From the Women’s suffrage movement of the 19th century to the American Feminist Movement of the 1960s, history is filled with the struggles of thousands of women who fought tirelessly to achieve the same rights as their male counterparts. Today, even as we enjoy the fruits of their labor, it is important to appreciate what has been achieved while also acknowledging that there is still a long way to go. The challenges that women face in the 21st century are plenty – But the efforts of a few remarkable women have ensured that progress never sees a hiccup. Today, Asia Inc 500 takes a look at ten such women who are defining the very direction of humanity’s progress in the 21st century. Today, Asia Inc 500 celebrates Women At Work.
- Sudha Murthy
A legend in Indian philanthropic circles, Mrs. Murthy famously began her career as the first ever female engineer at TELCO — A job that she received after writing an openly critical letter complaining against the company’s sexist “men only” hiring practices. She also lent crucial moral, financial, and professional support towards the founding of Infosys: the company that would later make her and her husband synonymous with the founding of the Indian IT sector. Since 1996, she has founded and lead the Infosys foundation – one of the largest philanthropic foundations in India, where she has undertaken massive efforts to improve literacy, women empowerment, health care, hygiene, art, and culture all across the nation. She is also an eminent fiction writer, producing popular works in both English and Kannada.
2. Oprah Winfrey
One of the biggest names in entertainment, the self-made Ms. Winfrey is the first female African-American Billionaire, cementing her place as one of just 10 black billionaires worldwide. Ms. Winfrey overcame various a large number of sexist and racist barriers in her lifetime — some of which happened live on the now famous “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. She is a vocal advocate for women’s rights and African American welfare. She is founder & CEO at the immensely successful Harpo productions as well as the Oprah Winfrey Network. Beyond entertainment, she has found great success through her investment in Weight Watchers and her book club.
3. Angela Merkel
The first ever female Chancellor of Germany, Ms. Merkel is a famously divisive figure in the international political landscape. Under her tenure, Germany saw great economic progress – producing some of the fastest growth rate figures in recent history along with record low unemployment numbers. She also oversaw Germany’s rise to becoming the most dominant member of the E.U. Her most important legacy however, remains her decision to resist political pressure and allow war-affected immigrants to seek refuge in Germany.
4. Janet Yellen
Possibly the most powerful non-political person on the planet, Ms. Yellen controls the economic fate of the U.S – and consequently the world – through her capacity as the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. Notably, she is the first woman to hold the position. Her bold decisions on interest rates constantly invite praise and criticism alike from bankers. At present, she is locking horns with the U.S senate and President to protect the Dodd-Frank Act: A set of reforms that closely regulate U.S financial institutions in order to avoid a 2008-like crisis scenario.
5. Aung San Suu Kyi
The leader of the first democratically elected government of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has made incredible contributions to forward the causes of democracy and free speech in her nation. She was instrumental in the 1988 Burmese uprisings for democracy and consequently spent 15 years under house arrest for her political activism. Since her election victory in 2010, she has taken numerous important steps to normalize Myanmar’s diplomatic and economic relations with the rest of the world.
6. Beyoncé Knowles
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is an American Artist and one of the most influential voices in the music industry of the 21st century. Her works as a musician are widely celebrated – earning her five Grammy awards in addition to platinum statuses for multiple albums. Along with her husband Shawn Corey Carter (Jay-Z), the couple is worth nearly $ 1 Billion. Besides music, she is an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Feminism.
7. Indra Nooyi
With a career spanning across big names like Johnson & Johnson, Boston Consulting Group, and Motorola, Mrs. Indra Nooyi is a highly decorated professional with rich management experience. Currently, she holds the position of CEO at the 4th largest food & beverages corporation on Earth – PepsiCo. Having joined the company as it’s CFO in 2001, Mrs. Nooyi has since seen the firm’s profits rise from $2.7 billion to a whopping $6.7 billion. She has also made considerable efforts towards making her company’s products healthier – taking moves such as eliminating aspartame from Diet Pepsi
8. Danica Sue Patrick
Ms. Danica Sue Patrick is a professional race car driver. She is primarily associated with IndyCar and NASCAR race events. Ms. Patrick holds the unique distinction of being the only female driver to win an IndyCar series event (IndyCar 300) along with being the only woman to have earned a podium finish at the Indianapolis 500. She has also qualified for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 race – yet again, making her the only woman to do so. Being one of the only female drivers in a male-dominated sport, she is known to constantly encourage more women to take part in racing.
9. Jessica Alba
Famous for her roles in Hollywood, Ms. Jessica Alba’s career has taken a remarkable progression from acting towards business. Following a successful stint as an actress in high profile projects such as Dark Angel and Sin City, Ms. Alba used her fame to launch The Honest Company – a consumer goods firm based on the theme of ethical consumerism. Owing to strong sales and enthusiastic VC funding, The Honest Company is currently worth more than $1.5 billion, netting the actress a cool $200 million for her stake in it.
10. Gloria Steinem
No list of influential women would be complete without Gloria Steinem – one of the original pioneers of the American Feminism movement in the 1960s and 70s. She has been prominently vocal in supporting LGBT rights, opposing the Vietnam & Iraq wars, and supporting Planned Parenthood operations. She has also tirelessly campaigned to stop violence against women. At age 83, Ms. Steinem continues to work for the welfare of women, delivering textures internationally, writing for the New York magazine, and overseeing the Women’s Media Center.
Asia Inc 500 salutes the efforts taken by these women and the millions of other women at work who continue to rise up everyday despite the odds stacked against them. We are inspired and motivated by the passion & sincerity they display towards their work. Asia Inc 500 will continue to support them in spirit as they continue on their missions to change the world.