20 Powerful Women of 2013

This has been an exciting year for women. We are finally working together to shift women’s roles in society not by compromising our femininity, but by using our true qualities to make real changes in the workplace, in our communities and in the world. It’s been especially gratifying knowing that we, Emerging Women, participated in generating change. I am so inspired by all the women that passionately and courageously are creating a new life for themselves, one that is fully expressed and supported by the truth of who we are.

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Change for women today is palpable. It is so important that we take meaningful action when called to participate in this movement. We are more ambitious, more daring, more unified and more determined to create impact by following our true calling, by speaking up, by crossing barriers, by unlearning habits, by being vulnerable, by welcoming failure as part of success and by expressing our true feminine power. And even though there is a lot more to accomplish and fight for, we want to celebrate the women who inspire and motivate us. You’ll find below a list of 20 trailblazers from different industries and different parts of the world who are creating change in the world.

And don’t forget, if you are committed to expressing your unique gifts to the world, you’ll find a community of like-minded women ready to help you succeed at Emerging Women Live. Also, we are curious to know who inspired you this year, so please leave a comment below and share with us the women that motivate you to create real change in the world.


1. Malala Yousafzai ― Activist, Writer

Malala Yousafzai, a 16 year old Pakistani girl, who a year ago was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman, fearlessly continues to fight for the right of girls to go to school. Her courage and determination has ignited a global movement of girls who are standing up to speak for themselves. In October 2013 she published a bestseller, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, a formidable story of courage and the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”― Malala Yousafzai

2. Sheryl Sandberg ― COO, Facebook

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, is best known for her best-selling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Published in March 2013, the book opens a new, refreshing conversation on feminism in the workplace. The “Lean In” phenomenon focuses on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and shifts the conversation from what we can’t do to what we can do.

“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interest.” ― Sheryl Sandberg

3. Shonda Rhimes ―  Screenwriter, Director, Producer

Shonda Rhimes is best known as the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the medical drama television series Grey’s Anatomy, but she is also the creator of the TV-series, Scandal, which made her one of the most influential women in Hollywood. Olivia Pope, the main, non-stereotypical character in Scandal, is one of the strongest females in prime time TV.

“Most of the women I saw on TV didn’t seem like people I actually knew. They felt like ideas of what women are.” ― Shonda Rhimes

4. Jill Abramson ― Executive Editor, New York Times Co.

Appointed in 2011, Jill Abramson become the first female executive editor in the paper’s 160-year history. Joining the New York Times in 1997 as the Washington bureau chief and managing editor, she now sets the editorial agenda at the nation’s newspaper of record. Abramson was also named as one of the 500 most powerful people in the world by Foreign Policy Magazine.

“In one’s relationship with dogs and with a newsroom, a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism.” — Jill Abramson

5. Park Geun-hye ― President of South Korea

Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s first female president this year, making her the first woman head of state in modern history of Northeast Asia. She was elected with the nation’s highest turnout rate in 15 years. Park presides over the world’s 15th largest GDP at $1.15 trillion.

“Different times need different types of leadership.” ― Park Geun-hye

6. Virginia Rometty ― Chairwoman and CEO of IBM

Virginia Rometty proves that the IT world is not a boys-only club. She heads up IBM, the biggest computer company by revenue ― bigger even than Google, Tencent or Yahoo.

“I learned to always take on things I’d never done before.” ―Virginia Rometty

7. Diana Balmori ― Landscape and Urban Designer, Principal at Balmori Associates

Diana Balmori  is redefining how natural and built environments interact by creating smarter and more responsive city parks. Diana was named one of the most creative people of 2013 by Fast Company.

“Landscape architecture is an agile tool kit for dealing with the complexity of the city.” ~ Diana Balmori

8. Angelina Jolie ― Actress, Philanthropist

This year Angelina Jolie sparked controversy by bravely opening up to the world about her choice to undergo a voluntary double mastectomy because of her high risk for breast cancer. Her Op Ed piece in The New York Times made Jolie not only one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, but also in the world. Also she received  an honorary Oscar reserved for those ”whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”

“Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”―Angelina Jolie

9. Wendy Davis ― Lawyer, Politician

On June 25, 2013, Wendy Davis held an eleven-hour-long filibuster to block Senate Bill 5, legislation that would create new abortion regulations in Texas. The filibuster  inspired men and women across the country to rally for women’s reproductive rights. Davis is running for governor of Texas in 2014.

“My story, my personal story, is my story. I have the ability to make choices and I had opportunities that I was able to take advantage of in my life. Other women of course should be able to define their own destinies and this idea that the heavy hand of government should somehow come in and tell her how to do that is deeply resented in [a] state like Texas.” ― Wendy Davis

10. AM Homes ―Writer

AM Homes won the prestigious 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her for her sixth novel, May We Be Forgiven. The Women’s Prize for Fiction was set up in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction written by women throughout the world.

“For years everyone kept saying, ‘Who is AM Homes? Is AM Homes a man or a woman? Or is she trying to hide?’ Clearly I’m out, I’m a woman and I’m thrilled to win this prize.”― AM Homes

11. Eve Ensler ― Activist, Writer

Eve Ensler is the creator of V-Day, a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls. Earlier this year she incited a global flashmob in which every country in the world participated. Ensler’s latest book, In the Body of the World, is a brave and beautiful examination of an illness, unlike anything ever written about cancer. Ensler was also a keynote speaker at our national event, Emerging Women Live 2013.

“So much of life, it seems to me, is the framing and naming of things. I had been so busy creating a future of love that I never identified the life I was living as the life of love, because up until then I had never felt entitled enough or free enough or, honestly, brave enough to embrace my own narrative.” ― Eve Ensler

12. Hillary Clinton ―Politician, Philanthropist

Hillary Clinton is one of the most powerful women on the planet and a strong supporter of women’s rights. Her crusade for women continues with “No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project,”  which aims to put equality for women in the global civil rights spotlight.

“The great unfinished business of the 21st century is helping women and girls break through these ceilings and participate fully in every aspect of life once and for all.” ― Hillary Clinton

13. Elizabeth Gilbert ― Writer

Elizabeth Gilbert is unquestionably one of her generation’s most beloved memoirists. Her new book, published this year, The Signature of All Things, was praised by O Magazine as “The novel of a lifetime…”

“To be very clear: Creativity can ONLY coexist alongside Fear.  I have always lived a creative life, and I know that you can’t be creative without being vulnerable. And you can’t be vulnerable without experiencing fear.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

14. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu ― Entrepreneur

Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is one of Africa’s most successful women. She built SoleRebels, a shoe company that pays fair wages to its employees and uses locally sourced materials such as organic, hand-spun cotton. She was able to turn SoleRebels it into an internationally recognized brand: the shoes have been carried in Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods, and this year, Alemu will open stand-alone boutiques in Germany and Sweden. SoleRebels has become a hugely successful, sustainable, truly world-class enterprise.

“I am always challenging myself ‘how do I continue to make soleRebels not simply the best footwear brand but the best company to work at, a place of transformative opportunity for our staff ?” — Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

15. Oprah Winfrey ―Entrepreneur, Personality

America’s only African-American billionaire is finally celebrating  the success of once-struggling network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, launched three years ago. Other highlights include Oprah’s co-starring role in The Butler (which is already generating Oscar buzz) and her memorable commencement speech at Harvard University.

“From time to time you may stumble, fall, you will for sure, count on this, no doubt, you will have questions and you will have doubts about your path. But I know this, if you’re willing to listen to, be guided by, that still small voice that is the G.P.S. within yourself, to find out what makes you come alive, you will be more than okay. You will be happy, you will be successful, and you will make a difference in the world.” ― Oprah Winfrey

16. Marina Abramovic ― Artist

Marina Abramovic, celebrated performance artist, embarked this year on an ambitious project to build a 33,000-square-foot center for arts called the Marina Abramovic Institute. The institute is is dedicated to the presentation and preservation of long durational work: performance art, dance, theater, film, music, opera, and other art forms whose performance exceeds six hours. The project was supported by a successful kickstarter campaign which raised $661,452. Among the supporters of  Marina Abramovic Institute are high profile pop culture icons like Jay-Z and Lady Gaga. Abramovic wants the new Institute to be a cultural laboratory. She explains:

“What you get is the opening of your mind. I’m not preaching any new religion; I’m ritualizing everyday activities. You drink the water. You count the rice. You sit in Crystal Cave. You lie in Levitation Chamber. You push yourself to a new level.” ―Marina Abramovic

17. Arianna Huffington―Editor-In-Chief, Huffington Post Media Group, AOL

Arianna Huffington has created a separate niche for herself on the personal and spiritual well-being circuit. The initiative The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power focuses on a more sustainable definition of success, one that includes well-being, wisdom, and our ability to wonder and to give back.

“I love talking about my failures more than my successes because I feel that’s the most important thing I can teach—failure is an essential part of success, because these days no one has succeeded who hasn’t failed along the way.”― Arianna Huffington

18.  Reshma Saujani ―Political Entrepreneur

In 2010, Reshma Saujani became the first Indian-American woman (and the first South Asian American woman) to run for Congress. She founded Girls Who Code, a non-profit which aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020. Their vision is to reach gender parity in computing fields.  Reshma is also the author of a new book entitled, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line which advocates for a new model of female leadership focused on risk-taking, competition and mentorship.

“It used to be that there was only one seat at the table for women and we would have to fight one another for it. Now, there’s no limit to how many women can make it to the top.”―Reshma Saujani

19. Angela Merkel — Chancellor, Germany

Angela Merkel who was just sworn in by the German Parliament to serve a third term as chancellor, ranked  #1 in Forbes’ Top Power Women and #5 in the top Powerful People in the World. She has served as ­Chancellor of Germany since 2005; the first woman in the position.

“When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises.” — Angela Merkel

20. Sarah Hofstetter — CEO of  360i US

Sarah Hofstetter, a modern MadWoman, is the CEO of 360i US, a digital advertising agency selected as the Ad Age’s 2013 Digital Agency of the Year. She helped set up one of the first social-media practices at any agency, which now serves as a hub for social community management at 360i. Hofstetter was named Ad Age’s 2013 “40 Under 40″ and was honored as a “Social Media All-Star” by the Social Media Society.

“We encourage brands to think about social media as a mindset instead of a marketing channel. Brands talk to consumers all day; whether it’s customer care, PR, advertising, event marketing or even human resources, it’s just a matter of translating that communication into conversations, and aligning those conversations with brand objectives.”

We are curious to know who inspired you this year, so please leave a comment below and share with us the women that motivate you to create change in the world.

Are you feeling a rising power inside of you that you feel must be expressed? Join us at Emerging Women Live 2014 in New York City and help us to spread the movement that is creating real change in the world.

  • Donna Davis

    Alice Munro–the Canadian author whose short stories–first written at the kitchen table in the snatches of time available to a homemaker and mother of small children–took her from small-town Ontario to the pages of The New Yorker and, this year, to the extraordinary honour of the Nobel Prize for Literature. May no creative woman ever again be spurned for the “limitations” of her experience.

    • Emerging Women

      Amen to that! Thank you, Donna.

  • http://www.onelittlelife.com/ one little life

    Brene Brown who is bringing the complex, internalized feelings of shame, fear and vulnerability to the forefront for gazillions of people – men and women alike. With exposure and clarity comes understanding and change!

    • Emerging Women

      Yes!! Thank you, OLL.

  • Beza Negewo Oda

    Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu : the changing face of Ethiopia!!!!!

  • Jappy Worku

    bety wow i am proud of u,and i admire most operha w.

  • Proud Ethiopian

    Bethlehem Tilahun is so courageous and inspiring!

  • Biniam Abebe

    Proud of you Betty

  • Ethiopia

    Beti Well Done! Proud of You!

  • gemechu

    Bethlehem Tilahun indeed always inspiring and has been my inspiration since the first day i have heard about her!!!!!!I am proud of you Betty