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civil rights movement

5 Unsung Civil Rights Movement’s women activists you should know 

This year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we want to celebrate some of the incredible but unsung women activists of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The contributions and efforts of women in the Civil Rights Movement have often been overlooked and overshadowed by men. Even today, the mainstream historical narrative of the Civil Rights Movement primarily focuses on the efforts of men in the movement and minimizes the contributions of women. 

Within mainstream narratives, women such as Rosa Parks have been “reduced to limited images of obedient femininity, or “accidental” matriarchs.” The typical story most children learn in school about Rosa Parks is that she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus. The narrative often depicts Rosa Parks as a random woman who simply decided to do this one day. In reality, Rosa Parks was an activist and member of the NAACP for many years prior. 

Like Rosa Parks, the portrayals of women in the Civil Rights Movement as “accidental” matriarchs work to diminish the impact of their activism. Instead of being seen as active participants, the mainstream historical narrative reduced the efforts of Black women as “passive and unassuming.” 

However, Black women were certainly not passive participants. They played active critical roles throughout the Civil Rights Movement, from leading local civil rights organizations to serving as lawyers on school segregation lawsuits. African American women operated as local leaders in many areas, bridging the gap between national and local grassroots organizations. 

Women of the Civil Rights Movement 

Coretta Scott King 

Activist Coretta Scott King, 1964. (Source: Wiki Commons)

Coretta Scott King is most famously known as Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife. However, her activism began long before her marriage and extended beyond her husband’s death. In her activism, she also voiced her experiences with sexism within the Civil Rights Movement stating, 

“Not enough attention has been focused on the roles played by women in the struggle. By and large, men have formed the leadership in the civil rights struggle but there have been many women in leading roles and many women in the background. Women have been the backbone of the whole civil rights movement…Women have been the ones who have made it possible for the movement to be a mass movement…”

Additionally, we would not have this day to celebrate if it weren’t for the consistent efforts by Coretta who lobbied for 15 years to help establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. 

Without Coretta, the iconic Montgomery bus boycott likely would not have happened. After the King’s home was bombed in 1956, the family pleaded with Coretta to leave Montgomery. She refused, choosing to remain by her husband’s side. If Coretta had left, her husband said he would have followed, and the Montgomery bus boycott may never have happened. 

Dorothy Cotton 

Activist Dorothy Cotton. (Source: Dorothy Cotton Institute)

Dorothy Cotton was a leader and activist who was recruited by King to work at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. She originally planned to stay for only three months, but ended up staying for 23 years.

She went on to serve as the conference’s national director of education and was the only female member of the executive staff. As the SCLC’s Educational Director, she was arguably the highest ranked female member of the organization. While working with the conference, she helped train activists in nonviolent action.

One of her biggest achievements within the movement was establishing the Citizen Education Program, a program to help blacks register to vote. The program also helped teach community and individual empowerment. 

In her autobiography, she wrote, “our work with SCLC was not just a job, it was a life commitment.”

Dorothy has also been credited with typing the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in a hotel room in Washington. 

Jo Ann Robinson 

Civil Rights Activist and teacher, Jo Ann Robinson. (Source: Wiki Commons)

Jo Ann Robinson was a college professor and the first person in her family to graduate from college. She is known and remembered as the woman who orchestrated the famous Montgomery bus boycott after she was degraded by a bus driver for sitting in the “whites only” section. 

Later, she became president of the Women’s Political Council in Montgomery and made it a priority to desegregate the city’s buses. She led the Montgomery bus boycott becoming a key player behind the scenes and faced arrest, violence, and intimidation for her activism. 

Later, in her memoir, she reflected on the bus boycott and wrote, “An oppressed but brave people, whose pride and dignity rose to the occasion, conquered fear, and faced whatever perils had to be confronted. The boycott was the most beautiful memory that all of us who participated will carry to our final resting place”

King also praised her work in his own memoir stating, “Apparently indefatigable, she, perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.”

Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons 

Civil Rights leader, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. (Source: crmvet.org)

Gwendolyn “Gwen” Zoharah Simmons first became involved with the Civil Rights Movement when she joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) after hearing a speech by Dr. King. She was later one of three women chosen to be a field director for the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, which aimed to establish “Freedom Schools” and increase black voter registration.  

Through her work within the organization, she organized twenty-three volunteers who built Freedom Schools and a library, conducted a literacy program and mock voter registration project, and rallied for integration of local restaurants and schools. 

Like many other women in the Civil Rights Movement, Gwen was also vocal about gender inequality and fought for women’s rights as well. Sharing her experiences with gender inequality as a woman leader she said, 

“I often had to struggle around issues related to a woman being a project director.  We had to fight for the resources, you know.  We had to fight to get a good car because the guys would get first dibs on everything, and that wasn’t fair…it was a struggle to be taken seriously by the leadership, as well as by your male colleagues.”

Dorothy I. Height 

Activist and leader, Dorothy I. Height. (Source: nsp.gov)

Dorothy I. Height’s political activism began in high school when she began participating in anti-lynching campaigns. When she was set to begin college, Dorothy was met with roadblocks due to her race. She was accepted to Barnard College in New York, however, the college later changed its mind and refused to admit her, stating that they had met their “quota” for black female students. 

These early experiences with racism motivated her activism. She later attended New York University where she earned two degrees in four years, a Bachelor’s in education and a Master’s in psychology. 

Dorothy’s achievements only continued as she ascended to the presidency of the National Council for Negro Women, a position she held from 1957-1998. As an activist within the Civil Rights Movement, one of her crowning achievements was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Dorothy helped organize the march and stood close to King as he delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. However, the experience was an eye-opener for Dorothy in which she saw how women’s contributions were brushed aside. Despite her skills as a speaker and leader, she was not given the opportunity to speak that day. 

Of the experience she said, her male counterparts “were happy to include women in the human family, but there was no question as to who headed the household.” 

Despite the lack of recognition, Dorothy continued her activism and went on to serve as a leader in various organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), serving as their National Interracial Education Secretary in the 1940s and the first director of its Center of Racial Justice in 1955. Dorothy also helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus and has received many honors for her contributions such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was awarded to her in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. 

Celebrating our 12 Leaders of 2021

As another year comes to a close we at Latinas in Business look back on the inspiring stories of our 2021 Leaders. Each month of the year we have featured one woman leader from our Latinas in Business community who is inspiring, pushing boundaries, and setting leadership examples. 

Each one of these women has shared with us their wisdom and their journeys, showing us that success does not happen overnight; it’s often a bumpy road, but with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.  

See below to learn a little bit about each of our 2021 Leaders and check out their individual feature articles to read their whole stories and learn from their journeys as entrepreneurs, business owners, and career driven women. 

Latina Leader

Leader of January: Claudia Vazquez 

In January, Claudia Vazquez shared her career journey with us. As a bilingual and bicultural Latina Leader with over 20 years experience in the insurance and benefits industry, her work is dedicated to diversity and inclusion, education, and uplifting the voices of women and Hispanics in the marketplace. Currently she serves as a Director of Product Management within Prudential’s Group Insurance Customer Solutions Unit where she leads the Business Resolution Team. In addition to her work at Prudential, she also serves as a Board Trustee of BRICK – Achieve Community Charter School, which services elementary children. 

2021 Leader

Leader of February: Maria Elena Noel-Vaeza

In February, we learned from Maria Elena Noel-Vaeza about how the UN is working to help women around the world. Maria-Noel is the Regional Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean. A Uruguayan native, she holds a doctorate in Law and Social Sciences from the University of the Republic of Uruguay and a master’s degree in public policy from John Hopkins University in Washington DC. Prior to this role, Maria-Noel served as Director of the Program Division at UN Women headquarters in New York. She has also served as Political Counselor at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington DC and delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. 

Leader of March: Damaris Diaz 

The charismatic Damaris Diaz shared pandemic stories with us this past March. As the host of Univision’s Despierta America, she had the opportunity to speak to individuals about their pandemic experience and shared with us her own insights and lessons learned. In addition to television host, Damaris is an accomplished multicultural and bi-lingual Marketing Media Professional, broadcast correspondent, and TV personality. Damaris has received two Emmy nominations and many special recognitions from diverse organizations. Throughout her career, Damaris has interviewed a long list of Hollywood stars such as Mick Jagger, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, and Rita Moreno as well as world-renowned singers/performers like Marc Anthony and Celia Cruz among others.

2021 Leader

Leader of April: Dr. Harbeen Arora 

In April, thought leader, businesswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, author, spiritual seeker and speaker, Dr. Harbeen Arora showed us how she manifests multifaceted leadership with strength & simplicity. Founder and Global Chairperson of the ALL Ladies League (ALL) and Women Economic Forum (WEF), she is a global leader for women. A powerful global network of 200,000 women worldwide and growing toward ‘Mission Million’, ALL and WEF are among the largest communities of women entrepreneurs and leaders worldwide offering platforms and ecosystems for personal and professional growth.

Ivana Sedia

Leader of May: Ivana Sedia 

In May, we learned from Ivana Sedia about how her company, Unida Translation, is helping people connect and transcend borders. Unida Translation delivers both spoken and written word translation services in over 125 languages for projects in the certified, legal, government, medical, and technical fields. Ivana’s business grew out of a hobby and passion for translation and language learning. With experience with writing in Spanish and English and working for the government by assisting non-English speaking immigrants, an MBA in management, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, International Relations and Diplomacy with a minor in Italian, Ivana taught Spanish and Italian lessons. She then decided to use her language skills to help transcend borders for businesses and organizations in need of translation services.

Latina Leader

Leader of June: Alice Rodriguez 

With over 30 years of extensive banking experience at JP Morgan Chase and positions in business banking, consumer banking, Alice Rodriguez serves a leading role in community engagement initiatives and localization strategies. Alice shared her story of overcoming obstacles to succeed during the 2021 Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit as Keynote Speaker. During her Keynote speech, Alice shared how her mother was a big influence and inspiration growing up. She reminded us that, “Behind every great woman there is another great woman,” and the importance of having women mentors and leaders to look up to. See her full speaker highlights and advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in her full feature article.

Latina Leader of te month

Leader of July: Natalie Diaz 

In July, Pulitzer Award-winning poet, Natalie Diaz, shared her experiences as a Latina and Native American woman in her book Postcolonial Love PoemBorn in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, Natalie now lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, where she is a professor at Arizona State University. She is also actively involved in the preservation of the Mojave language, working with the few remaining elder speakers of the language in an effort to revitalize the language and prevent its erasure. Natalie described her book as “a constellation, able to pool a lot of different communities together….We’re all fighting for this Earth, for one another against injustice.”

Latina athletes, Tokyo Olympic Games

Leader of August: Jasmine Camacho-Quinn

During the Olympics this past summer, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn broke records winning Gold in the women’s 100m Hurdles final. The 24-year-old athlete finished in 12.37 seconds, winning by .15 seconds.

Jasmine’s win marked Puerto Rico’s second ever gold medal and she became the first Puerto Rican of Afro-Latina descent in history to win gold while representing Puerto Rico. 

She is a role model and inspiration to all young Puerto Rican girls, especially young Latina athletes aspiring to follow in Jasmine’s footsteps. Her win showed Latinas athletes everywhere that they too can be Olympic Gold Medalists too. 

Rosita Hurtado

Leader of September: Rosita Hurtado

Our 2021 Leader of September, showed us how a childhood passion can become a successful design export. Rosita Hurtado is a fashion designer and entrepreneur who’s known for creating the fashion brand Rosita Hurtado and Rosita Hurtado Bridal. She is also the founder of Rosita Hurtado Menswear, Ixoye, Rosita Hurtado Shoes, and the perfume La Rose by Rosita Hurtado.

An accomplished designer with a career spanning 37 years, her work has been featured across the globe at events such as New York Fashion Week, Miami Fashion Week, and Los Angeles Fashion Week, and more and worn by stars such as  Eva Longoria, Lucia Mendez, Lupita Ferrer, Gloria Trevi, and Ximena Duque.

Leader of October: Marcela Berland 

In October, Marcela Berland shared her career journey and how a quest for longer maternity leave in the 90s lead her to a successful career working remotely from home before it was popular. Marcela is the President and CEO of Latin Insights, a strategic communications firm  that focuses on the Latino market and Latin America. LI bases their strategies on research and digital and AI tools and develops digital and marketing strategies to help clients achieve their goals.

After over 20 years, Marcela’s venture has become a success. She now serves a variety of clients that include political candidates and heads of state, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. As a successful Latina, she is also often the only woman in the room when working with Presidents and political candidates in Latin America.

Lucy Pinto, Latina Leader

Leader of November: Lucy Pinto 

Our 2021 Leader of November showed us how technology at Google is working to close the digital divide for minority small business owners and underserved communities. Lucy Pinto is the Manager of the Grow with Google Digital Coaches Program which works to level the field for communities who face digital divides and barriers to resources needed to grow online. The program delivers free digital skills training for U.S. Black & Latino small businesses and has trained over 80,000 businesses on digital tools to help them succeed.

Throughout Lucy’s 9 years with Google and prior, she has strived to create inclusive outcomes for communities who lack access to opportunities. This passion has guided her journey personally and professionally, stemming from her identity as a Peruvian immigrant who came to the U.S. at eight years old and became a first gen college graduate in her family.

2021 Leader

Leader of December: Evelyn Padin

Finally,  Evelyn Padin’s story showed us the power of diversity in the legal world. Evelyn Padin is a Seton Hall Law Alumnus, Class of ’92, a former social worker, and a trustee of the Hispanic Bar Association. Additionally, she is a successful entrepreneur who runs her own family law and civil litigation practice in Jersey City. In November of this year she was nominated by President Biden  to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge in New Jersey. This pick continues Biden’s pledge to appoint more diverse individuals to high level positions.

Continuing a line of historic strides forward for women of color in government positions, Padin is the second Latina to be nominated to this esteemed bench since the Honorable Esther Salas, U.S.D.J., former HBA-NJ President, was nominated over a decade ago.

woman entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurs thrive managing talented teams and balancing many investors

Richard A. Devine, of DePaul University and Siri Terjesen, Dean’s Distinguished Professor in Entrepreneurship at Florida Atlantic University share data that shows how women entrepreneurs thrive in business and leadership. 

Only a handful of the top companies in the U.S. are led by a woman.

Efforts to change that and promote more women into positions of leadership have relied primarily on questions of equality. But is there also a business case for putting more women in charge?

Previous research on differences in leadership styles between men and women has suggested the latter make decisions using more collaborative and relational methods, which enables them to better manage a range of groups and resources. But it wasn’t able to show whether this actually led to better results.

Thanks to a study we co-authored in 2019, we have data that shows women-led businesses, in certain scenarios, do indeed perform better than those run by men.

The case for female leadership

Our research, conducted with colleagues Gonzalo Molina-Sieiro and Michael Holmes, focused on entrepreneurs trying to grow their nascent companies quickly.

We began with the results of the Kauffman Firm Survey, which tracked 4,928 companies founded in 2004 by conducting annual surveys through 2011. The database includes lots of information critical to understanding what factors influence performance, including revenue, employees and intellectual property. For our purposes, it also includes many details about the main entrepreneur and top managers behind the venture, including education, experience and gender.

Most entrepreneurs run small operations with few employees and little desire to grow much. A small share, however, lead what we call “high-growth ventures,” which are often defined as companies that experience annualized employment growth of 20% or more during a three-year period.

These companies are a significant engine of economic activity, producing millions of jobs a year in the United States alone and are responsible for a majority of new jobs created in the U.S. over the last several decades.

For our purposes, we defined a high-growth venture as among the top 10% of all entrepreneurial businesses in our sample in terms of employee growth in any given year. While the majority of these were led by a male entrepreneur, about a quarter were run by a woman.

women entrepreneurs, team-work,

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

Collaborative management styles

In our research, we started by comparing how female-led companies performed in terms of employee growth versus those helmed by men.

In preliminary analyses we found that, overall, a female-led business was less likely to experience high growth. However, we knew that there was more to the story since other research has indicated the strengths they bring to organizations.

Given what we know about female leaders’ collaborative and relational know-how, we developed a theory that they should be particularly skilled at leveraging the talents of senior executives and managers. For example, many female leaders argue building relationships with employees helps create win-win scenarios where employees feel valued, which also helps them avoid the double bind of appearing too authoritative.

So we examined two markers of human capital and management talent: the number of top managers with a college degree or higher and how many had previous entrepreneurial experience.

The results were clear: Female-led companies with more educated managers were more likely to attain high employment growth than male peers with a management team with similar levels of experience.

Levels of entrepreneurial experience, on the other hand, didn’t make a difference for high growth.

Investors and capital

We also looked at two other variables: the number of ownership stakes and financial capital.

An important way companies grow is by raising funds. To do so, they often trade equity in the business for financial support. But giving investors a say on internal decisions like management and strategy can lead to conflict and division. It can also upset the balance of power among top managers.

An interesting finding from our research, however, is that female-led companies were more likely to hire rapidly and grow when there were more top managers or investors who held ownership stakes in the company. Research has shown that female leaders often excel at managing conflict, which helps explain our results.

As for capital, much has been written about the struggle women entrepreneurs face obtaining financing for their startups. But when they finally do secure financial capital, how do they fare?

To find out, we looked only at companies in our database that had received financial support from a venture capital firm. Again, we found that companies led by a woman experienced stronger hiring growth than those that had a man in charge.

Other research has found that female entrepreneurs do more with less and are able to generate more revenue per funds invested than their male counterparts.

Utilizing women’s skills and experience

The point of our study is not to show that female-led companies – high growth or not – perform better than men.

Rather, our research suggests that women do bring valuable and unique skills and experience to the table that can make a significant difference to business success. Yet, given so few companies are run by women, their skills and experiences are not fully utilized.

There are many well-known ways to help fix this, of course, such as implementing better family leave policies that are friendly to women staying in their careers, setting up development programs aimed at encouraging female entrepreneurs and finding ways to improve their access to financial capital – to name just a few.

Giving more opportunities to women entrepreneurs isn’t just good for them. It can be good for the entire economy.The Conversation

You might be interested: Gender washing: seven kinds of marketing hypocrisy about empowering women


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, 2021 Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn supports Latina entrepreneurs at 2021 WEES 

Latinas in Business is honored to welcome Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn as a guest speaker at tonight’s 2020 – 2021 Latina Leaders Awards Ceremony as part of the THRIVE! 2021 Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit. 

Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, 2021 Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit

Assemblywoman, Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn

Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn is the Assemblymember and State Committee Woman/District Leader for New York State’s 42nd Assembly District representing Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood and Ditmas Park in Brooklyn. She is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), which serves to promote economic diversity in New York State.

A champion for small minority and women owned businesses

Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn is an accomplished leader, a former Wall Street banker, engineer and small business owner who has leveraged her experience in the free market to push public-private partnership initiatives across the state. She has sponsored legislation in the Assembly which reauthorized the MWBE program for five more years under article 15-A; raised the personal net worth cap for MWBE applicants from $3.5 million to $15 million, making more businesses eligible for the MWBE program; increased discretionary purchasing thresholds from $200,000 to $500,000; and created mentorship/workforce development programs as well as a pilot program that expands contracting opportunities for small/MWBE businesses with a total value of up to $20 million. Bichotte Hermelyn has established relationships with the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS), Dept. of Design and Construction (DDC), School Construction Authority (SCA) and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY); and all have set MWBE hiring goals. 

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, surrounded by fellow Assemblymembers and members of the Women’s Builders Council, speaks about MWBE legislation and opportunities that exist for women. December 6, 2017 (Image source)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she championed bills to jump start the economy and improve equity for minority and women-owned small business owners. Bichotte Hermelyn hosted a webinar and participated in several panels with MWBE stakeholders to help them navigate the Coronavirus crisis and access resources, including grants and loans, and helped with strategies to reduce the spread of the virus. She provides annually, a platform that promotes networking, education, and resources for existing or potential MWBEs through a series of workshops at the National Association of Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Conference. Under her leadership, the number of certified MWBE firms in New York State has more than doubled. The state has also set a goal of utilizing MWBEs for 30% of all state contracts, the highest rate in the nation. 

Her lifelong commitment to public service

Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn is also incredibly committed to public service. Since her election in 2010 as District Leader, she has used her position to facilitate and sponsor a number of community events in Flatbush, such as the first voter’s forum, which promoted fair elections, voters rights and voting demonstrations with the Board of Elections; the largest candidate forum in Brooklyn; annual senior luncheons; safe streets initiatives; and the largest Brooklyn funding forum to help non-profits learn how to access government funding.

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and other community members gather together for a food distribution at the Flatbush Garden Community Center, June 12, 2020. (Image source)

Her advocacy centers on providing resources on affordable housing and home ownership, financial literacy of her communities, public safety initiatives and better relationships with law enforcement, affordable healthcare, high-quality public and private education, and economic development, especially for individuals seeking to open small businesses. She has lobbied in New York City, Albany and Washington as a District Leader for affordable housing and healthcare, against cuts for special education programs, an increase in the minimum wage, and growth in the small businesses and tech sector.

Now in her fourth term, it is Bichotte Hermelyn’s mission to continue to help those underrepresented and underserved in the business world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, gain access to capital, access mentorship programs and business networks, and get opportunities to develop their business skills.

2021 WEES

Last chance to REGISTER for today’s must-attend event for all entrepreneurs, business owners, and career oriented professionals. Get the tools you need to THRIVE! post-pandemic.

Professionally, Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn has worked in a number of different capacities such as a New York Math teacher in the public school education system; an engineer in the telecommunications industry where she traveled to Japan and China on assignments; and an investment banker in the financial services industry structuring corporate finance deals. Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn was an MIT Fellow: Mel King Co-Lab Project. She earned and holds an MBA from Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, an MS in Electrical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, a BS in Electrical Engineering from SUNY Buffalo, a BS in Mathematics in Secondary Education and a BT in Electrical Engineering both from Buffalo State College.

women in charge

Women in Charge: An ongoing human quest for equity

Pilar Avila and Ashley Hayes of Renovad discuss the role of women in leadership throughout history and today in the ongoing human quest for equity. 

As we organize our upcoming Renovad retreat in Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa in Costa Rica, co-hosted by Latinas in Business, we cannot help but notice the variety of leadership roles held by our group of women travelers from the U.S., and the wide representation of industries and sectors. Their roles range from chief executive officer to president, founder, doctor and director; they are entrepreneurs, corporate, and foundation executives – they are leading and effecting change in the world. 

Ocean Tree at parque Nacional Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. (Photo by Luiz Cent on Unsplash)

Coincidentally, when researching about matriarchal societies, at the top of the list is a small indigenous society called the Bribrí, in Costa Rica. The Bribrí culture is matrilineal, meaning that women inherit the family property, generating great respect for those women in charge. It feels that we are literally heading in the right direction. 

Looking back at world history, we are normally directed towards learning about the great patriarchal societies of the Byzantine and Roman empires. During ancient times in most of Greece, women were separated from men and were not permitted to participate in government or appear in public. The gender separation was so stringent, that men even played female roles on stage. 

By contrast, in Sparta, women were seen as equal to men. Spartans believed strong intelligent women would bear strong intelligent children, therefore, women were educated and trained to fight. 

Spartan running girl. (Caeciliusinhorto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

An extraordinary example of matriarchal societies in Mesoamerica, Mayan women were highly regarded for their ability to bear children. They were also as equally active as men in farming and leaders in political and economic discussions. 

Women in charge

As we consider the role of women in charge around the world today, there are some who continue to ponder why nations led by women have been most effective in reducing the coronavirus spread and protecting lives during the ongoing global pandemic. 

Women in charge, women in leadership

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern (Ministry of Justice of New Zealand, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been successful at eradicating the virus through stringent life-saving lockdown measures. President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen has led one of the most successful efforts in the globe to contain the virus through testing, tracing and isolation measures.

Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, leads the country with a coalition of four female-led parties and the nation is coping far better than its neighboring Nordic countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has not only been successful at navigating the epidemic and faring much better than most European and world nations, but she has dominated the political scene in Germany for the last 16 years.

There may be some answers in the findings of a study conducted by researchers at Lehigh University, Maastricht University in the Netherlands and University of Antwerp in Belgium. It found that institutions seek more change and less risk when women are in top management teams. 

Women in charge of making company decisions are more likely to look beyond the decision and also take into consideration the effect on company performance. Having women in top management positions is the best way to not only diversify perspectives but also to diversify outcomes.

Women leading the country

The U.S. political stage looked like never before during the recent and first address to the nation by President Joe Biden since his election last November. Two women were behind the Presidential podium, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, serving in this role since 2019, and previously 2007-2011, while serving as representative since 1987. 

women in charge

VP Harris joins the 2021 JSOC with Speaker Pelosi and President Biden. (Office of Vice President of the United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

It is indisputable that in the nation that denied women the right to vote until the 19th Amendment of the Constitution in 1920, women today are rising to leadership across every sector, industry, and geography in the land. 

Although we believe we are heading in the right direction, we do not intend to suggest that the right direction is a world dominated by women in charge, but a world where all humans, regardless of gender, can learn, grow, lead, thrive, and live free. And as such, we continue to take steps towards equity for all. 

About the authors:

Pilar Avila is founder of interductus | Renovad, a change management firm providing business advisory to institutions, and professional development and wellness to global leaders. Over the last three decades, Pilar has provided leadership at institutions across the private equity, hospitality, and nonprofit sectors, earning a strong reputation as a business and civic change leader. She is regarded as a strategic, innovative, multidisciplinary, results-oriented change agent passionate about the rise of diverse leadership, promoting equal access to economic opportunity and investing in education. 

Ashley Hayes is the director of global operations and programs at interductus | Renovad. As such, Ashley’s goal is to promote diversity and equality while also helping to embolden and elevate global leaders to success – whether it be in wellness, intellectually, professionally, or in their philanthropic endeavors. She is committed to magnifying the capacity and impact of current and emerging generations of leaders around the globe.

Dr. Harbeen Arora

Dr. Harbeen Arora on Sisterhood, Spirituality, and Success

Thought Leader, Global Icon & Visionary for Women, Businesswoman, Philanthropist, Humanitarian, Author, Spiritual Seeker and Compelling Speaker, Dr. Harbeen Arora manifests multifaceted leadership with strength & simplicity.

Dr. Harbeen Arora

At Annual Women Economic Forum (WEF) 2018, India (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

Dr. Harbeen Arora is the Founder and Global Chairperson of the ALL Ladies League (ALL) and Women Economic Forum (WEF). With a powerful global network of 200,000 women worldwide and growing toward ‘Mission Million’, ALL and WEF are among the largest communities of women entrepreneurs and leaders worldwide offering platforms and ecosystems for personal and professional growth. 

Born in New Delhi, Arora grew up with a great focus on education, values, and the spirit of service. Both her parents worked so growing up she always knew a woman to be independent.

“At home, I saw them both share the household chores. So we saw that balance in action, and we too, my brother and I, learned about responsibility, independence and teamwork from an early age. We were both treated equally without any one of us feeling any gender bias. We had the same rules to follow at home and same opportunities for education and growth,” says Arora. 

It was due to this great foundation of equality in her household that it took her a while to understand the depths of discriminatory biases that held women back in the economy and society. However, once she saw them she could not stop seeing them everywhere. Realizing that her upbringing was unfortunately not the norm for most women drove Arora to pursue various avenues to help better the lives of women and push toward gender equality.

Self-fulfillment and following seeking your life’s path

Additionally, the values learned in childhood – hard work, team spirit, responsibility, service; have served her immensely in her career and in life. 

“I also learned en route about the importance of having endless reserves of positive energy and resilience,” she says. “My spiritual path greatly opened up that possibility for me.”  

Always a seeker, the core of Dr. Harbeen Arora’s pursuits, both personal and professional, is self-fulfillment.   Learning, evolution, expansion and self-transformation are important life goals for her, and these goals guide and drive most of her pursuits. 

Dr. Harbeen Arora

At Women Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 Los Angeles (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

“The path reveals itself to the seeker. No matter where you are in your journey, if you have an open mind and pure heart, life will place you on the track you are supposed to be on for your own growth and awakening. When we listen to our inner voice, follow our intuitive guidance, take actions and steps forward on our path, we also meet our destiny en route,” says Arora. 

“I have always been most passionate about working and learning. Goals and dreams may change, but what I enjoy most is the learning part of it. Learning, working and walking in purpose greatly uplifts you as a human being. That constant opening up of the mind, broadening of horizons, change of perspective, spiritual expansion and blossoming of the energy – all these are very important to me and drive me as a person,” she adds. 

Empowering a worldwide network of women 

Dr. Harbeen Arora’s passion for learning drove her to pursue degrees in multiple fields. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Delhi University, a Masters from King’s College, London University and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and PhD from Sorbonne Nouvelle, University of Paris III. 

Throughout her years pursuing her education and later in her career, Arora again and again experienced great revelations about the strengths we each hold. 

“In 2000, going to Paris for my M.Phil and PhD, without knowing a word of French, and then writing my doctoral theses in French, was a revelation to me of the immense inner strength we hold to accomplish whatever we set our heart and mind on. It greatly built my self-belief, spirit of risk-taking, and self-reliance,” she shares. 

Receiving Award for Women Empowerment from the H.E President of Egypt. (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

“Then again, in 2011, we sowed the seeds of a dream to unite ALL the women of the world as a worldwide web of women. We started the ALL Ladies League (ALL), that forms the backbone of our now famous conference platform, the Women Economic Forum (WEF), and then instituted business and industry chamber Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (WICCI) that gives policy recommendations to the government from time to time, and now our global e-commerce marketplace for our global community, SHEconomy.” 

As of 2020, the Women Economic Forum (WEF) completed 41 global editions across 25 countries. Their last annual event was in March 2020 in Egypt. Since the lockdown the WEF has held their events virtually, which has given them the opportunity to expand their digital reach. 

“We have a Mission Million for 2022 and the digital outreach is, now more than ever, integral to the realisation of that vision. Our completely free e-commerce platform for women entrepreneurs worldwide, SHEconomy, is a game changer in this direction,” says Arora. 

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In ALL’s decade-long engagement, they have fostered a worldwide ecosystem of “sisterhood,” for empowering support networks and safe spaces where women can come together to help one another. Arora says, “Empowering women’s social and economic leadership is at the heart of ALL what we do. We are non political, non religious and non dogmatic.” 

Sisterhood, Spirituality, and Success 

With a massive network of 250,000 women and supporters connected worldwide including in Latin America, the WEF are surely and steadily on their way toward realizing their “Mission Million” dream. 

“It helps that we are founded and headquartered in India, the cradle of civilization that has forever welcomed and embraced ALL, with a most inclusive vision for humanity and the world as ‘One Divine Family,’ as said in the Vedic phrase ‘Vasudeva Kutumbkam’,” says Arora. “Our guiding spiritual mantra is ‘Love ALL, Serve ALL.’ I’m a devotee of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and I strongly feel a divine hand and guidance. I’m in absolute awe of what is unfolding for I know the divine feminine is manifesting through this bond of sisterhood, through each one of us who carries a piece and part of the greater feminine.” 

Fostering the spirit of sisterhood is a crucial step toward closing the gender gap, according to Dr. Arora. “We believe that in order to close the He/She gender gap (and by extension, education gap, security gap, respect gap, opportunity gap, wage gap …), we absolutely need to first close the She/She gender gap,” says Arora. “Thus ours is a She-for-She movement, with outreach toward She-for-He and She-for-All. Ours is a movement of Gender Equality without Gender Divisiveness; from a place of Positivity (of attitude/approach/conduct), Power (of self-belief) and Purpose (of the collective aspiration).” 

At Women Economic Forum (WEF) Tunisia 2019, with Nobel Peace Laureate 2015, Ouided Bouchamaoui (right), and then Minister Neziha Labidi (left). (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

Through the various platforms– ALL, WEF, WICCI, and SHEconomy–Dr. Arora has helped women come together and create a solidarity of “sisters beyond borders.” In this process of pursuing Oneness as sisters Dr. Arora has been spiritually uplifted by a vision of Equality, spirit of Equanimity, and surrender to Eternity. 

“We all have our challenges, and everyone is fighting their own battles. My humble learning over the years while facing challenges big and small is this – our Self-Belief and “Atma-Vishwas,” viz. our faith in the eternity and infinity of our own Soul and Self is the source of tremendous inner strength. By tapping into this inner (divine) strength, one can face all kinds of challenges with courage and resilience. This is the education of the heart and spirit.”

Throughout life, Arora says her greatest challenge has always been understanding herself and her purpose in life and how to implement her highest vibration in her day to day work. This is especially true for many who may think that one’s highest spiritual goals are incompatible with the pursuits of business and real life challenges. However, Dr. Arora says she has learned throughout her journey that it is possible to match both and lead a happy, fulfilling, balanced and successful life. She defines success as awakening. 

“Success is about awakenings and openings, about finding doors so to say, and we indeed hold the key to that. We succeed every moment by simply holding up the attitudes of ‘never say die’, not quitting, and always doing whatever we can to the best of our abilities even in the worst of our circumstances.”