5 women who changed the world of work

5 women who changed the world of work

In every region of the globe, women have been trailblazers in the world of work

wangari maathai

From employers and workers to advocates and inventors, women have made our workplaces more vibrant, innovative, and just. As we celebrate International Women's Day, learn about five women who made a difference.

1. Wangari Maathai (Kenya)

A life of firsts: Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace." She was also the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in East and Central Africa.

Green economy pioneer: Wangari was a pioneer of the green economy as a pathway to sustainable development. She inspired thousands to volunteer their time to plant trees. She is credited with kickstarting the Green Belt movement that has led to the planting of over thirty million trees in Africa. 

Notable quote: “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”

Photo credit: Bios
rbg
2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (United States)

Academic and lawyer: Known affectionately as The Notorious RBG, Ruth served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death in 2020. She was the first Jewish woman and second woman to serve on the court.

Winning for women: She spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women's rights. For example, she was credited with helping to inspire the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for employees to win pay discrimination claims.

Notable quote: “Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.

Photo credit: Scientific American
ela bhatt
3. Ela Bhatt (India)

Independent leader: Ela is an organizer and activist who founded the Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA) in 1972. She was also appointed by Nelson Mandela to the group of world leaders known as The Elders in 2007.

Recognition: As part of the international labour, women, and microfinance movements, she won several national and international awards, including the Right Livelihood Award for "helping home-based producers to organise for their welfare and self-respect."

Notable quote: "It is the women who are the leaders in change and without their participation poverty can never be removed."

Photo credit: Governance Now
Laudelina de Campos Melo
4. Laudelina de Campos Melo (Brazil)

Changemaker: Laudelina was a Brazilian organizer and workers' rights advocate. In 1936, she created the first association of domestic workers in Brazil.  

Domestic workers' advocate: In 1961, Laudelina founded the Association of Campinas' Domestic Laborers (Associação dos Empregados Domésticos de Campinas) to unite domestic workers and equip them with literacy skills. Thanks to her work, Brazilian domestic workers gained the right to social security and yearly paid holidays in 1972

Legacy: In 2020, Google celebrated Laudelina's 116th birthday with a Doodle.

Photo credit: Fenatrad
Emmeline Pankhurst (United Kingdom)
5. Emmeline Pankhurst (United Kingdom)

Deeds, not words: Emmeline Pankhurst was a British activist and women's rights advocate. In 1889, she founded the Women's Franchise League, leading the fight to let married women vote in local elections. 

Winning the right to vote: Emmeline helped UK women win the equal right to vote in 1928. This was an important step to advancing equal pay and equal rights in the world of work

Notable quote: "Deeds, not words, was to be our permanent motto."

Photo credit: History Revealed
Interested in advancing gender equality in the world of work?

Learn about our gender and diversity courses.