Mother Theresa. Billie Jean King. Coco Chanel. Benazir Bhutto. Michelle Obama. Madonna. Florence Nightingale. Beyonce. Virginia Woolf. Indira Gandhi. Harriet Tubman. Yoko Ono. Jane Austen. Emma Watson. Kathryn Bigelow. Marie Curie. Amelia Earhart. Anne Frank. J.K. Rowling. Helen Keller. Audrey Hepburn. Rosa Parks. Marilyn Monroe. Rosalind Franklin.
And that’s just to name a few. There is no shortage of incredible and inspiring women throughout history. We can often overlook the work and achievements of women. After all, the world and most workplaces are still male-dominated. Women contribute so much to the workforce – wisdom, compassion, strength, confidence, hard-work and perseverance to name a few. We thought it would be great to highlight a few powerhouse women we find inspiring. After all, we know that change and success can be born from inspiration.
Jacinda Arden is the Prime Minister of New Zealand and all-around superwoman. Since becoming the youngest sitting member of parliament in 2008, aged just 28, she has gone on to become the youngest ever female world leader in October 2017. She is a passionate advocate for climate change, women’s rights, and education.
Perhaps she is best known for her swift and decisive response to the Christchurch mosque shooting. Following this tragedy, Arden made headlines for her extraordinary leadership characterised by kindness and compassion. These traits are typically shunned as signs of weakness, but she is changing the way the world views leadership by showing that strength and kindness can come hand-in-hand.
As if running a country wasn’t tough enough, Arden has taken on motherhood in its stride. In 2018, she became only the second world leader in history to give birth while in office and then later that year, she made history (and headlines) again by becoming the first female leader to attend the United Nations General Assembly with her baby. She believes that women shouldn’t be restricted to choosing between a career and having a family.
‘She’s not just leading a country. She’s changing the game. And women and girls around the world will be better for it.’ – Sheryl Sandberg
Depending what circles you run in, you may have heard of Kathrine Switzer. Certainly, in the athletic world, Switzer is considered marathon royalty, being the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967.
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest marathon, and the annual race is not only one of the best-known racing events, but it is also considered one of the most challenging. While the official rules did not explicitly prevent women from running, tradition dictated that the only way women could run the race was unofficially from the sidelines. When 19 year old Switzer applied, she entered as ‘K.V. Switzer’ as was her habit of signing her name and became the first woman to receive a number (261) to run. In an iconic moment, the race director pounced, swiping her sweater in an attempt to tear off her bib number. She was determined to finish ‘even on hands and knees’, and her participation triggered a social movement for sporting equality.
After the race, she campaigned for the inclusion of women and in 1972, the Boston Marathon allowed women to officially compete. Just two years later, she won the New York Marathon and founded Avon Cosmetics International Marathons series. These was a global series of women-only races, and became a precursor to the London Marathon and the inclusion of women’s marathon to become an Olympic Sport in 1984. She founded 261 Fearless, a non-profit global community aimed at empowering women runners of all abilities.
In 2017, 50 years after she first ran the Boston Marathon, she completed the marathon and the number 261 was retired. Switzer has repeatedly said that she did not set out to prove anything but her legacy and number 261 continues to be an enduring icon of perseverance and equality.
‘All you need is the courage to believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other.’ – K.V. Switzer
Augusta Ada Lovelace
You may not have heard of Ada Lovelace, but all of us today benefit from her contributions to computer programming. Lovelace was born into an unhappy home to English poet Lord Byron, who was known for his moody and turbulent nature, and Lady Byron, who was a philanthropist and a mathematical whiz nicknamed ‘Princess of parallelograms’ by her husband. After her birth, her father abandoned the family. Lady Byron insisted Lovelace be tutored in mathematics and science in the hopes these subjects in logic and reason would instil mental discipline and prevent her developing her father’s temperament.
She thrived in these fields, so much so that she impressed even Charles Babbage, a renowned mathematician considered to be the father of the computer. At his request, she translated an article on his ‘Analytical Engine.’ Lovelace was so fascinated with his invention that she added her own notes and the translation was 3x longer than the original. In her work, she wrote how the machine could be programmed to carry out mathematical calculations. For this, Lovelace is credited as the first computer programmer.
Lovelace is the very definition of a person ahead of their time. She saw beyond even what the inventor Babbage himself did. Babbage saw the machine’s potential to carry out numerical calculations. Lovelace saw beyond this and theorised that any content – such as symbols, text, and even sound – could be translated and manipulated.
Her immense contributions to computing went unappreciated for a century after her death. Her work was republished in the 1950s, and so widely recognised is her achievement that in 1980, the US Department of Defense named a newly developed computer language ‘Ada’ in her honour.
Lovelace refused to let convention and prejudices of her day hold her down. Her life and work is a testament to what women can do when given the opportunity.
A lot has changed over time, but one thing that remains unchanged is that there are women who inspire, challenge, shape and change the world. These are just three drops in an ocean of names. If you just look around, I’m sure you could rattle off a list of women you known in your lives and in your offices that inspire you. Heck, it could be you.
After all, we all know women who are strong. Women who refuse to let life just pass. Women who take control. Women who bend and break the rules to achieve their dreams. Women who support women. Women who fight inequality. Women who are tenacious. Women who overcome hardship to flourish. Women who refuse to give up. Women who pave the way. Women who speak up. Women who trust their instincts. Women who stick to their guns. Women who are ambitious. Women who take no nonsense. Women who are authentic. Women who work hard. Women who take charge. Women who aren’t afraid to show ‘weakness.’ Women who don’t shy away from challenges. Women who challenge the status quo. Women who get things done.
In the indelible words of another inspiring woman, ‘Who run the world?’