This March, we're celebrating Women's History Month by highlighting the great work that women have accomplished in the workplace. See more great content about the impact of hardworking women here.

Even in today's world, women are significantly underrepresented in many markets and, most notably, are often completely absent from leadership and executive roles. Men often lead industries that primarily employ women and target female-dominated market segments. Thanks to the tenacity and ingenuity of the following women, that gap is closing.

Female leaders are often held to higher standards than their male counterparts and, consequently, are often recognized for the accountability that comes with added scrutiny. The women on this list broke molds in their industries with a high degree of honor and respect that has endured through the ages. 

Biddy Mason


Born into slavery, Biddy Mason defied the odds to find success in many areas. She ultimately became a noted real estate mogul, but her achievements are wide and varied, including her work as a nurse and the founder of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. At the age of 48, Mason began purchasing property, amassing an incredible $300,000 (more than $6 million today) fortune, making her the richest Black woman west of the Mississippi. She successfully petitioned the court for her freedom and never stopped breaking the mold until her passing in 1891.


Clara Abbott


Historically, women have not had a representative place within corporate board structures, and Abbott Laboratories was the first company to have a female member on its board. Clara Abbott, the wife of founder Wallace Abbott, found her place on the board before the company became publicly listed in 1924. Upon her passing, Abbott left shares of stock to create a charity for the betterment of Abbott employees. The foundation endures to this day.


Marie Curie


Marie Curie's work as a physicist, particularly with the theory of radioactivity, changed the world. Her research informed our understanding of radioactive materials and their uses. This groundbreaking work earned her 2 Nobel Prizes, making her the first woman to win a prize and the first person to win a second prize. To date, only 58 women (of more than 900 Nobel laureates) have won the prize. Undoubtedly, her work has inspired countless women to pursue the sciences and create significant advancement in any male-dominated field.


Coco Chanel


Known for her eponymous fashion house, Coco Chanel was a revolutionary in woman's clothing throughout her entire tenure in the industry. By introducing new materials, designing menswear-inspired silhouettes, and making a foray into fragrance, she crafted an aesthetic that has endured and influenced the world of fashion as we know it. The growth she cultivated has made Chanel a leader in today's world, nearly 50 years after her death.


Estée Lauder


Industries designed to serve women—and those with female-dominated workforces—often have male-dominated management and executive teams. Estée Lauder went against that, creating and running a successful cosmetics and skincare company. Starting with a small advertising budget, she formulated her products and sold them independently as she grew her company into one of the most successful and largest purveyors of cosmetics.


Katharine Graham


Katharine Graham paved the way for many female journalists and writers. She served as one of the most influential publishers of an American newspaper that still stands strong—The Washington Post. Graham presided over the paper from 1963 to 1991, leading the publication through the breaking of the Watergate scandal, which resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. She was the first female Fortune 500 CEO in history and held the titles of president, publisher, and chairwoman of the board. Her memoir, Personal History, won a Pulitzer Prize.


Sandra Day O'Connor


Before Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor, there was Sandra Day O'Connor. Nominated to the Supreme Court under the Reagan administration, she was known for making fair and just decisions that often deviated from a strong party alignment. Her determination to prove that women had a place on the bench has affected further iterations of the court after her retirement and the progress of the study of law.


Oprah Winfrey


Perhaps the most well-known name on this list, Oprah Winfrey is recognized globally for her massive achievements, philanthropy, and the power she has brought to African American women. The "Queen of All Media" became the richest African American of the 20th century and America's first Black multibillionaire. Over her career, she brought empathy to her pursuits in business and on-air, never straying from a mission to raise up others in groundbreaking ways.


Angela Merkel

1954 -

The influence of global politics on business cannot be denied, and, as the de facto leader of the European Union, Angela Merkel was one of the most powerful leaders of the free world during her tenure as Chancellor of Germany. She prioritized strengthening economic relations within the EU and across intercontinental borders, managing turbulent times throughout the global economy. She successfully served 4 terms as chancellor before announcing that she would not seek re-election in 2021.  


Marilyn Hewson

1954 -

Topping Fortune's 2019 list of the world's most powerful women, Hewson was the CEO, chairman, and president of Lockheed-Martin, one of the most powerful defense companies in the world. Hewson's strategies helped the company see significant growth. There's no question that her work brought this company significant success. Since ascending to the role of CEO in 2013, Lockheed-Martin's market cap doubled. She has since retired from her roles in the company.


Ursula Burns

1958 -

Black women are notoriously absent from executive teams—it was only in 2009 that Burns became the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She began working at Xerox in 1980 as an intern and ascended through the organization, eventually becoming the CEO from 2009 to 2016. She remained chairwoman until 2017, when she left the company completely. She has served on the boards of some of the world's most recognizable companies, including American Express, ExxonMobil, Nestle, Uber, and many more.


Marissa Mayer

1975 -  

A prominent figure in technology, business, and executive leadership, Marissa Mayer is one of the most influential self-made women of our time. She has worked with some of the most well-known household names but gained retained notoriety as Google's first female engineer in the company's early days. She later served as CEO of Yahoo! Before cofounding Lumi Labs, an incubator that studies AI and media intelligence.


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