Targeted for pursuing an education, the Pakistani activist and youngest-ever Nobel laureate survived a 2012 assassination attempt and has made it her mission to ensure that girls have the freedom to go to school without fearing for their lives.
She launched the Malala Fund with the stated goal of securing 12 years of safe, free and quality schooling for girls in eight countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, where female students have historically faced barriers to education. In 2018, Yousafzai created Assembly, a digital publication for girls and young women available through Apple News that has published in more than 100 countries and in over 20 languages. Her production company, Extracurricular, inked a deal in 2021 to create original programming for Apply TV+. "I believe in the power of stories to bring families together, forge friendships, build movements, and inspire children to dream," the Oxford graduate said in a statement. "And I couldn't ask for a better partner than Apple to help bring these stories to life. I'm grateful for the opportunity to support women, young people, writers, and artists in reflecting the world as they see it."
After getting her start officiating NCAA football games, Thomas became the first permanent female official in NFL history in 2015. In February 2021, she officiated in the down judge position for Super Bowl LV, making her the first woman to ever officiate in the big game.
In the aftermath of 2019's Christchurch mosque shooting, New Zealand's prime minister swiftly called for a ban on military-style assault weapons, a law that passed 119-1 in the country's legislature. And when COVID-19 threatened New Zealand's shores in 2020, a strict and swift lockdown prevented the sort of widespread outbreak that ravaged the Western world, earning her praise and a historic reelection via landslide that October. In February 2021, she announced that the government would tackle "period poverty" by having all schools make menstrual products available to students for free. "Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population," she said, according to The New York Times.
And when the Omicron variant did cause a COVID outbreak in early 2022, Ardern postponed her wedding to longtime partner Clarke Gayford in the wake of additional restrictions the government imposed on gatherings to control the spread.
After marrying Prince Harry in 2018, becoming the first person of mixed race in the British royal family, Markle and her husband took on the UK press and, in a way, the crown itself. The couple famously stepped down as senior members of the royal family in 2020, eventually moving to Southern California while launching Archewell Inc., an organization focused on non-profit activities and creative media ventures. Outside the normal constraints of being a working royal, Markle sat down with Oprah Winfrey on Mar. 7 for an illuminating interview about the reality of her life as the Duchess of Sussex and the alleged abuses that she's endured as a result.
After joining the San Francisco Giants organization as an intern in their baseball operations department in 2014, Nakken was promoted to the team's major league coaching staff in January 2020 as assistant coach, making her the first full-time female coach in MLB history. In July 2020, she became the first woman to coach on the field during a Major League Baseball game, during exhibition play. (The Giants won, 6-2.) Nakken's jersey from the game was sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Nearly 30 years after she was first hired full-time with the Chicago White Sox as a special projects analyst, Ng was hired as the general manager of the Miami Marlins in November 2020. In the process, she not only became the first woman to hold the position on a men's team in the history of all major North American sports, but the first East Asian-American general manager of any gender in MLB history.
After becoming the first Black woman major-party gubernatorial nominee as the Democrat on Georgia's 2018 ballot, Abrams responded to her loss and the accusations that it was the result of voter suppression by founding Fair Fight Action. The organization's dedication to voter registration and voter protection was widely credited with turning the historically red state blue in the 2020 presidential election with an estimated 800,000 new voters registered.
Abrams is running for governor again in 2022, not least in response to new voting restrictions passed in Georgia in the wake of the 2020 election. "Regardless of the pandemic or the storms, the obstacles in our way or the forces determined to divide us, my job has been to just put my head down and keep working toward one Georgia," she said in her campaign launch video. "Because in the end, we are one Georgia."
With a lauded acting career spanning decades that began when she was just 14, King has become one of the most respected women in Hollywood, winning three Emmys in four years and punctuating her versatility with an Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk in 2019. She made her feature directorial debut with the inspired-by-true-events drama One Night in Miami... and became only the second Black woman ever nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director.
The first Black woman to score a Golden Globe nomination for directing was DuVernay, for 2014's Selma.
The celebrated director, writer and producer has made it her mission to tell the types of stories that have historically gone untold, such as with her Emmy-winning 2016 documentary 13th, the 2019 series When They See Us, about the wrongfully accused Central Park Five, or 2021's Colin in Black & White, about the early life of NFL player and advocate for racial justice Colin Kaepernick.
DuVernay also launched ARRAY Crew, a database for the town's below-the-line crew members, with a focus on elevating women, people of color and other underrepresented film and TV professionals. "We've ideated, incubated and executed the idea of ARRAY Crew over two years with one mission in mind: to help productions hire qualified crew candidates too often underrepresented, overlooked and unknown. Our goal is simply to amplify more professionals in an effort to build inclusive film and television crews," DuVernay told Variety in February 2021. "The overwhelming support of the studios and streamers has bolstered our belief that our industry can become a more balanced place to work for more kinds and cultures of people, resulting in stronger and more dynamic content for viewers and moviegoers."
Since the 2005 premiere of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Rhimes has made the name Shondaland synonymous with diverse, representative entertainment that not only reflects the world as it is, but is addictive AF. From Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder to Station 19, her Netflix smash Bridgerton and the polarizing Inventing Anna, Rhimes has revolutionized television.
Siwa has become a Gen Z icon thanks to her ubiquitous YouTube presence and work on Nickelodeon, but in early 2021 she became an LGBTQ icon as well. After coming out on social media in January, she's held steady in her commitment to living her most authentic life, in the process providing a role model for kids who feel different. "I was like, 'Well, technically, that was a really big risk that I took posting that,'" she told Jimmy Fallon of her initial coming out. "But if I lost everything I created because of being myself and because of loving who I want to love, I don't want it. That's not what I want if I can't love who I want to love. That's one of the most important things to me."
Siwa also made history on Dancing With the Stars last year when she and pro Jenna Johnson became the first same-sex pair to ever compete on the show. They finished in second place.
The Colombian-born Modern Family star was the highest-paid actress in all of television for seven years running, with Forbes estimating her 2020 earnings at $43 million.
As the founder and president of Rise, a non-governmental civil rights organization, Nguyen was instrumental in shaping the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act, which was signed into law in 2016. In 2021, she helped bring attention to the increase of hate crimes perpetrated against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities in the wake of COVID-19.
Expected to win at least two gold medals, if not five, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (held in the summer of 2021 due to the pandemic), instead the defending women's gymnastics all-around champion pulled out of the team competition and every individual event except balance beam, where she ultimately took the bronze. Cheering on the silver-winning U.S. team from the sidelines, Biles triggered an intense, ongoing conversation about athletes' mental health, the pressures they face and the importance of listening to one's body instead of taking a risk to please others that could have possibly devastating consequences.
Since the 2019 debut of A Little Late on NBC, Lilly Singh has become the first openly bisexual person, as well as the first person of Indian and South Asian descent, to host a major network late-night talk show. In her wake, Late Night with Seth Meyers writer and comedian Amber Ruffin, who was the first Black woman to write for a late-night network show, landed a series of her own on the company's streaming service, Peacock. And over at Saturday Night Live, comedian Anna Drezen was promoted to co-head writer ahead of the show's 46th season, making her just the fourth woman to ever hold the title in its storied history.
In her decade as a model, Lee has broken barriers left and right. In 2015, she became the first curve model to ever appear in the pages of Vogue. From 2016 to 2020, she walked every season for Christian Siriano. She appeared in Rihanna's Savage x Fenty show, covered Vogue Italia, and was cast in Versace's spring-summer 2021 campaign and Moschino's for fall-winter 2021. "Walking and representing so many people is extra-special in this climate," she told Vogue. "Now more than ever I feel how important it is to let people know, specifically African-American women, how capable we are."
The Nigerian-born Chuter founded UOMA Beauty with inclusion in mind, making her company the first to offer 51 shades of foundation when it launched. But in the summer of 2020, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the globe, she created the "Pull Up for Change" initiative, which challenged beauty brands to release exactly how many Black employees the company had in corporate and executive levels. Kylie Beauty, ULTA, L'Oreal and Sephora released their data as a result, as well as non-beauty companies like Facebook, Google and Netflix.
As Beyoncé's stylist since 2014, dressing the superstar in her groundbreaking Lemonade and Black Is King films, Akers has made a major impact on culture. But in early 2021, she took her career to the next level when she upgraded her Black Owned Everything directory of businesses into a full-scale e-commerce site and content hub for Black creatives. "I [soon] recognized the need for a luxury retail space for Black-owned businesses to have global reach. It was a natural [next step] for us," Akers told Refinery29 about the e-commerce launch. "Black Owned Everything's goal is to amplify and empower a community of brands to reach diverse and engaged audiences and encourage them to shop inclusively. We will also spotlight brands and stories from Black-owned businesses utilizing editorial features and with original content."
In 2021, Zhao became the first Asian woman and only second woman ever to win the Best Director Oscar (and Golden Globe) for her work on eventual Best Picture winner Nomadland, which she also wrote and produced. Speaking to reporters in the virtual press room after her historic wins at the Globes, Zhao said, "I mean, sometimes a first feels like a long time coming, isn't it? I feel like it's about time...I'm sure there's many others before me that deserve the same recognition. I just love what I do, you know, I just really love it, and if this means more people like me get to live their dreams and get to do what I do, I'm happy." Known for her independent films, Zhao's work caught the attention of Marvel, landing her behind the camera of the superhero ensemble Eternals, which grossed more than $400 million worldwide.
While the singer has no doubt made an impact in the music industry thanks to her discography of hits, it's her philanthropy that earned her a spot on this list. After joining the National Compadres Network's racial healing program to educate herself in light of old Tumblr posts that were criticized by some as racist, Cabello eventually joined forces with the Movement Voter Fund to create the Healing Justice Project, which donated $250,000 to 10 different organizations working to promote equity and fight for racial justice. The funds are meant to cover six months' worth of mental health support for the BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and youth-led organizations' workers. "A lot of activists don't have the time or resources to take care of themselves," she told People. "When you're struggling or feeling burnout, it's hard to show up for other people. You have to heal yourself before you can heal the community."
As a viral immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Dr. Corbett led the VRC's Coronavirus Team. As Dr. Anthony Fauci noted in a profile on Dr. Corbett in Time, her work has "been central to the development of the Moderna mRNA vaccine and the Eli Lilly therapeutic monoclonal antibody that were first to enter clinical trials in the U.S.," adding that she "will have a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years."
In the wake of the devastating Winter Storm Uri, the Houston-native rapper partnered with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and the National Association of Christian Churches Disaster Service to bring aid to her hometown after the deadly blizzard. She set out to enlist the help of friends, partners and colleagues to raise funds to rebuild and repair homes at no cost to senior citizens and single mothers. "Seeing the devastation and hearing the heartbreaking stories that have surfaced, I knew I had to do something to help my hometown" she said in a statement.
It's no secret that Queen Bey is a force. Every time she releases anything, it becomes a cultural-defining moment. But aside from her art, the superstar has been dedicated to philanthropy as well. Her BeyGOOD has been a beacon in recent years, providing support for those in need amid the coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter uprisings and the devastating winter storms in the American South.
When writer and trans rights activist Mock was hired by Ryan Murphy to work on Pose in 2018, she became the first trans woman of color to write on a TV series in the medium's history. She's since begun directing and producing, becoming the first trans woman of color to write and direct any episode of television. In 2019, she signed a three-year deal with Netflix, making her the first trans woman of color to secure such a deal with any major content company.