This year will go down in history as one in which women took the greatest leaps forward while also suffering the biggest setbacks. In the U.S., we watched the first woman rise to the vice presidency and 2 million women leave the workforce. Globally, women lost $800 billion in income due to Covid-19, and many of those who held onto their paycheck juggled high-pressure jobs with remote schooling and caregiving. In short: It’s not an easy time to blaze new trails, and yet we need them more than ever.
Today, Adweek honors 35 women who are building a better future for everyone—against all odds and often because of them. These are founders, including our cover star Tracee Ellis Ross, who couldn’t find products they needed and made them. Media executives who had no role models who resembled them but advanced anyway. Creatives who saw how their talents could improve lives, and leaders who imagined more inclusive ways to work. They span marketing, media and tech, but they share a common core: These women are determined to change the future.
Our editorial staff and readers nominated hundreds of people for this list. (We received more than 400 via LinkedIn alone!) Our editors combed through all of their inspiring stories to bring you these trailblazing heroes. We hope you enjoy reading and sharing their stories. —Stephanie Paterik
Stephanie Nadi Olson
Founder, We Are Rosie
As a first-generation American and the first college grad in her multiracial, multilingual and multireligious family, Olson understands what it means to be overlooked and to face bias. “I’ve seen how we arbitrarily dole out privilege in the U.S.,” she says. “It’s given me a unique perspective to see how much untapped potential we have in corporate America when we continue to marginalize and underestimate certain groups of people, and I started We Are Rosie to level the playing field.” To that end, the flexible talent platform connects its deep and diverse pool of creative marketing talent with brands and agencies, getting them the skills they need while also developing and empowering professionals from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. Olson believes the key to creating a more inclusive industry is for leaders to “reconsider everything.” The pandemic gave businesses the opportunity to think about remote work as a form of inclusion, she says, and that includes accommodating parents, caregivers, veterans, people transitioning, people who have endured trauma and more. Olson advises all marketers seeking to uplift others and facilitate inclusion to speak authentically about their professional journeys. “People need more human stories, grounded in reality, and not a fake persona we’ve made for work,” she says. “You never know who your story will touch or heal.” —Jess Zafarris
Inspirational Trailblazer: “I heard the story of Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley a couple years ago and was gobsmacked at what she accomplished and how she went about it.” In 1962, Shirley kicked off a sweeping career as a tech and business leader by launching a company of primarily women freelance programmers, frequently using the pseudonym “Steve” because she found that letters bearing her name went unanswered.