This article originally appeared on Inspired Investor on March 3, 2021.
Since last year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), we’ve all witnessed the sweeping impact of COVID-19. This public health crisis has disproportionately impacted women: For the first time in 30 years, women’s unemployment rate surpassed that of men, even as women toiled on the front lines of the pandemic as healthcare workers, teachers, cleaners and cashiers – occupations in which women are highly concentrated.
But the turbulent past year has had bright spots, too, including many inspiring firsts that have broken barriers and helped advance equality. Here we celebrate several of the trailblazing women who brought to life the theme of this year’s IWD, #ChooseToChallenge, in diverse spheres, including science, business, sports, politics and popular culture.
First Female U.S. Vice-President
In January, attorney and senator Kamala Harris1 moved into the second-most powerful position in American politics, becoming the first woman – as well as the first Black and first Asian-American – vice-president of the United States. “While I may be the first woman in this office,” Harris said in her victory speech in November, “I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Canada’s First Female Finance Minister
This past summer, Chrystia Freeland2 became the first woman in our nation’s history to hold the post of federal finance minister. Shortly after she was sworn in, the ex-journalist, Rhodes scholar and Harvard grad made this powerful statement: “It’s about time that we broke that glass ceiling.” Freeland is also deputy prime minister, and she previously served as minister of foreign affairs and minister of international trade.
First Woman to Lead the Canadian Space Agency
“When it comes to the global space sector, we are really in a new era,” Lisa Campbell3, the Canadian Space Agency’s newest president, told Chatelaine last fall, when the magazine named her one of its 2020 Women Of The Year. The long-time public servant was referring to the current space race, in which both the public and private sectors are participating: “We’re seeing economy, technology and science coming together as never before.” But Campbell’s appointment marked another new dawn in the organization’s 32-year history: She is the first woman to lead it. As Campbell so aptly put it, “It’s about time, isn’t it?”
Champion of the First-Ever Regional Climate Gathering in The Yukon
Kluane Adamek4, whose traditional Tlingit name is Aagé, is a citizen of the Kluane First Nation and a member of the Dakl’aweidi (Killerwhale) Clan. She is the youngest woman to serve as a Regional Chief of the National Assembly of First Nations, a role she has held for three years. Last winter, Adamek’s leadership facilitated the first-ever Yukon First Nations Climate Action Gathering, including a special session to connect youth and elders. Adamek has also raised awareness of the wisdom and legacy of matriarchs in the Yukon First Nations. As she shared in her TEDWomen 2020 talk, “There’s so much that we can share with the world and that the world can learn from us as women.”
Youngest Female Self-Made Billionaire
Bumble, a dating app in which only women can initiate contact, held its initial public offering (IPO) last month, propelling the net worth of co-founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd5 over the billion-dollar mark. At 31, the entrepreneur became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire and the youngest female CEO to have taken a company public in the U.S. On the day of Bumble’s IPO, Wolfe Herd tweeted, “This is only possible thanks to the more than 1.7 billion first moves made by brave women on our app — and the pioneering women who paved the way for us in the business world.”
International Soccer’s All-Time Leading Goalscorer
Last January, Canadian Olympian and soccer superstar Christine Sinclair6 added another accolade to her impressive resumé when she broke American player Abby Wambach’s world-record total of 184 goals. Sinclair is now the top international goalscorer of all time — among both women and men. The talented striker, who was honoured with a spot on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2013, has also made great strides in boosting the profile of professional women’s soccer. “When I was growing up, you didn’t know there was a women’s national team,” she has said. “Now girls grow up dreaming of playing for Canada.”
First Openly Transgender U.S. State Senator
By winning Delaware’s State Senate race in November, Sarah McBride7 became the highest-ranking American official who is openly transgender. McBride is a trans-rights activist and has served as national press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. Upon winning her election race, she posted on social media: “I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too.”
First Female-Only Team to Win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Gene-editing technology will never be the same, thanks to a discovery by scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier8 and Jennifer A. Doudna8. The CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, which won the duo the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, allow researchers to change DNA with super-precision. CRISPR/Cas9 is already being tested in new cancer therapies, and it has great potential to help cure inherited diseases. Charpentier and Doudna are the first all-female team to win the prize. This achievement is a “very positive message for the girls and young women who wish to start science [or] continue in science” that recognition is independent of gender, Charpentier said on a Nobel Prize podcast.
Champion of Groundbreaking Equal Pay Legislation in New Zealand
In 2017, when Jacinda Ardern9 became the youngest New Zealand prime minister in 150-plus years, she did so with the promise to amend proposed equal pay legislation to better address the gender pay imbalance. In July 2020, the country’s parliament unanimously passed the Equal Pay Amendment Bill into law. The bill augments the equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation passed in 1972, now ensuring that women who work in historically underpaid female-dominated sectors get the same remuneration as men doing different work of equal value. “I hope that she doesn’t feel any limitations,” Ardern has said about her daughter, Neve. “That she doesn’t have any sense of what girls can or can’t do. That it’s just not even a concept for her.” (Another Ardern first: she was the first world leader to take maternity leave, when Neve was born in 2018.)
Youngest Hollywood Executive Producer
At only 16 years old, Marsai Martin10 is the youngest-ever executive producer in the biz – just check the Guinness World Records. Though the Black-ish star’s accomplishment was recorded in late 2020, she actually executive produced her first film, Little, in 2019 at age 14. “My goal is to show young women and girls that our voices and ideas matter,” she said in a statement, “and you are never too young to dream BIG!”
First Female GM in Major League Baseball
When Kim Ng11 was hired as general manager of the Miami Marlins in November, she became the highest-ranking woman in American baseball operations. Ng came to the position with three World Series rings after working in professional baseball for more than two decades. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a major league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals,” said Ng in a public statement. Fun fact: Though it was widely reported that this appointment earned Ng the title of first female GM in any major North American sports league, in fact that milestone was reached right here in Canada back in 1988, when Jo-Anne Polak became GM of the CFL’s Ottawa Rough Riders (since renamed the Ottawa Redblacks).
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