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The story behind 7 of history's most successful women of business.

Let's even the playing field a bit and celebrate the ladies of business.

The story behind 7 of history's most successful women of business.
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For a lot of history, business has been the sphere of the bros.

Much to-do has been made of the fact that many panels, business boards, advisory committees, venture capitalists, CEOs ... the list goes on ... are dudes.

And with good reason!


This is a board for a philanthropy organization in 1918. Two ladies! Frustratingly, at the top of many businesses, it's looking like even 2018's will still look a lot like 1918. Image via Center for Jewish History/Flickr.

Among 500 top-ranked companies in 2015, only about 14% of the highest leadership positions were held by women, and just 4% of the businesses' CEOs were female.

Because the odds are not so hot that you'll learn about a fantastic, inspirational lady boss today, we're gonna fix that!

Here's a sampling of some of our favorite female entrepreneurs and lady bosses.

1. Sara Blakely

Image via Gillian Zoe Segal/Wikimedia Commons.

While trying to get a little-bitty undergarment company called Spanx off the ground, Blakely was rejected a LOT. Good thing she persevered, both for the sanity of us ladies in formalwear and for her net worth: She is now a billionaire. Female-centric products might not always meet open financial arms at first, but that doesn't mean they're not "every celebrity on the red carpet wears them" viable.

2. Diane von Fürstenburg

Image via David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.


Aside from just seeming really cool, von Fürstenburg's wrap dresses changed the clothing game. In a time when most ladies' clothing was burdened with zippers, buttons, seams, bows, and ruffles, von Fürstenburg created a jersey wrap dress. It might not seem like a huge deal, but think of the simplicity of the men's suit and how this wrap dress affords ladies the same level of workplace dress sophistication coupled with ease. It makes that wrap dress feel pretty dang liberating.

"What I think I sell with my clothes is confidence, so hopefully all my dresses, my accessories, are friends to the women. When you open the closet, and your eyes are swollen, and you don't like the way you look, you go to your friends." von Fürstenburg to the Wall Street Journal

3. Madam C.J. Walker

Image via Scurlock Studio/Smithsonian Institution/Wikimedia Commons.

The first child after the Emancipation Proclamation to be born in her family — many of whom had begun their lives as slaves in pre-Civil War America — this woman rose to business heights at the helm of her hair-care line and manufacturing company, Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She was unafraid to promote herself and even rebranded herself, changing her name from the delightfully American Sarah Breedlove to intriguingly French-sounding Madam C.J. Walker to give her hair-care products a more sophisticated vibe, thus making a more marketable brand. Her instincts were right; she was the first black and female self-made millionaire in America.

4. Lizzie Magie

Image via U.S. National Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1935, Magie sold her patent for her game, The Landlord's Game, to Parker Brothers, and in 1939, the Monopoly board game was the result. Her role in this game's creation only recently surfaced. Ironically enough, Magie cared the most about economic fairness for women and for workers, and out of that passion she created — and patented — The Landlord's Game to teach people the perils of a monopolistic society.

5. Ayah Bdeir


Image via Ayah Bdeir/Flickr.

Bdeir is the founder of LittleBits, modular electronics that snap together with magnets. Think: electronic Legos that move. She's also a major supporter of the open hardware movement, an initiative mainly focused on keeping technological knowledge open to everyone. Bdeir created a product that teaches tech and supports a movement that keeps knowledge flowin' (and LittleBits has more than 65,000 followers on Facebook, so it's clearly doing something right). Cool!

"We are hoping ... littleBits will make electronics sexy, and when you see how empowering it is, then you will want to learn more, as opposed to thinking it’s too hard and boring," she told the online magazine We Make Money Not Art.

6. Nely Galan

Image via Richard Sandoval/Wikimedia Commons.

Galan, a first-generation immigrant, always worked in TV, and for many years, she struggled to get by. She kept up her hustle, consulting for networks, managing a TV station, and starting her own production company. And her perseverance and patience (and no doubt, ingenuity) paid off. When she was appointed president of Telemundo, she became the first Latina president of a U.S. television network. She's now the founder of the Adelante Movement, an organization committed to empowering Latinas in every way imaginable. Talk about paying it forward!

7. Robin Chase

Image via Paul Downey/Wikimedia Commons.

Chase is a cofounder and former CEO of the ride-sharing company Zipcar. Through her wildly successful startup venture that disrupted transportation as we once knew it, she's helping create a world with fewer cars, less pollution, and a greater sense of shared responsibility.

"Zipcar believes that you really can do well by doing good. ... Most people who own cars do not really need a car full time, especially if they take public transportation to commute to work. Zipcar allows people to live car less without being car free." Chase to FastCompany.

As you can see, many of these lady entrepreneurs and bosses have created products and businesses that aren't just successful (because that's a duh), they've created ecosystems of commerce that take advantage of their potential for impact.

They raise voices, fill needs, empower, and represent.

Soon there will be a day when all businesspeople, both ladies and dudes, will not be singled out for their gender. And that will be an awesome day.

But until the playing field is a little more even, we'll be over here cheering for the smaller but mightier team of ladies in business.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


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