rinu Oduala: Sorry not SAR-Y
Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad rose to notoriety after videos of its members’ excessive force went viral. Oduala is one of 20 recognized organizers targeting the governor’s office in Lagos demanding to disband SARS. And this media-savvy activist knew how to get folks to show up alongside her. Authorities froze her bank account in the hopes it will stifle her outcries. No such luck. With nearly 300,000 Twitter followers, her demands are instantly heard.
Since last month’s military coup in Myanmar, Naw has had trouble sleeping as she thinks about all of the women risking life and limb to protest in the streets. She’s more than familiar with their fight. She grew up in a refugee camp along the Thailand-Myanmar border for the Karen, one of many ethnic groups (including the Rohingya) that have been in a constant struggle with the country’s Burmese majority. As general secretary for the Karen Women’s Organization, Naw is at the forefront of human rights dialogues and other efforts on the part of Myanmar’s ethnic groups. Her favorite saying: “Women can, women do!”
3. Sophia Dawson: ‘Wet Paint’
NYU-trained visual artist Dawson has a way of depicting her subjects — victims of social injustice — to make you feel the grim experiences of the incarcerated or people affected by police brutality or gun violence. This Brooklyn-based portrait-activist, aka “Wet Paint,” aims to serve this movement with vivid colors. Dawson’s journey into visual arts started when Obama campaign posters caught her eye in a way that nothing else did. But instead of lionizing a politician, her art humanizes the forgotten.
She’s fighting the patriarchy with the Quran. Kayanda, founder of the Pink Hijab Initiatives, is guiding hundreds of Muslim women as they launch business careers — a daring act in male-dominated Tanzania. While Muslim clerics advocate for traditional gender roles, Kayanda interprets the Quranic text as standing up for women’s rights, and will do verbal battle with any traditionalists who say otherwise. With her work influenced by a painful divorce from a man who couldn’t accept her education, Kayanda is fighting for independence for the women of her country — and her faith.