Picture a leader. Do you see a woman? If not, you aren’t alone. A 2018 study published in the Academy of Management Journal confirms that getting recognized as a leader is more difficult for women than for men.
Yet, history is filled with women who defied the norms like the eight women below who persisted in claiming their leadership role. How many did you learn about in school?
A little over 100 years before Rosa Parks took a stand by sitting on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, Jennings, a young African-American schoolteacher, struck her own blow for justice after she was forcibly thrown off a segregated streetcar in lower Manhattan. Jennings teamed up with future president of the United States Chester Arthur to sue the Third Avenue Railroad Company, paving the way for integrated transportation in New York.
Victoria Woodhull was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement. She was the first woman to own a brokerage firm, Woodhull, Claflin & Co., on Wall Street, the first woman to start a weekly newspaper, and an activist for women’s rights and labor reform. At the peak of her political activity in the early 1870s, Woodhull is best known as the first woman candidate for the United States presidency. She ran in 1872 as a candidate from the Equal Rights Party.
When she began her career as a journalist, Eliza Scidmore (pronounced “Sid-more”) submitted articles using only her initials to avoid the common bias of her day against female journalists. Her passion for travel took her to the Alaskan frontier in 1883. She traveled solo at the age of 20 and published the first Alaska travel guide. At 26, she journeyed to Japan and submitted an article for the September 1896 issue of National Geographic, introducing readers to the Japanese word tsunami.
An innovative visual storyteller whose films tackled social issues, Weber was also one of the most respected and highest paid filmmakers in the industry. Her name was routinely mentioned alongside that of Cecil B. DeMille as one of the top talents in Hollywood. In 1916, she was the first and only woman elected to the Motion Picture Directors Association, a solitary honor she would retain for decades.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress (1968) and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972). Her motto and title of her autobiography—Unbossed and Unbought—illustrated her outspoken advocacy for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Discrimination followed Chisholm’s quest for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. She was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech. Still, students, women, and minorities followed the “Chisholm Trail.” She entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 delegate votes—despite an under-financed campaign and contentiousness from the predominantly male Congressional Black Caucus.
Dolores Huerta was born into the activist movement. Her father Juan Ferånández, was a union activist who ran for political office and won a seat in the New Mexico legislature in 1938. Huerta’s mother, Alicia, was an active participant in community affairs, involved in numerous civic organizations and the church in the Stockton, California community.
By the time 20-year old Huerta met César Chávez in 1955, she had founded the Agricultural Workers Association, set up voter registration drives and pressed local governments for barrio improvements. In 1962, Huerta and Chávez launched the National Farm Workers Association (now known as United Farm Workers). Her adept lobbying and negotiating skills were a vital part of the growth of the farm workers’ movement. Yet, the challenges she faced as a woman did not go unnoted. In one of her letters to Chávez she joked, “Being a now (ahem) experienced lobbyist, I am able to speak on a man-to-man basis with other lobbyists.”
7. Kathrine Switzer, First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon (and fight off a race official on the route)
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to officially run what was then the all-male Boston Marathon, infuriating one of the event’s directors who attempted to violently eject her. In one of the most iconic sports moments, Switzer escaped and finished the race. She made history then and has continued to run the race with No. 261 emblazoned on her shirt nearly every year since, including last year at age 72.
Another norm defying woman is the enigmatic Nonny de la Peña. Like Eliza Scidmore, de la Peña relied on her storytelling skills to launch her career and her company. Emblematic Group is a digital media company focused on immersive virtual, mixed and augmented reality. In laymen’s terms, it’s a company that produces films in which the viewer is virtually immersed. In her 2015 TED Talk, de la Peña describes how she created the first virtual reality documentary Hunger in Los Angeles that made its way to the Sundance Film Festival.
Question: What women have you known who have changed the world despite the odds?