10 Women Who Inspire Us to Succeed

Ten women who are role models for perseverance, courage, creativity and leadership.

We live in a time where there are many women who are achieving amazing goals and impacting the lives of women and girls around the world. Here are 10 who have impacted and inspired more than they can count.

Judy Blume
She scandalized parents with Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret and other forthright novels about teenage sexuality. For teenagers in the 1970s, Blume’s books were a validation of all that young women felt and questioned. Girls could instantly identify with Margaret and Deenie, characters that alleviated feelings of personal alienation in a time when sex was not as openly discussed and dissected.

Who wasn’t captivated by her Borderline video? When Madonna came out gyrating in ruffled ankle socks on the MTV scene, she was flamboyant and expressive and larger than life. She was the original Lady Gaga who pushed sexual, fashion as well as personal boundaries, and offered (to a young generation of women) freedom of expression that many ran with – neon, mini skirts, lace and all.

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah was the first woman to show us that you didn’t have to be white, thin or generically beautiful to be successful in front of the camera. Oprah’s personality, perseverance and business-savvy garnered her a multimedia empire and proved to girls and women everywhere that heart and smarts are what’s important.

Hillary Clinton
After Hillary Clinton spent eight years serving as First Lady, she went on to serve in the U.S. Senate, ran for president, and then became the U.S. Secretary of State. In no matter what capacity she was serving, the former first lady used her political platform and global presence to champion women’s rights. In 1995, she stood up at the World Conference on Women in Beijing and denounced the mistreatment of women around the world, from female infanticide, to forced abortion, to rape used as a military tactic. She famously proclaimed, “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

JK Rowling
JK Rowling created the most well-known trio in young adult literary history and enchanted children around the globe, all the while living a real life rags-to-incredible-riches story. With the Harry Potter series, Rowling made reading a fantastic journey that no one wanted to miss so even kids that had no interest in reading were spellbound. Watching children gobble up these giant 600+ page tomes is truly amazing. From the midnight bookstore parties to unprecedented numbers of first print runs, it was a publishing phenomenon that we will probably never see again in our lifetime.

Mia Hamm
When Mia Hamm and the other players on the U.S. Women’s World Cup team came onto the scene, they made girl’s soccer popular and cool. Their World Cup triumph made the world notice female athletes. Mia Hamm posters graced millions of girl’s bedroom walls, and girls saw that sports equal teamwork, friendship and solidarity.

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg is an engaging speaker and her passion for women in business is infectious. She is known for telling women to “lean in” to their careers and keep climbing the ladder, no matter what, because it is possible for women to lead and have a family. As COO of Facebook, the most popular and well-known company on the planet, we have to wonder how much higher her star can rise. Perhaps she’ll show us that the sky really isn’t the limit.

Kirsten Gillibrand
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand replaced Hillary Clinton as the junior democratic senator for New York in 2009 – a good fit since Gillibrand also has a passion for women’s rights and leadership, and tirelessly campaigns for more women to get involved in politics. A mother of two small children, she makes balancing a family and helping to run the country look easy. She represents women in a forum where there aren’t many women’s voices or perspective, reminding those in government what challenges half the workers in the U.S. and the majority of consumer decision makers face. Gillibrand, and the small number of other women in government, show girls that women can have an impact on how our country is run.

Annie Leonard
EcoSalon just interviewed Annie Leonard a month ago, and anyone who spends twenty years trotting the globe to find out where our trash goes earns the label of saint. In her Story of Stuff videos, Leonard boils complex topics down into simple examples using straightforward language that everyone can understand. Leonard also wants people to understand how empty materialism is and how much it harms the planet and walks the talk wherever she goes.

Melissa McCarthy
Finally the best friend character – the underdog – gets the glory. For once, it’s not the glamour girl, but the girl next door who is being recognized for her talent, her humor and her hard work. McCarthy, who stars on the sitcom Mike and Molly, spent years as the Gilmore Girls sidekick and broke out recently because of her show and women-centered comedy hit, Bridesmaids. Humor and personality should always win.

image credits: NJ State Library, David Shankbone, Alan Light, Marc Nozell, Beacon Radio, Global Sports Forum, JD Lasica, Freedom to Marry, The Story of Stuff, Audi USA, Kara Allyson

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.