Every year during Women’s Month we celebrate the contributions of women, and reflect on the progress and the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender equality. It is no secret that women have historically faced greater barriers than men when it comes to fully participating in the economy, despite the proven fact that society at large greatly benefits from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women. Women bring unique perspectives and skills to the table, and when they are given a seat at the table, everyone benefits from their contributions.
Many of us are familiar with Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafza, Madam C. J. Walker, Frida Kahlo. But do you know those who are writing the next chapter of our history? Below are some trailblazing women-leaders who are distributing their industries and advocating for change.
Jamila Abassountry, Techpreneur, Director, GiveDirectly, Morocco
Jamila Abass is an internationally recognized techpreneur and one of the champions of the AgTech revolution in Africa. She is the founder of M-Farm, an app that connects farmers and buyers and makes the supply chain more efficient. The innovation won several awards including the praise of the US president Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya in 2015. Currently Jamila serves as the Director of GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that lets donors send money directly to the world’s poorest households. She received many accolades including Forbes 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch and 20 Young Power Women in Africa, Quartz’s 30 African Innovators as well as 2015 100 most influential Africans. Abass states, “My mission is to create IT products that solve pressing issues for Africans.”
Hafsat Abiola, President and Chief Executive Officer, Women in Africa Initiative, France
Hafsat Olaronke Abiola-Costello is a Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy activist, economist and founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, which seeks to strengthen civil society and promote democracy in Nigeria. Hafsat Abiola is also the President of Women in Africa Initiative, the foremost platform organizing the continent’s leading women into a force for sustainable development.
Her commitment to women’s economic empowerment in order to transform society is reflected in her work, which spans from the local to global. In Nigeria, she founded KIND, a civil society organization that trains thousands of women in service-oriented leadership. She is also a part of the World Future Council, a Special Envoy to Africa for Women Political Leaders, a member of BMW Foundation’s Responsible Leaders Group, Vital Voices 100 and an alumna of the World Economic Forum’s Community of Young Global Leaders. She is also the recipient of several global and national awards; including, in 2019, the U.S. Civil Rights Museum Public Service Award.
Tendayi Achiume, Professor & Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA
Tendayi Achiume is a Law Professor and former Faculty Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at the University of California, Los Angeles. She served as the United Nations special rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance from her appointment in September 2017 until November 2022. Tendayi was also the first woman appointed to this position since its creation in 1993, and often travels the world to observe situations of severe injustice and report on inequality, hate speech, and other matters of grave concern, often with key input from her students at ULCA. In 2021, Tendayi Achiume was named a 2021 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader for her honourable work and contribution.
Osayi Alile, Chief Executive Officer, Aspire Coronation Trust (ACT) Foundation, Nigeria
Osayi Alile is a Nigerian entrepreneur, Sustainability Expert & Speaker and human development expert who has been active in entrepreneurship, education, youth development, and public leadership. She currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation (ACT Foundation), and the co-administrator of CACOVID (Coalition Against COVID-19). Osayi is a member of the African Leadership Network, The Future Awards Africa, and served as the CSR Consultant at Access Bank Plc, commonly known as Access Bank, a Nigerian multinational commercial bank. Osayi is the founding curator, Global Shapers Forum Nigeria. Owing to her experiences, Osayi sits on the board of several organisations that includes Immediate past Chairperson Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), House of Tara, Chairperson Zapphire Events, Culinary Academy and Global Dignity, an affiliation of the World Economic Forum in Norway.
Natalia Allen, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Design Futurist SM, Spain
Natalia Allen graduated from Parsons School of Design as Designer of the Year. Natalia founded Design Futurist, an award winning design consultancy that has created innovative and sustainable textiles and clothing for multinational brands such as DuPont, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and more. For her groundbreaking work, Natalia has received numerous distinctions, including recognition as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative Professionals, and one of Utne Reader’s 25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World. An honorary Design Futures Senior Fellow and speaker on technological and socially responsible design, she has presented at international conferences in Europe, Asia and South America. With the debut of her namesake line, Natalia spent several months in American factories learning about advancements in 3-D manufacturing. Natalia collection is known for its minimalist design made in a systematic, seamless and sustainable process and available in several retailers nationwide.
Shauna Aminath, Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology of the Republic of Maldives, Maldives
Shauna Aminath is a Maldivian politician who has served as Minister of the Environment, Climate Change, and Technology since May 2021. Aminath works on a holistic approach to help island communities adapt to the ravages of climate change while trying to show that even small island states can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases. S Aminath began activism in the ninth grade, where she spoke out against government policies in a school debate. is active in voicing her concerns for her country and climate change. Shauna is involved with many organizations that aid the global refugee issue. Some of her work can be seen in the documentary The Island President, which follows the story of former president Nasheed.
Esmeralda Hernandez, Innovator, Creator and Serial Entrepreneur
Esmeralda Hernandez is the innovator and creator behind this fast growing beauty company, Beauty Creations along with parent company Bebella Cosmetics.
Growing up with a single mother, Esmeralda’s career began at a young age. She began her entrepreneurial journey by working with her mother at the Downtown Los Angeles swap meets. By age 15, she was running her own business in the perfume and hair industry. She realized that her true passion was in the cosmetic industry. Being a professional woman of latin descent, she noticed that there was a market of quality cosmetics at an affordable price being neglected. Meeting other beauty enthusiasts who had the same passion for beauty but were unable to afford high end luxury cosmetics inspired her to cultivate a line created with quality without breaking the bank. Beauty Creations is made to be a line as CEO Esmeralda says, ” selling her oranges to everyone”. She is determined to change the market by allowing Beauty Creations to be accessible for everyone.
“When I got my start in the beauty industry, it was hard being one of few women in the factories with a predominantly men run environment, and getting them to take me seriously. And being a Latina woman was even harder. I think when people see the beauty industry, they assume that it’s going to only be women. Men in the factories would ask me where my husband was? I stood my ground and did what was right for my business. I didn’t take no for an answer.”
Esmeralda’s mission continues to redefine and innovate the beauty industry one product at a time through inspiration, creation and passion. Currently, Beauty Creation products are cruelty-free with various lines from Eyes, Lips, Face, SKIN, Hair tools, Vanities and Exclusive Collections. Her goal is simple – to inspire all to have the freedom to express their inner ‘girl boss’ attitude.
Adolophine Sheeley- Designer, Philanthropist & Founder of Adolophine
Adolophine is the founder of luxury fashion and home accessories brand Adolophine, bringing African craftsmanship to the world in an authentic, appropriate, and positive way. Adolophine’s business philosophy and mission is simple: To bring African artisanal craftsmanship to the world through luxury goods while promoting preservation of culture, economic sustainability, and charity. Adolophine’s latest collection, Kongo, With Love to honors the Kongo Kingdom, which includes the African countries of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Namibia, Zambia and the Republic of Congo. The stunning collection of 18k gold, diamond and precious gemstone jewelry is inspired by the rich culture and natural beauty of Africa and is a “love letter” to Africa’s beautiful Kongo Kingdom with all its imperfection, treasures and joy. Items purchased from Adolophine’s fashion and home décor lines give back to African communities, paying for school fees and putting food on the table for many of these local artisans.
Adolophine is the daughter of divorced Congolese parents Lukabu Khabouji, a former diplomat and Congo’s first United Nations Ambassador and Georgette Mapalaba, a businesswoman who bought goods in Europe and then sold them in the markets of Adolophine’s birthplace and early childhood home, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Adolophine also founded the not-for-profit, LES AMIS de MULUNDA et GEORGETTE in 2020, with a mission to promote and encourage the sustainable development of communities through activities relating to entrepreneurship, education, health, agriculture, and the environment.
Martine Harris co-founder of Travel & GIVE
Martine Harris passion is to promote inclusivity and understanding of disability, to allow more children thrive within their own community. To fulfill this mission, she launched Travel & GIVE, to be a resource with speech, learning, mental, and physical disabilities through direct services, advocacy, and training-based service projects.
With an executive team composed of allied health professionals (speech language pathologists and occupational therapists) Travel & GIVE’s goal and mission is to dispel the stigmas around people living with disabilities and provide access to quality therapeutic services for underdeveloped communities, specifically in Haiti and Kenya. “The problem Travel & GIVE is solving is the inaccessibility of therapeutic interventions and specialized education for individuals living with disabilities in countries where stigmas prevent inclusivity and hinder academic and social growth of the individual.” says Martine
Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq – Radio Host; Public Speaker, Author and Social Justice Leader
Fourth-generation leader of faith and social justice Jennifer is the CEO of FPWA, an anti-poverty, policy and advocacy organization; radio host; public speaker; author of Consider It Pure Joy; and editor of God in the Ghetto: A Prophetic Word Revisited. Jennifer is a visiting scholar at the New York University Silver School of Social Work and Scholar in Residence at Alliance University Center for Racial Reconciliation (CRR). She also chaired NYC Racial Justice Commission, where she led the development and passage of three unprecedented proposals to amend the City of New York’s constitution to dismantle structural racism and embed racial justice and equity in all government functions as well as the NYC Board of Correction where she presided over rule-making to end solitary confinement in New York City jails. Also served as co-chair of Mayoral Transition for Bill de Blasio, and lead advisor for Full Day UPK expansion and the 2020-2021 NYPD Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.
“There’s always at least one person who’s quick to cast doubt on your vision or strategy, or your ability to do something, especially that which has never been done before. Even as a CEO, I had a staff person defy my decision because, as she told me, a male leader in the organization thought differently. To lead with confidence you’ve got to continually ‘separate the wheat from the chaff “, assessing all the incoming, and quickly and carefully disposing of that which serves no meaningful purpose.”
Marsha Guerrier, Speaker, Author, Activist and Entrepreneur
Marsha Guerrier is a TEDx Speaker, 4x Bestselling Author, and Founder/CEO of HerSuiteSpot®, a Certified MWBE and WBENC organization. HerSuiteSpot helps women of color early-stage founders, startups, side hustlers, and small business owners develop business and marketing plans, build brands, reach goals, increase revenue, and access funding. The platform is made up of over 7,000 women of color small businesses that are seeking access to funding and capital, business development training, mentorship and networking opportunities, marketing and branding support.
Marsha has given away over $500,000 in non-equity grants and business development services to close the racial equity gap in business. With a Bachelor of Science in Business, Management and Economics, Marsha was named on the 2022 Empower Role Model list of 100 Future Leaders Role Model supported by Yahoo Finance, and recognized as one of the Top 50 Women in Business by the Long Island Business News.
Marsha’s mission is to empower women of color to reach their full potential in both their careers and businesses. Through HerSuiteSpot, Marsha has helped thousands of women of color find their SuiteSpot by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support to succeed. Her approach is rooted in community building, coaching, and access to capital. Marsha’s efforts have made a significant impact in closing the racial equity gap in business and providing opportunities for women of color to thrive. Her dedication to this mission has earned her widespread recognition as a leader and role model in the business community.
Autumn Kendrick – Creator of RA.D8 / Chief Marketing and Ideation Officer – GnuSante
After a career as an international model and certified scuba instructor, Autumn moved to Vancouver to co-create GnuSanté with her Father. Autumn Kendrick wanted a simple way to help support skin health and better aging that did not take a 30-minute daily regime. Researching ingredients, solving technical challenges, and creating delicious flavors with her Father (beverage guru Ron Kendrick), Ra.D8 came to life after an extensive 3+ years of development. Combining her experience in the fashion and beauty industry, her degree in social work and sociology, and a master’s degree in cultural studies and education, Autumn aspired to help women feel better in their skin by assisting them in loving and nurturing their inner shine and letting them radiate. With a firm belief that everyone deserves to feel good about themselves, Autumn Kendrick is dedicated to making GnuSanté play a role in helping people achieve that through simple, effective, and natural products.
“In a world where male voices often dominate, it’s important to recognize the value of our own perspectives and opinions. I’ve learned this lesson myself, whether it was in tackling technical formulation challenges or advocating for branding changes. When I failed to stand up for my ideas, both myself and the company suffered the consequences. But when I trusted my instincts and found my voice, not only did the company thrive, but my leadership skills blossomed as well,” says Autumn “So my advice to all women is this: have confidence in your ideas, trust your intuition, and never stop learning. Don’t let anyone “mansplain” your own expertise to you. Remember, your unique perspective is what sets you apart and can make all the difference in driving success.”
Chelsey Sanders and Essence Smith, Entrepreneurs and Founders of Black Women Are Essential
Chelsey and Essence are the founders of lifestyle brand, Black Women Are Essential which initiated at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to support Black female essential workers. Proceeds of a T-shirt they designed in 2020 were used to send Black female essential workers gift kits curated with female black-owned businesses including PPE, Luster Hair care products, self-care items such as shea butter, candles, an affirmation card, and more! Once Chelsey and Essence realized their impact, the two entrepreneurs continued to generate more merchandise to fuel funds for organizations that focus on providing direct support services for Black girls and Black Women.
This Women’s History Month, BWAE and their newest items will be highlighted at a local Chicago marketplace, Planet HER sponsored by DIAGEO and its brands and led by Refine Collective, a community created to identify and support minority and women-owned businesses with a mission to funnel purchasing power into the hands of the underrepresented communities. “Black Women Are Essential have been consistent partners since Refine Collective’s very first market for Juneteenth in 2021 and it has been such a joy to watch this brand grow. As a Black woman, their brand makes me feel seen & celebrated. Chelsey & Essence are extremely thoughtful with every piece in their collection, I can’t wait to see what they bring to Planet HER as a 5x Refine Collective partner!” – IB Majekodunmi
Megan Banias, Creator, Designer and Entrepreneur, Founder of Chicago For Keeps
Megan Banias is a Fillapina clothing designer in Chicago and Founder of Chicago For Keeps, that invests in her local community. With each collection launch, a portion of the profits from sales go to non-profit organizations focused on benefiting the youth and adults in black and brown communities. Banias’ newest launch, “giving back looks good on you” is a collection of genderless t-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, and more, will be donation a portion of the proceeds to “Taste for the Homeless,” a food truck that feeds the homeless every day on the south side of Chicago, and provides them winter-wear in the colder months.
“We want to do our part to give back to the city we love not only to benefit Chicago’s present, but also Chicago’s future,” says Banias, “We know that the best way we can personally contribute to real change is to use our skills for good. We want to create handcrafted embroidered pieces that can help create tangible goods in exchange for tangible change in our community. We hope to use the donations from our sales as micro-investments into local organizations to make it easier for them to continue to do the work they do in our communities in need. If you’ve ever called Chicago home then it doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you go, Chicago will always have a place in your heart. Let’s do our part to make it better” she continues.
During Women’s History Month Chicago for Keeps will be showcasing their new collection, amongst one of the many other local vendors at Chicago’s Planet HER Presented by DIAGEO and its brands Johnnie Walker, Ketel One, and Seedlip at the Chicago Athletic Association.
IB Majekodunmi, Entrepreneur and Founder of Refine Collective
Founder of Refine Collective, IB Majekodumni has been acting on her mission to funnel purchasing power into the hands of the underrepresented communities since 2020. This Women’s History Month she is activating Planet HER, for its second consecutive year. It will be a marketplace of female vendors, at the Chicago Athletic Association, with over 50 Chicago-based women artists, chefs, creators, artists, musicians and more.
“Refine Collective is happy to highlight diverse women-vendors that are using their success to give back to our community at our Planet HER event. Last year, DIAGEO’s partnership helped Refine Collective’s inaugural Planet HER be a huge success, and we’re happy to have their ongoing support to create a more inclusive world for diverse women owned businesses from all walks of life,” – IB Majekodunmi
Jessica Taylor, Entrepreneur, Educator and Founder of Ezra Coffee
Grounded in a love for coffee and a desire to help others, Ezra Coffee‘s self-made CEO, Jessica, perfected her roasting process to create rich, flavorful coffee blends that can be enjoyed by everyone and that don’t need any help from a milk-based creamer.
A former educator and Diversity & Inclusion strategist, Jessica incorporates her passion for storytelling and the celebration of Black culture into Ezra’s packaging. Each blend name highlights significant events and individuals in our collective American history. Jessica’s commitment to education extends beyond the bag as Ezra donates a portion of its proceeds through bi-annual scholarships to students pursuing four-year degrees.
“Every year thousands of students are unable to complete their collegiate education due to financial holds on their student accounts. These holds can prevent students from transferring, registering for classes, and even from graduating. We believe that education is the key to the future, therefore we use a portion of our sales to provide scholarships to students attending four-year institutions,” Jessica Taylor, Founder.
There is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality. While progress has been made in many areas, such as women’s education and workforce participation, there are still significant gender disparities in areas like pay, representation in leadership positions, and access to healthcare. These disparities have far-reaching effects not just on women themselves but on their families, communities, and the wider economy.
So what can we do to support Women’s History Month besides reading and study strong women from the past?
- Educate yourself about the issues facing women in your community and around the world. Seek out diverse voices and perspectives to broaden your understanding of these issues.
- Use your platform and influence to advocate for gender equality. Whether you’re a CEO, a community leader, or just someone with a social media account, you have the power to amplify the voices of women and advocate for their rights.
- Support organizations and initiatives that are working towards gender equality. Whether donating to a women’s shelter or volunteering with a local girls’ mentoring program, there are countless ways to make a difference.
- Be an ally to the women in your life. Listen to their experiences, support their ambitions, and speak up when you see discrimination or inequality.
In conclusion, Women’s Month in March is a time to celebrate the incredible contributions of women and raise awareness about the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender equality. By caring about this important issue and taking action to support women, we can create a brighter, more equal future for all.