Published:  12:00 AM, 10 January 2017

Female role models matter

Maya Angelou
Tina Pettigrew and Johanna Pulgarin

The conversation about feminism is currently experiencing a resurgence in mainstream media, pop culture and politics. What better time than now to acknowledge the women that laid down the path for our current conversations and look forward to the feminist issues that matter to us now and in the future? Telling a story has the power to incite unique thought, inspire action and start meaningful conversations. And recognizing the role that women have played in the world allows us to add our own force to the momentum they created, and the framework they laid out.



Venus Williams

Challenging the status quo takes a certain kind of woman, and a lot of courage. These innovators allowed themselves the opportunity to change the game, even when there was little articulated opportunity for her to do so. Billie Jean King fought for gender equality in tennis and founded the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in the 1970s; she even went so far as to accept a challenge by Bobby Riggs, a men's former World No. 1, in a "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match for the history books and beat him. Billie Jean's athletic example and activism led the way for others to fight for gender pay parity, a battle that continues today.

Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist, bravely opened the door for black women to express themselves openly and without shame. Through her writing and civil rights influence, Angelou became a real representative for those who have been historically marginalized, implicitly told that their voices don't matter. Her activism has affected political leaders, entertainers, artists and game changers alike.

Hedy Lamarr, although widely known for work as an actress, played a key role in the invention of spread-spectrum technology, which many credit as laying the groundwork for our current modes of wireless technology communication. She followed her interests and always stayed true to her hunger for solutions, even though she largely did not get recognized for it until after her death. Her example has led the way for women in STEM, who are shaping innovation as we speak and making things possible that we would never have dreamed. Recognizing that, historically, women are not thought of as leaders in positions of power profoundly affects our young children and society at large.

Seeing few people who look and act like them in industries like science and politics discourages girls from pursuing their interests if those interests are not popular. This robs the world of future talent that has massive potential to feed innovation, create change, and boost the economy. But when they see Venus Williams, Emma Watson, and Reshma Saujani making a difference in their industries, a window opens. There's a realization of, "If they can do it, why can't I?" Today's league of female role models is showing girls that they have options. We can all play a part in recognizing the women who have had the bravery to pursue their interests, be outspoken and light the way for future generations of female leaders. The world will be better off for it.

Tina Pettigrew is a Senior Community Manager at Ellevate, a global professional women's network and Johanna Pulgarin is a member of Success Coordinator at Ellevate Network

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