Although the gender gap has yet to be bridged, there are more female leaders and entrepreneurs to look up to today than ever before. Here are just some of the most inspirational women out there who are changing the face of their respective fields one piece of wisdom at a time.
1. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to stop taking a back seat in the business world. Having been extremely successful straight out of Harvard Business School and now juggling motherhood with a high-powered job, she’s the perfect inspiration for so many women, whether they are young graduates or working moms. The COO of Facebook since 2008, Sandberg graduated from HBS in 1995 and has since been one of the biggest names in business, serving as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company before becoming the Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations for Google. The author of Lean In continues to inspire and empower us through the Lean In website, her powerful TED talk and her articles in Cosmopolitan.
2. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series
Whether you’re a die-hard Potterhead or you just read a couple of the books a long time ago, you can’t deny that J.K. Rowling is a total powerhouse. After receiving her degree from Exeter University in French and Classics, she had various jobs before she started writing the Harry Potter series during a train delay. The Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1997 and soon became a success far beyond any expectations. Since, Rowling has received various awards, such as France’s Légion d’Honneur and the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award, and was even the commencement speaker at Harvard University in 2008, all while being a single mom to daughter Jessica. No big deal.
3. Tory Burch, chairman, CEO and designer of Tory Burch
You love Tory Burch accessories and clothing, but do you know about the awesome lady who started it all? Burch was a Kappa Alpha Theta at the University of Pennsylvania and is an entrepreneur every collegiette can look up to. When she launched Tory Burch in 2004, most of the stock ran out that same day! The brand soon grew into the worldwide success it is today, and Burch is currently ranked #17 on Forbes’ America’s Self-Made Women list and #73 on their list of Power Women. Pretty impressive, if you ask us.
4. Laverne Cox, actress, producer and LGBTQ+ advocate
You love Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black. She is the first trans woman of color in a leading TV series, and that’s pretty awesome, if you ask us. But beyond Cox’s thriving acting career, her documentary on the transgender experience, Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, was met with impressive ratings and nominated for a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Award. And this is only one example of her advocacy for queer rights! She has since made countless media appearances and was named one of Glamour’s Women of the Year in 2014, serving as an inspiration to us all.
5. Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post
Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post, one of the most influential online news sources, in 2005. She is also a radio host, columnist and author of—wait for it—14 books. She even ran for governor of California in 2003 against Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although she eventually withdrew from the race (and successfully blew off the critics), this didn’t stop her from becoming the powerhouse she is today—and imparting the wisdom she has acquired on us.
6. Ellen DeGeneres, talk show host, actress, comedian, writer and producer
You know Ellen DeGeneres for her sitcom Ellen and her syndicated talk show—and she’s hilarious in both. But the TV host is so much more than just funny; she was one of the first women in high-profile media to come out publicly, and she is also a fervent animal rights advocate as well as a humanitarian. As such, she was rated #50 on Forbes’ list of Power Women for 2015.
7. Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate and former U.S. senator, secretary of state and first lady
Hillary Clinton is in the running to become America’s first female president, and that alone shows her courage and conviction. She is determined to fight inequality between races, sexual orientations and income levels. She was instrumental to the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program during her husband’s presidency and gave a memorable speech about women’s rights at the UN World Conference in Beijing in 1995. She has since taken on the battle against the gender wage gap and shown her support for LGBTQ+ individuals and families, among other achievements. As a role model for us, she has offered so much wisdom over the years.
8. Michelle Kwan, professional ice-skater
Michelle Kwan embodies every athlete’s dream: She has won nine U.S. figure skating championships, five world championships and two Olympic medals, making her the most decorated skater in the history of America. In 2006, Kwan became a public diplomacy ambassador for the U.S., a position that made her want to pursue a career in public policy. She attended the University of California at Los Angeles for one year after high school before concentrating on ice-skating, and eventually transferring to the University of Denver, from which she graduated in 2009. She went on to receive her masters in law and public policy from Tufts University in 2011. In 2012, she became a State Department senior advisor for public diplomacy and public affairs. Talk about well-rounded!
9. Lena Dunham, actress, author, screenwriter, producer and director
Let’s face it—we all secretly wish we we could be Lena Dunham. She is the writer, director and star of the hit show Girls, for which she has won two Golden Globes. She also directed a feature-length movie, Tiny Furniture, and wrote the bestseller Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned. Dunham is the definition of self-made and self-confident, and we have so much to learn from her.
These women are so successful in their respective fields, and they all got to where they are by taking chances, seeing opportunity where others didn’t and believing in themselves. And you know what, collegiettes? You can get there too—live by these mantras, and you’ll get to where you want to be!