In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a woman—and that’s true for women in business, too. Sure, there are still unrealistic beauty standards, sexism and inequality, and certain female celebrities aren’t exactly helping our case with their half-naked selfies. But overall, it’s a great time to be a female in the business world. Gone are the days of men ruling the executive team while women sit home and cook/clean/pop out children. Females are taking charge of their careers and transforming the world one entrepreneurial venture at a time. If you ask Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, there is still work to be done, but we are getting there. “The hard work of generations before us means that equality is within our reach…We can do this—-for ourselves, for one another, for our daughters and for our sons. If we push hard now, this next wave can be the last wave. In the future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
So where do you begin? If you’re looking to be inspired, start here, with 10 incredibly talented, smart and driven women who are taking charge of their careers and in turn, transforming the power structure of the world we live in. Keep an eye on these women, and prepare to be inspired by their bold business moves and visions of greatness. And you never know, the next time we publish this list your name just might be on it.
1. Stephanie Parker, co-founder of Sleeping Baby As a parent with a baby who won’t sleep, you quickly enter survival mode, trying desperately to come up with any solution to get your family some rest. That’s how Stephanie Parker and her husband began their business venture—after their baby outgrew the swaddle phase there was no product for them, so they developed their own. They created a unique sleep suit known as Zipadee-Zip, which was their company’s first product. After scoring a deal on Shark Tank, Sleeping Baby is now set to gross over $1 million.
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2. Lauren Bush Lauren, CEO, Creative Director, and Co-Founder of FEED Projects You know both of her names: she is a member of the Bush family, as in Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush, and she married David Lauren, as in son of fashion mogul Ralph Lauren. But that’s not where her success comes from. Bush Lauren created a company that tackles hunger through commerce and combines her passion for fashion and giving back. As she explains it, “FEED connects consumers to the cause of hunger,” and uses fashion trends to “make them more aware of what is happening around the world.” Ironically, Bush Lauren had no business experience when she started her venture, so she partnered with other companies who provided the professional skills she lacked. A lesson for all of us: you don’t need all the experience if you have passion and the right connections.
3. Jessica Alba, The Honest Company Movie star turned mom turned business mogul…that’s how Jessica Alba‘s most recent success has taken off. While she’s well-known for her on-screen work, she’s equally famous for being a super hands-on mom, and one of the most famous women entrepreneurs, who started The Honest Company with the mission of selling chemical-free diapers, wipes and cleaning products…basically everything you might need for your kids, so you can be a great mom while also doing something great for the environment.
4. Sara Blakely, Founder SPANX This woman is the queen of women in business. If you are one of the millions of women who wishes her bottom half (or mid-section, or basically anything) was a little bit firmer, then you’ve probably heard of and worn SPANX. Leave to a woman just like us to come up with a product that saves our butts, literally. According to the brand’s website, founder Sara Blakely was in desperate need of the right undergarments to wear under white pants when she came up with the idea for SPANX. A pair of scissors, a brilliant idea and a great mission statement: to help women feel great about themselves and their potential. Put them together and you have a self-made billionaire, one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and a successful brand that is sold around the world.
5. J.K. Rowling, Founder of the Harry Potter Empire We all know that J.K. Rowling is a literary genius, but her success runs far deeper than just a popular book. She has created an empire, including 6 books that have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, plus a film franchise, theme parks, licensed goods and more. Before all this success Rowling was a single mother with no job…and from her journey we can learn a lot about entrepreneurship: you need persistence, patience, hard work, you cannot be afraid to fail, and a little luck helps too.
6. Oprah Winfrey, Founder and CEO OWN No surprise that the big O made our list. She is one of the most powerful, successful, inspirational and hard-working women not just in the media industry, but also in any industry. She did not have an easy road to success–her impoverished childhood had its fair share of obstacles, and yet she overcame them all with grace and vision. And she never settled for the success and wealth she achieved, she constantly works to reinvent herself, to do more, to become better and to change the world. She is the founder many times over: Founder of Harpo Productions, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), O, The Oprah Magazine, and founder of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. From Oprah’s success we can all learn to use our fear for empowerment and to take risks to reach our maximum potential.
7. Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, co-founders of theSkimm If you feel like you have zero time read the newspaper or watch the morning news, you’re not alone. That’s where Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg come in. They created theSkimm, a daily newsletter recapping all the current events you need to know about, delivered right to your inbox and told in a modern millennial voice, aka it feels like your bestie is updating you on the morning news. What started as an idea between two friends (who decided to quit their jobs and fill a void in the news media market) has become a big success story. As they begin their 2nd year of operation, WSJ reports, they have brought in $1.3 million in seed money, and “the business strategy right now is to bring in and retain as many subscribers as possible.” And they’re doing a pretty good job–as of June 2014 theSkimm had 500,000 subscribers, and as of December they surpassed 1 million active readers.
8. Brit Morin, founder of Brit + Co A self-proclaimed “tech nerd,” Brit Morin started her career as one of the greatest women entrepreneurs at a couple big-name tech companies you may have heard up (eh hem Apple and Google), but soon realized that her job wasn’t fulfilling her passion to create, build, innovate and design. So she left her dream job to create her own company–an online e-commerce and media platform that is now a top destination for all things DIY. This site reaches over 5 million people, connecting them with creative tools, inspiration, lessons, projects, supplies and even handpicked products ranging from limited-edition crafts to home decor items to jewelry.
9. Julia Hartz, founder of Eventbrite Let’s say you’re hosting an event and you want to sell tickets, but your event isn’t exactly a rock concert selling out at a big arena. How do you sell your tickets? Where do you begin? If you are Julia Hartz, you start a company called Eventbrite that allows users to create and sell tickets (and allows customers to easily and safely buy those tickets). After ditching her job as a TV exec Hartz and her husband both gave up salaries for 2 years to get their company going. And looks like it was a risk that paid off; Eventbrite is now valued at over $350 million and has sold over $1 billion in event tickets. This is women in business at its best.
10. Raegan Moya Jones, Founder of aden + anais A native of Australia, Raegan began her family in United States, thousands of miles from her family and the traditional baby products she knew from her homeland. Out of sheer necessity, she invented the softest, most breathable, functional and coziest muslin baby products around. It was a simple path to success: she was a mom who knew exactly what she wanted for her baby, she couldn’t find it anywhere, so she made it herself. And the rest is cozy, swaddle-blanket history.