While women have long contributed to and led businesses, it wasn’t until the 20th century that we saw women taking their place alongside men in the working world in greater numbers.
From wartime icon, Rosie the Riveter, to small screen working woman, Carol Brady of the Brady Bunch, women steadily became seen as a critical component of the workforce, today founding and leading many of the most important companies on earth.
And while there’s a long way to go in terms of workplace equality, women entrepreneurs are making their mark on their industries and communities now more than ever. These 20 women entrepreneurs are the ones who are leading the charge—and we think you’ll be inspired by their tremendous impact:
Reshma Saujani / Girls Who Code
While running for Congress, the first Indian American woman to do so, Reshma Saujani noticed a stark disparity in the students she met while as she visited computer science classes. Boys outnumbered girls by a wide margin. Because of this gap, just 1 in 5 computer science graduates are women, an issue Saujani hopes to solve.
In 2012, Girls Who Code launched, teaching girls computer programming. Since that year, Saujani and her all-star team have built an organization that has impacted nearly 90,000 girls and is on track to close the computer science gender gap by 2027.
Whitney Wolfe Herd / Bumble
Now among the most popular dating apps on the market, Wolfe Herd’s shift in dating app etiquette has impacted not only its 22 million users but also brought a US$1B valuation—and Wolfe Herd’s continued success as an entrepreneurial queen.
Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean / Werk Enterprises Inc.
Recognizing that inflexible company structures and policy negatively affected both employees and organizations—especially women—Auerbach and Dean left careers in consulting and corporate law to build tools and training to make flexibility a competitive advantage for everyone.
Christina Tosi / Milk Bar
A classically trained pastry chef, Christina Tosi spent years in New York City restaurants before founding Milk Bar in 2008. Combining her high-end culinary skills with creative ingredients from the cereal aisle, Tosi created sweet culinary hits like Cereal Milk and Crack Pie.
Tosi is an international dessert entrepreneur whose nostalgic, sweet treats have expanded into 13 locations of Milk Bar, cookbooks, classes and extensive e-commerce.
Sara Blakely / Spanx
Sparked by a pair of scissors, some pantyhose and a party where founder, Sara Blakely, wanted to look her best, Spanx officially began production in 2000 and changed women’s fashion and fit forever.
Founder Sara Blakely, an EO member, received a White House invitation in 2014, was named the youngest self-made female billionaire in 2012 and continues to sell Spanx in 50 countries around the globe, serving the company’s core mission: To help women feel great about themselves and their potential.
Katrina Lake / Stitch Fix
When Stitch Fix’s IPO was announced at the Nasdaq MarketSite, founder, Katrina Lake, stood at the podium, balancing her toddler son on her hip, a gesture that resonated with women everywhere.
Balancing motherhood and the creation of the US$2B Stitch Fix, Lake’s journey included convincing male venture capitalists of Stitch Fix’s necessity and navigating the complexities of being the youngest woman ever to take a company public.
Lisa Sugar / POPSUGAR
A pop culture hobby transformed into Lisa Sugar’s sensationally popular media company, POPSUGAR. After taking the risk of leaving her full-time advertising agency job, Sugar’s big bet paid off and her company now reaches one in every two American Millenial women.
POPSUGAR is poised to remain one of the biggest names in pop culture news as it continues to expand its partnerships and launch its own subscription box and beauty products.
Kelly Peeler / NextGenVest
Today, Peeler’s company, NextGenVest, is helping students navigate the complex world of financial aid and, to date, save $39M in tuition costs. Peeler isn’t just changing the world of student aid, she’s also redefining the role of women entrepreneurs in finance and education.
Payal Kadakia / Classpass
It’s not often that, within one year of being open, a new company is valued at US$350M. But for Payal Kadakia’s fitness startup, ClassPass, that was the reality, born through Kadakia’s unsuccessful search for an dance class she could take after work.
Now serving as Executive Chairman, focused on the product and design of ClassPass, Kadakia’s company continues to thrive with ClassPass members in 50 cities and 10,000 fitness studio partners.
Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg / theSkimm
Despite hundreds of rejections by venture capitalists, founders of theSkimm, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisburg, successfully launched a daily newsletter with 6 million subscribers, focused on female millenials looking for quick takes on important news stories.
Drawing from their shared background as news producers, Zakin and Weisburg’s media company has attracted subscribers like Oprah Winfrey and Trevor Noah—plus a recent $12M Series C round with investments from Google Ventures and Spanx founder, Sarah Blakely, among others.
Kendra Scott / Kendra Scott
What began as Kendra Scott’s project in a spare bedroom has become Kendra Scott’s billion dollar jewelry empire—placing her ahead of celebrities like Taylor Swift and Beyonce on the Forbes’ 2017 list of the richest self-made women.
Initially rejected by local stores that were not interested in her products, Scott began selling jewelry wholesale which piqued retailer Nordstrom’s interest. Today, Kendra Scott’s jewelry empire spans 74 retail stores and 2,000 employees. Scott has even maintained a reputation for philanthropy through the Kendra Cares Program, a pillar of her brand’s core values.
Leah Sibener / 3T Biosciences
When a small cancer research startup attracts investors like Facebook’s Sean Parker and Peter Thiel’s Thiel Capital, people start to take notice.
3T Biosciences, started by founder Leah Sibener and her team, is using machine learning to identify cancer markers and genetic engineering to make the body’s own white blood cells target cancer cells. Sibener’s startup led her to a spot on Forbes’ 2018 30 Under 30 list, undoubtedly an early indication of her future impact.
Hooi Ling Tan / Grab
The Singapore-based company has expanded internationally to 30 cities, partnered with China’s Didi Chuxing, Lyft, Uber and Toyota. Hooi Ling Tan, an alumnus of McKinsey and Harvard Business School, continues to steer the company’s growth as chief operating officer.
Rachel Haurwitz / Caribou Biosciences
A Forbes 30 under 30 All-Star Alumni and healthcare entrepreneur, Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D., is the co-founder of Caribou Biosciences, a company that strives to commercialize and expand the reach of genome-editing technology, CRISPR-Cas.
Lauren Bush Lauren / FEED
A self-professed “accidental entrepreneur,” Bush Lauren founded FEED. This socially conscious reusable bag company provides meals with the purchase of each bag. Plus, FEED products are crafted in emerging and developing countries to create employment with partners around the globe.
Jennifer Hyman & Jenny Fleiss / Rent the Runway
Sparked by the high costs and exclusivity of designer clothing and the desire to make women look and feel their best, Rent the Runway allows women to rent clothing from top designers, a recipe that helped Hyman and Fleiss lead a company to an $800M valuation and an employee team that is 70% women.
Sophia Amoruso / Girlboss and Nasty Gal Inc.
Taking her vintage clothing eBay store to the next level, Sophia Amorusa, the founder of Nasty Gal, scaled her fashion company to Inc’s 2012 list of fastest growing companies.
And Amoruso’s entrepreneurial success didn’t end there. In 2017, she started Girlboss, a media company that covers everything from finances to fashion, focusing on their mission to “…redefine success for millennial women by providing the tools and connections they need to own their futures.”
Written for EO by Michael Neidert, a writer and consultant.