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Blog Insight & Commentary

12 Women Thought Leaders We Love

Their stories are inspiring and so are their messages

Meredith Boe
Contributor

Ava DuVernay

Reading about other awesome people doing awesome things can be a great way to boost motivation if you find yourself falling asleep at your desk or dreaming about sipping a margarita somewhere warmer than wherever you are.

These 12 women are leading the charge with their original, bold ideas—and they’re inspiration enough to keep on keeping on.

1. Brené Brown

Brené Brown is becoming one of the most recognized female thought leaders in the nation after her New York Times bestselling books and TED Talks have inspired women to be courageous, thoughtful, and confident.

Instead of the dog-eat-dog mentality that many successful people boast about, she embraces and encourages vulnerability and using imperfections as starting points. She’s thus a leader who encourages acceptance of oneself.

2. Tarana Burke

You’ve probably heard that Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement, which has become a behemoth cultural phenomenon in the past couple of years. She’s a civil rights activist who first coined the term in 2006. 

She continues to act to fight against racial injustice and sexual violence and harassment. Follow her efforts on Twitter here.

3. Katya Andresen

Katya Andresen is another female thought leader we’re following. She’s the senior vice president of card customer experience at Capital One, and she’s written and spoken about topics such as The Secret Fears That Hold Back Women in the Workplace.

Andresen has a varied background in marketing, nonprofits, and journalism, and so far, she’s using her experience to push good forward and spread positive messages. Inc.com emphasized a leadership message she wrote on LinkedIn: “The only remedy to the fierce hunger to avoid mistakes is a fierce determination to forgive mistakes.”

4. Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert rose to fame after her book Eat, Pray, Love, a New York Times Bestseller that was also turned into a Julia Roberts movie. While there are varying opinions on the message of that book, Gilbert is inspiring in so many other ways it’s hard to keep track. 

Her TED Talks have inspired millions on topics about creativity, and she continues to write nonfiction books about creativity and novels that cover new, adventurous topics.

5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC) came into the limelight at just 29, when she was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Not only is she outspoken about issues and not interested in taking the backseat to men, she also was working as a bartender just shortly before she was elected into office. She posts bold tweets, like “A Girl Has No Name: Headlines from the Political Patriarchy,” in which she was referring to getting no name recognition about being Democrat Joe Crowley’s competitor.

Whatever way your political belief sways, AOC accomplished some big feats before reaching 30.

Read more: 10 Empowering Documentaries for Working Women 

7. Esther Perel

Esther Perel is a therapist, author, and speaker who discusses relationships and poses some interesting theories about adultery and finding happiness in partnerships. She wrote the popular book Mating in Captivity which discusses the “dichotomy of domesticity and sexual desire” according to her website, and had everyone talking about why monogamy is the default option for couples.

She also runs the podcast “Where Should We Begin?” has given TED Talks, and continues to question societal expectations on marriages and relationships.

8. Ava DuVernay

Ava Duvernay has an impressive track record of filmmaking, behind films like Selma. For that film, she became the first black woman to be nominated for the Best Director award at the Golden Globes. She was also the first black woman to win the directing award at the Sundance Film Festival, in the US dramatic competition in 2012. She then went on to direct the documentary 13th, which explored mass incarceration and the justice system in the U.S. 

DuVernay is undoubtedly a female thought leader to follow who is getting notice for creating art on difficult subjects. 

9. Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher is probably most well-known for her TED Talks about love and the way the brain works. She’s a biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, as well as the chief scientific advisor to Match.com

We think Fisher is pretty great because she uses her background in science to explain to the average person why certain things happen from a physiological standpoint when we experience love and other human emotions.

10. Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is creating a television empire (with her own production company called Shondaland). She rose to fame after creating Grey’s Anatomy and then Scandal, two hugely popular shows with female lead characters. She told the LA Times a few years ago: “It’d be nice to feel like we weren’t constantly having every discussion from the perspective of a white male.”

And Rhimes has certainly contributed to a movement in which that is exactly what’s happening, as female-driven shows and those about the minority experience are being created and popularized more and more. 

11. Arianna Huffington

The Huffington Post has become one of the go-to web resources for all things news and pop culture, competing with the major news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Behind the site is Arianna Huffington, who has herself written five books on topics ranging from corporate greed to third-world America to transforming your life via sleep. She’s also written books about success and passion. I’m one to believe her advice since, you know, her net worth is thought to be something like $50 million.

12. Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed became popular with adventure-seeking men and women after publication of her book Wild and the subsequent movie release starring Reese Witherspoon. Strayed didn’t just write about her hike through the mountains—she wrote about her struggles with things that aren’t easy to talk about, like cheating, sex, passion, and loss. 

Strayed continues to write memoirs and novels and used to run the podcast Dear Sugars, in which she and Steve Almond gave advice and shared new perspectives with those struggling. The episodes can still be downloaded, and in their New York Times column The Sweet Spot, they address similar topics.

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