Picture a leader. Do you see a woman? If not, you aren’t alone. A recent 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 four women below who persisted in claiming their leadership role – though you may have never heard of them.
1. Eliza Scidmore, First Female Writer, Photographer and Editor of National Geographic. 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 took the trip 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.
When you think of who was responsible for the Japanese cherry trees planted in Washington, D.C. during the Taft Administration, President Taft should not be the first person who comes to mind. It should be Eliza Scidmore and her two decades of persistence.
2. Nonny de la Peña, Founder/CEO of Emblematic Group. Another norm defying woman who started her career in journalism is the enigmatic Nonny de la Peña. Like Scidmore, de la Peña has 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.
When you think of CEOs who are leading the way to use technology to connect humans to one another, Mark Zuckerberg should not be the first person who comes to mind. It should be Nonny de la Peña, the godmother of virtual reality.
3. Dolores Huerta, Civil Rights Activist and Co-Founder of the United Farm Workers. 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.”
When you think of the motto “Yes. We Can”, President Barak Obama should not be the first person who comes to mind. It should be Dolores Huerta, from whom Obama borrowed the phrase ― a fact that he acknowledged when he awarded Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
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 of the delegates’ votes—despite an under-financed campaign and contentiousness from the predominantly male Congressional Black Caucus.
When you think of African Americans who have made a political impact, President Barak Obama, again has a woman to thank for paving the way.
To close with a quote from Shirley Chisolm, “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”
QUESTION: What women have you known who have changed the world despite the odds?