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Groundbreakers 2021: 50 Women Changing the World

Despite enduring a pandemic that has disproportionately affected women and minorities, many women used last year to make real strides creating impact and accelerating progress toward building a more equitable society for the benefit of all. 

Sallie Krawcheck CEO and Cofounder, Ellevest

Sallie Krawcheck

2020 was a notable year when it came to working to improve diversity and racial injustice. Many companies took action—including Ellevest, a financial company that’s “core mission is [to] get more money in the hands of women,” cofounder and CEO Krawcheck told Worth back in July. This was when Ellevest rolled out an expansion to its intentional impact portfolios—public equity portfolios that are built to make investing in companies doing right by women easier. The expansion allowed Ellevest to weed out companies that don’t meet Ellevest’s standards for pursuing gender equality and racial justice from these portfolios by examining 13 focus areas that can have a negative impact on women and women of color in the U.S.

“Given the devastating she-cession women are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, Ellevest’s mission has never been clearer, nor our work more crucial,” Krawcheck told Worth. “I’m so proud of the Ellevest team for stepping up with a commitment to answer any and all of our community’s money questions—so much so that a third party reported that we had 80 percent of social media interactions during the spring across our industry. The team also met the moment by adding a racial justice lens to our Ellevest intentional impact portfolios, knowing that we can’t support gender equality without also being anti-racist.”

Sarah Kunst Managing Director, Cleo Capital

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur is managing director and founder of Cleo Capital, which is the third largest venture capital run by a Black woman. The company aims to invest in diverse founders. In 2020, they launched a fellowship called Chrysalis for laid-off workers, in part to help inspire the next great recession-born company. In addition, Kunst has been a contributing editor at Marie Claire since 2015. She is also an investor board member at Venture for America, which is a nonprofit organization that helps graduates become startup leaders. Before founding Cleo Capital, she was a senior advisor at Bumble. 

Lucy Lang Manhattan District Attorney Candidate

Lucy Lang is currently gunning to become Manhattan’s first female district attorney. 

Lang, who spent 12 years working as a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office before leaving in 2018 to lead the Institute for Innovative Prosecution at John Jay College, had dedicated her career to criminal justice reform and upholding racial and gender equity—just two of the issues she’s promised to tackle if elected to office. Through her dedication to serving—and listening to—communities, her passion for “dignity, equity and safety” shines through—even winning her an endorsement from the survivors of Harvey Weinstein.

“I am running to realize the full potential of what the office of the district attorney can be,” Lang told Worth. “Many people think that the district attorney is the equivalent of a prosecutor when, in fact, prosecution is just one piece of what the district attorney can do with and for communities. I’m running to prioritize prevention and healing to uphold racial and gender equity and to promote the dignity of all New Yorkers.

Sanna Marin Prime Minister, Finland
Sanna Marin

Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

In 2019, Marin made headlines for becoming Finland’s youngest prime minister, and the youngest government head the world over, at just 34 years old. Finland currently has a coalition government in which women head up all five parties. During its first year in office, the new Finnish government has had to deal with COVID. However, Finland has been heralded for how swiftly and smartly it responded to the pandemic, which, through Marin’s leadership, has resulted in some of the lowest infection rates in all of Europe. 

Sarah McBride State Senator, Delaware
Sarah McBride

Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

Sarah McBride made history last year when she was elected to the Delaware State Senate, becoming the first transgender state senator in the country and making her the highest-ranking transgender official in United States history. 

In 2013, McBride joined the board of directors of Equality Delaware and quickly became the state’s leading advocate for legal protections and hate crimes legislation for transgender Delawareans. She is largely credited with the passage of legislation in Delaware banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, housing, insurance and public accommodations. In 2016, she became the first openly transgender person to address a major party convention in American history when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. 

“I’ll be frank. From my perspective, if bigots are angry with me, I’m doing something right,” McBride told Harper’s Bazaar this January. “I will not let hatred or even threats of violence prevent me from speaking out against injustice and pushing forward the kinds of policies that I believe benefit all of us as a society. I am clear eyed on the challenges. I am not naive to the barriers, and I’m certainly aware of the risks. But I can handle that. I’m lucky, and whatever risks I face pale in comparison to the challenges and the risks facing far too many people—trans or not—throughout our society.”

Vivienne Ming Cofounder and CEO, Socos Labs

Vivienne Ming

Ming cofounded the “mad science incubator” Socos Labs in 2011, which partnered with StartOut in 2020 to launch the StartOut Pride Economic Impact Index. This initiative’s goal is to “quantify the unrealized potential of ‘out’ high-growth LGBTQ entrepreneurs, for the benefit of the U.S. economy at large,” according to StartOut

Ming said, “Our big-data driven, close-to-real-time approach takes the guesswork out of decision making for interventions. Over time, we can evaluate trends and differences with the data at hand and will gain deep insights into which programs and regulations impact opportunities for underrepresented communities, positively and negatively.” 

Aside from being an entrepreneur, Ming is also a theoretical neuroscientist and author.

Nadia Murad Human Rights Activist
Nadia Murad

Photo by The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

In 2014, Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi, was kidnapped from her home by ISIS militants and forced into sexual slavery, along with 6,000 other Yazidi women and girls. Her mother and six of her brothers and half-brothers were killed during the genocide. She managed to escape after three months and has since become a human rights activist, speaking out about human trafficking and sexual violence. She founded Nadia’s Initiative, an organization dedicated to “helping women and children victimized by genocide, mass atrocities and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.”

In 2018, Murad became the first Iraqi and Yazidi to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. In 2020, she became an advocate for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Desiree Perez CEO, Roc Nation
Desiree Perez

Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Billboard

The businesswoman is currently CEO of Roc Nation, which she cofounded alongside rapper Jay Z in 2008. Before being promoted to CEO in 2019, she served as chief operating officer of the record label for a decade. In 2019, she was granted the Executive of the Year Award at Billboard’s Women in Music Awards.

The Bronx native’s experience goes beyond the music industry. She first started out as a club promoter in 1992, which eventually led her to meet Jay Z. Together, they opened New York City’s 40/40 club in 2002.

The Political Players Ashley Etienne and Kamala Harris

Ashley Etienne and Kamala Harris

If we had to choose just one groundbreaking woman of 2020, hands down, the honor would go to Vice President Kamala Harris. Not only did she make history as the first Black woman elected to the White House, but she and President Joe Biden have already started making strides when it comes to gender equity by appointing an all-female communications team. 

And at the helm of Harris’ team? Ashley Etienne. 

Etienne, who previously served as the first woman and person of color to hold the position of communications director for the House Speaker, was tapped for the role of Harris’ communications director. 

“Women are held to a different standard, regrettably. That’s unfair, not just to the individual, but to the larger discourse about women and politics and what we’re capable of,” Etienne told Worth last March.  “What I’ve found from [working with Nancy Pelosi] is that we all need to adopt as women is how do you advocate for yourself, how do you own your own narrative and in addition to that, what I’ve learned most is that if you don’t, no one else will.”

Related Nancy Pelosi's Communications Director on Why We Need a Female VP

Angelica Ross Founder and CEO, TransTech Social Enterprises
Angelica Ross

Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic

Ryan Murphy’s FX drama Pose propelled Angelica Ross to Hollywood stardom, but the actress and activist, who made history as the first openly trans actress to be a series regular in two series in 2019, has been hard at work for years. In 2014, she founded TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator for LGBTQ talent with a focus on economically empowering the transgender community.

Last year, Ross inked an overall development deal with production company Pigeon. “Under the overall deal, Ross and Pigeon will develop and coproduce scripted and non-scripted content. The actress and the production banner align on telling the truth while honoring Ross’s Buddhist vow to show others their true value and purpose,” Deadline reported in August.

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