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Five inspirational women leaders throughout history

Janice McBrown 22nd October 2020

Throughout history, women have fought to assert themselves as individuals in their own right and experts in their field, something men also had to do, but on a significantly different scale. Great designers, writers, explorers, political activists, artists, monarchs, leaders and mothers, we can all name women who have inspired us. 

And while theoretically today women can achieve anything they aspire to, there are still barriers to overcome. Although it has been gradually reducing, there is still a wage gap between men and women in some industries, movements such as #metoo have created a momentum for change and more women are involved in politics than ever before.  

In a previous blog we wrote that inspiring leadership comes not just from assertive decision making and strategy, it also comes from standing up for a cause and doing something for the greater good. Given that female leadership is often associated with support of specific causes and with well-developed social awareness, we have gathered together five inspirational women leaders to highlight their achievements and impact.   

Dolly Parton

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Dolly Parton is a legend, a singer and songwriter who has sold millions of albums across the world.  She is also a business leader with an estimated net worth of $600 million with legions of fans.  Dolly has a keen sense of humour, a strong purpose and relatable to so many people in all walks of life. But an inspirational leader?  Her talent as a musician and her business skills are irrefutable. But if you want to understand how to overcome poverty and abuse, to succeed in a male dominated world of country music for the last fifty years and be a positive role model then look no further than Dolly.

Anita Roddick

Photo of Ana Roddik

The Body Shop championed an alternative approach to beauty with a simple, friendly brand that grew quickly.  Famously started from her kitchen table in Brighton, Anita Roddick wanted to provide quality products in refillable containers, the business grew to serve 77 million customers across the world and was voted the second most-trusted brand in the United Kingdom. Anita is seen as a pioneer of social responsibility and fair trade.  She understood the power of business itself to champion change a long time before it became fashionable. “There is no more powerful institution in society than business” she wrote in her book Business as Usual. 

Malala Yousafzai

Photo of Malala Yousafzai

Malala survived a Taliban assassination attempt and became an activist for female rights and education.  She became one of the youngest ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and remains an active campaigner to help girls and women empower their lives through education and equality.  “We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced”, she said. Malala is a leader with the courage and conviction to change the world for the better.

Madam C J Walker

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Born as Sarah Breedlove in 1867, Madam CJ Walker became the first female self-made millionaire in US history.  She set up her business whilst working as a sales agent for a hair-care company after suffering from hair loss.  Starting out by selling her homemade products at demonstrations she grew her business into a lucrative empire with a network of agents selling her products in communities across the US.  Widely recognised as a pioneer in black business and philanthropy, she is quoted at saying, “I want you to understand that your first duty is to humanity”.

Angela Merkel

Photo of Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel watched the wall being constructed from her home in East Germany at the age of 7 and went on to lead Germany since 2005.  She has implemented maternity leave, overseen energy reform, introduced a minimum wage, developed diplomatic relations across the globe and led her country through an economic boom.  She has redefined the meaning of strength in a male dominated world of politics, relying on reason, cooperation and networking and is recognised as one of the most powerful women in the world.

So, there you are.  Five inspirational women whose vision, commitment and purpose have enabled them to achieve the impossible.  The diversity of their backgrounds and expertise hopefully connects with women and men of all walks of lives.  Who would be on your list of inspirational women leaders?

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