When it comes to leadership roles in today’s largest organizations, it’s still a man’s world. That’s the not so surprising takeaway from a report released by Peterson Institute for International Economics. What is surprising is the finding that organizations with 30% female leaders could add up to 6 percentage points to their net margin. Here are seven emerging women leaders making a powerful impact in the world today.
1. Amanda Nguyen – Founder, Rise
“Do you accept injustice? Or do you rewrite the law? I chose rewriting the law,” says civil rights trailblazer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Amanda Nguyen, whose revolutionary fight for the rights of sexual assault survivors has continually defied the odds in today’s divided times. Following her own experience of injustice as a rape survivor at Harvard, Nguyen became determined to disrupt the way the criminal justice system treats the estimated 25 million women who are survivors of sexual assault. She founded the social justice startup Rise and helped draft the first-ever Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which received bipartisan support and became one of just 23 bills in U.S. history to pass unanimously through Congress.
For Nguyen, who has helped to pass over 20 laws since 2016, transitioning into activism was fueled by her frustration with the legal labyrinth she faced after finding that under Massachusetts law, her kit could be destroyed after just six months. “The worst thing that happened to me wasn’t being raped. It was being betrayed by a broken criminal justice system,” she recounts. After discovering many other survivors were facing the same betrayal, many with far fewer resources at their disposal, Nguyen’s mission to drive change for others was ignited. “This was about more than my individual fight. It was about millions of survivors who needed their rights, too.”
2. Kate Gulliver – Global Head of Talent, Wayfair
Under Kate Gulliver’s expert eye, culture has become queen at Wayfair, the Silicon Valley home goods e-tailer. Since she joined as global head of talent and HR in May 2016, ranks of full-time employees have doubled to over 13,300—4,000 in last year alone. The influx of talent helped the company post record revenue last year—40% year-over-year net revenue growth in the fourth quarter—and find its way into the Fortune 500.
In the mad dash to staff up, Gulliver achieved a level of inclusion far beyond anything Silicon Valley has been capable of thus far. Roughly half of Wayfair’s full-time employees are women, and she’s making sure talented non-white-male candidates can find their way into leadership roles. To get there, Gulliver’s team has developed an in-house, data-driven program that has certified some 2,000 employees in non-biased behavioral interviewing skills, as well as an inclusive career-development curriculum.
3. Joy Buolamwini – Founder, Algorithmic Justice League
Joy Buolamwini is a poet of code who uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology. Her TED Talk on algorithmic bias has over 1 million views. Her MIT thesis methodology uncovered large racial and gender bias in AI services from companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon.
Her research has been covered in over 40 countries, and as a renowned international speaker, she has championed the need for algorithmic justice at the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. She serves on the Global Tech Panel convened by the vice president of European Commission to advise world leaders and technology executives on ways to reduce the harms of A.I. In late 2018, in partnership with the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, Joy launched the Safe Face Pledge, the first agreement of its kind that prohibits the lethal application of facial analysis and recognition technology.
4. Katrina Lake – Founder and CEO of Stitch Fix
In November 2017, Katrina Lake went public with her online retail and styling company, Stitch Fix. After a somewhat bumpy start, the company’s stocks skyrocketed since the initial public offering (IPO) and today, its estimated value is over $3 billion.
As the youngest female founder ever to take a company public, and CEO of the only female-led tech IPO of 2017, Lake told Forbes, “If I had listened to every venture capitalist who didn’t like this idea, to people who were on boards of publicly traded retail companies who thought this was a bad idea, I wouldn’t be here today. I didn’t want to just be a female CEO. I wanted to be a successful CEO, regardless of gender.”
5. Katie Sowers – First Female Coach in Superbowl History
The NFL is one of the biggest stages in the world for athletes and coaches. It was on that stage that this generation’s next big game-changer emerged: Katie Sowers, a woman of many inspiring firsts. As an Offensive Assistant Coach for the San Francisco 49ers, she made history on February 2, 2020, as the first woman ever to coach in the Super Bowl.
Currently in her fourth year with the team, Katie considers her gender only part of her story. And for Katie, who is also the first openly LGBT coach in the league, what makes her different is one of her biggest assets as a coach. “You need the ability to relate to people, to know what drives them and know what moves them. Coaching is about getting people to move in the same direction.”
6. Laura Kliman – Senior Flavor Scientist, Impossible Foods
With a background in organic chemistry, Laura Kliman spent time in the pharmaceutical industry researching cancer and Alzheimer’s drugs before switching to the biofuels sector. But she ended up working in restaurants after becoming disillusioned with the impact she was having on the world. That’s how Kliman happened to be working as a pastry chef in Chicago in 2016 when she heard about Impossible Foods on NPR.
Intrigued by the plant-based meat company’s combination of culinary arts, hard-core science, and environmental mission, she landed a job there as a flavor scientist tasked with minimizing the off-flavors that come with using plant-based ingredients to replicate the taste and texture of meat. Her research led to the Impossible Burger 2.0, which launched in January. Now as a key leader on the R&D team, Kliman is working on new products like the Impossible Sausage. If she’s successful, she’ll have convinced a population of meat eaters that the company’s plant-based alternative is not just better for their health and planet but also just as good as the real things.
7. Rebecca Liebman – Co-Founder and CEO of LearnLux
Rebecca Liebman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnLux, a financial technology company that helps people learn personal finance skills through online learning tools and connects them to the resources they need to take action. The company’s last round of funding was from Ashton Kutcher’s fund, Sound Ventures, and Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff. She is on the advisory board of HubSpot, a publicly-traded company based in Boston and was on the 2016 Forbes “30 Under 30” list. Before starting LearnLux, Liebman lived in Kenya and studied microfinance in an informal economy and completed environmental research in Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
She worked at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and founded Take Back the Tap at Clark University to reduce half a million plastic water bottles from landfills. Rebecca has a passion for startups, education, and the amazing things that happen when they are combined.
QUESTION: What emerging women leaders do you know that are making an impact?
Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!