At the NSLS, we value the importance of strong leadership. Not only does a leader impact their team’s growth and success, but they also empower and inspire others to have a personal impact on their community and beyond.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on ten influential women in leadership recognized for breaking barriers and being a voice for underrepresented groups. From politics and literature to Fortune 500s, these powerful female leaders are an inspiration to all.
1. ELAINE ZHOU
Elaine Zhou is the chief technology officer at Change.org, responsible for leading the engineers who keep it all running seamlessly. She’s focused on harnessing technology for a positive human impact.
At the Reuters Momentum summit last fall, she spoke about “The Future of Tech Enabled Activism.” She shared her ideas on creating economic empowerment, safety, connections, and equity, stating, “we [Change.org] utilize technology to empower the future movement leaders.”
2. ALISSA ABDULLAH
Alissa Abdullah, PhD, is the deputy chief security officer at Mastercard. She leads the emerging corporate security solutions team and is responsible for ensuring the security of the company’s information and technology systems. In addition, she also hosts the Mastering Cyber podcast.
Abdullah is no newbie when it comes to managing highly sensitive information. She’s been honored with several awards, including the FedScoop 50 Federal Leadership Award, which she received during her time as deputy chief information officer under President Obama.
This was in recognition for leading the government into a new technology landscape with innovative ideas and by inspiring others to join the mission.
3. KAMALA HARRIS
Vice President Harris made history when she became the first woman to hold the position. She credits her mother for driving her toward political activism and instilling in her a strong sense of activism.
Prior to being elected as the highest-ranking female official in US history, Harris was already a leader in the political space. She served as attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017 and as a US senator representing California from 2017 to 2021.
4. YAMINI RANGAN
As CEO of HubSpot, Yamini Rangan is a tech industry veteran who knows a thing or two about putting people first. She works hard to bring strong leadership skills to her internal team.
It’s no secret that compassionate leaders empower others. “I’m committed to leading with curiosity, empathy, vulnerability, and customer-centricity,” Rangan states on her LinkedIn profile.
Prior to her role as CEO, Rangan was the company’s first-ever chief customer officer, a role she’d previously held at Dropbox.
The skill set she uses to understand what her brand or partner brands’ customers need is a skill set that’s served her well as an empathetic leader of her own internal customers.
5. GEETANJALI SHREE
Geetanjali Shree (AKA Geetanjali Pandey) is an Indian Hindi-language novelist based in India. She’s the first Hindi writer to receive the International Booker Prize for the English translation of the book, Tomb of Sand.
Not only is her novel the first in an Indian language to win the award, it’s also the only novel written in Hindi to receive a nomination. The choice to write her novel in Hindi was based on comfortability, but the impact of her decision made her a trailblazer in Indian literature.
She’s an inspiration to fellow Indian authors who’ve always felt pressure to write in English to appeal to Western audiences.
6. DR. LAUREN GOODWIN
Dr. Lauren Goodwin is chief information officer for NASA’s Johnson Space Center and White Sands Test Facility. Her mission-first approach to leading has resulted in academic and career success.
She shares her passion for the sciences with her community and through speaking engagements where she encourages students toward careers in STEM. She's also a speaker at at the Women in Tech conference.
Her session helps attendees learn how the science of the brain's learning process can unlock the opportunity to diversify STEM fields, and help students of all ages become empowered to be lifelong learners based on the plasticity of the brain.
7. URSULA VON DER LEYEN
Ursula von der Leyen is the president of the European Commission and has held the position since 2019. The German politician is the first woman to hold the office and was named no. 1 on Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
As a mother of seven, she understood the importance of government support for young parents. She was instrumental in reforming Germany’s childcare system to fund more daycares and assist young parents financially.
8. SONIA SOTOMAYOR
When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated as an associate justice of the Supreme Court by President Obama in 2009, she made history by becoming the third female and first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court.
She’s known for her support of criminal justice reform, and shows great passion around issues of race, ethnic, and gender identity—often going against the majority opinion in favor of justice.
She ruled in the majority which upheld the Affordable Care Act, and in Obergefell v. Hodges, to legalize same-sex marriage. Most recently, she’s expressed her strong support for Biden's student loan forgiveness plan.
9. MELINDA FRENCH GATES
Melinda's resume is quite long and includes positions such as GM at Microsoft and on the board of directors for companies like Drugstore.com and The Washington Post. She’s regularly ranked as one of the world’s most powerful leaders by Forbes.
Her leadership skills shine beyond the boardroom and come through in her philanthropic work, joining the ranks of other women who work to make a positive change.
In addition to co-founding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over 20 years ago, she founded Pivotal Ventures, an organization that works to address problems affecting American women and families.
In an effort to scale its mission of bringing holistic, preventive healthcare to women, the foundation invested in Tia, a “modern medical home for women.” Not only is it a win for the healthcare industry but it’s also a great investment for women-owned companies.
10. SHERYL SANDBERG
Sheryl Sandberg is a force to be reckoned with. She’s held leadership roles like COO of Meta and chief of staff for the US Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton. Her passion for leadership started at Harvard, where she co-founded Women in Economics and Government.
In 2003, she became a voice for mothers in executive leadership when she co-wrote Lean In, a book that encouraged women to take a seat at the corporate table. She spoke to her own experience and gave tips on navigating challenges working mothers face in their careers.
A decade later, Sandberg’s book still serves as a source of inspiration for women in leadership roles. Her organization, LeanIn.org, works to offer women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals.
This year, Lean In’s Women in the Workplace report highlights the disproportionate amount of executive women leaving the workforce compared to their male counterparts.
The hope is that by highlighting the reasons women are leaving, we can all work to make the necessary changes to support their continued success.
These women are making major moves but there’s still work to be done, especially in the way of women’s rights. Read why Women’s History Month is important when it comes to advocating for more women in leadership roles.