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6 Phenomenal Women Who Shook Up Their Industries

They fought, sometimes literally, for their rightful place in male-dominated fields

Diana Pressey
Contributor

glass ceiling

Even with our ever-diversifying workforce, boys’ club culture is more common than you may think. In a survey of 1,500 women, InHerSight found that 54.1 percent say they have worked at a company dominated by men. For women in those environments, the going can be tough. They can feel ostracized, and they might be expected to prove themselves more so than their male counterparts. 

Frankly, that’s exhausting and a little bit depressing, so we compiled a list of women who’ve been there, done better.

The below women come from a variety of industries and backgrounds, but there’s one thing they have in common: They all challenged the status quo by taking risks, pursuing their passions, and following their instincts. These incredible women were or have been disruptors in industries dominated by men—and for that reason, we celebrate them. 

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1. Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, MPA

Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Columbia professor and Global Health Initiative director Wafaa El-Sadr is, in short, a public health superhero. She witnessed the beginning of the AIDS epidemic when she emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt in 1976 and has dedicated her career to treating and preventing it ever since. As the founder and director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, now called ICAP at Columbia University, El-Sadr researches and addresses HIV, women's and children's health, tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases, and other such critical issues at 5,000-plus locations in more than 30 countries. It’s no wonder Rolling Stone named her one of the “100 People Who Are Changing America.”

2. Grace Hopper

U.S. Navy

It’s impossible to talk about women making waves in male spaces without bringing up Grace Hopper. A U.S. Navy rear admiral and one of the first programmers to work on IBM’s Harvard Mark I computer, Hopper paved the way for women in computing. Not only did she invent the first program linker, which converts code to machine language, but she also revolutionized programming languages with new ideas. Her idea that programs could be written in a language similar to English was widely rejected in computing spaces, but she proved her critics wrong by helping the UNIVAC-I computer successfully process 20 English statements. To add insult to injury, she then went on to invent a machine-independent programming language that ultimately became COBOL, which is still popular among coders today.

3. Candice Morgan

Pinterest

Candice Morgan is the first-ever Head of Inclusion and Diversity at Pinterest. Like many other Silicon Valley companies, Pinterest has faced issues with diversity (or lack thereof). When employee Tracy Chou called out tech companies for the lack of women in engineering roles and requested hard data, Pinterest pledged to do better. Morgan has made quantifiable strides in diversifying hiring since she was brought on in 2016 by organizing programs that entail visits to diverse universities, training hiring teams to recruit from more diverse pools, and building an apprenticeship programs for software engineers with nontraditional backgrounds. Pinterest acknowledges it has a long way to go and that diversity is a work in progress—a transparent, strategically sound, and effective approach that Morgan has proved integral in shaping.

Read more: A Brief History of Unequal Pay in Women's Sports

4. Ronda Rousey

WWE

Ronda Rousey is known for breaking barriers and setting records. She was the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in Judo in the 2008 Olympics, the first woman to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, and UFC’s first female champion. She fought Liz Carmouche in UFC’s first women’s fight and is the only female athlete to have won a championship in both the UFC and WWE. She has set the record of six UFC title defenses—the most ever held by a woman in UFC history—and held WWE’s Raw Women’s Champion title for 232 days in a row, a record in WWE history.

5. Shafi Goldwasser

Weizzman Institute of Science, Duality Technologies

A veritable security queen, Shafi Goldwasser laid the foundation for cryptography. In other words, she’s one of the key reasons why information and communications can be encrypted or protected by codes that only allow designated recipients to receive them. She and her partner Silvio Micali won the Turing award, the highest computer science award, in 2012 for their cryptography work, which led to the Goldwasser-Micali encryption that proves security based on hard math. Goldwasser is one of three women to have ever won the award. She and her partner also developed zero knowledge proofs that prove truth via cryptography without revealing unwanted information— proofs that are now used in e-voting to verify facts without compromising anonymity. 

6. Mary Barra

General Motors

In 2014, Mary Barra became the first female CEO of an international auto company. She started from the bottom in an inspection position and worked her way up to the top as chairman and CEO of General Motors. During her tenure, the company has dealt with a number of safety recalls, but Barra has facilitated constructive change by instating policies that motivate employees to report defects. She also ensured that GM produced the first electric car under $40,000 with a 200-mile range and has spearheaded several acquisitions in the driverless car technology space. Barra has been listed several times on Forbes' and Fortune's "most powerful women" lists and is the highest paid Detroit Three executive.

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