In honour of International Women’s Day, we thought we’d take a look back at the pioneering women who paved their way as entrepreneurs and businesswomen – breaking down barriers, fighting discrimination and changing the world as they did so.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel revolutionised women’s fashion by eschewing the traditional style of suffocating corsets and extravagant dresses in favour of more masculine designs and materials. Women across the world soon adopted this simple, yet elegant design; the signature Chanel suit is the single most copied fashion in history. To this day, Chanel remains one of the most prestigious and revered fashion houses.
Madam C.J. Walker
One of the first female self-made millionaires in America, Madam C. J Walker made her fortune by creating a range of specialised products for African American hair. She travelled around the South promoting and selling her products, before opening a factory and beauty school. Her legacy lies not only in her innovation and sales capabilities but also in her philanthropy within the African American community.
Elizabeth Arden was a pioneer of women’s cosmetics. Historically, make-up and cosmetics were not associated with respectable women; Arden’s marketing campaign pushed to change society’s view of such products. She did so successfully, built an international empire, and today the company is estimated to be worth $1.3 billion.
While Tupperware was invented by Earl Tupper, it was Brownie Wise’s savvy, entrepreneurial marketing mind that made the product skyrocket. She started a Tupperware-selling business that revolved around Tupperware parties, where hostesses would demonstrate and sell the product to their social networks. These quickly became a huge phenomenon and in 1951, Tupper hired Wise as VP of Marketing, with her acting as the public face of the company.
When appointed to CEO of the Washington Post Company in 1972, Katharine Graham became the first-ever female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Throughout her career, she owned and published several news publications, including The Washington Post which became one of the country’s leading newspapers and was heavily involved in the investigation of Watergate. Graham also won the Pulitzer Prize for her autobiography later in her life.
Olive Ann Beech
Referred to as the First Lady of American aviation, Olive Ann Beech worked first as secretary-treasurer and then as president and chairman of Beech Aircraft Corporation. Manufacturing both business and military airplanes, the company experienced significant growth during WWII, with Beech playing a central role.
This American inventor and co-founder of toy company Mattel is best known for the Barbie doll (named after her daughter Barbara). In the 1950s, Handler saw a gap in the market for a more realistic doll that looked like an adult rather than a baby. Barbie quickly became an icon; it’s estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney
Eliza Lucas Pinckney was an agriculturalist in colonial South Carolina who developed indigo and sold it as dye for the growing textile industry in the mid-1700s. From cultivating and improving its production to selling it to manufacturing mills in England, Pinckney built an industry that sustained South Carolina’s economy for over 30 years. In 1989, she became the first woman to be inducted in the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame.
A mathematician and computer scientist, Annie Easley began working at NASA in 1955. During her 34-year long career she contributed to numerous programmes, from alternative power technology to rocket science. As an African American woman in the 50s, she overcame life-long racial discrimination and sexism and broke down barriers for women in STEM.
Muriel Siebert, known as the First Lady of Wall Street, made history by becoming the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967. Starting off as an entry-level research analyst, she worked her way up to partner before finally being elected to a seat. To this day, her firm is the only national, female-owned brokerage firm on the exchange.
Now we’re looking for the female entrepreneurs of the future. If you’re ready to take the leap and build your own recruitment business or want to scale your current business to achieve the next level of growth, find out what Recruitment Entrepreneur can offer you here.