As a nation, we tend to dwell on bleak statistics that highlight the pervasive gender gaps when it comes to leadership positions and salary. While progress remains painstakingly slow, the truth is that women are still achieving a tremendous amount of success and wielding influence across a diverse array of industries and fields.
As we celebrate the 106th annual International Women’s Day this Saturday, March 8th, we have an opportunity to applaud some of these staggering accomplishments, successes, and triumphs—all a testament to the incredible progress women are making right now.
Here are just a few of the major strides that women have made in recent months that should inspire you.
1. STEM On The Rise: Women continue to lag far behind men enrolling in fields of study with major earning potential, such as technology and finance. But this past fall at Berkeley College, more female students enrolled in an introductory computer science class than male students. Stanford announced in 2012 that their intro CS class had also reached near gender parity. In fact, a study by the Computing Research Association found that the percentage of female computer science majors in the U.S. and Canada was on the rise, increasing 10% from 2010 to 2012, with women making up 12.9% of the field’s majors.
2. Leading From The Corner Office: Multi-billion dollar corporations continue to show their confidence in female leaders, particularly in traditionally male-dominated industries. Women for example now hold the top spots in some of the country’s largest tech firms from HP to Yahoo, and are dominating the defense industry with a female exec running each of the three biggest contractors — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and BAE. And most recently, Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors, the first female chief of the world’s largest automaker.
3. Billionaires Trending: Women had a record-breaking year on the 2014 Forbes Billionaires list. 172 women landed on this year’s list, up 25% over 2013 and a far more impressive 60% increase over the past two years. Of the 268 newcomers to the list, a record 42 are women, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
4. Breaking New Ground: Finance and economics are industries in which women are purportedly falling behind, but in 2014 history was made: Janet Yellen began her role as Federal Reserve Chairman this past January. She is the first woman to hold this position in the 100-year history of the U.S. central bank.
5. Inspiring The World: As TED talks—inspiring and question-provoking speeches delivered by luminaries in a variety of fields—have soared in popularity, not only in terms of attendees at conferences but also in the number of people watching videos of the talks online. Truth: Of the top five most-viewed TED talks posted online, three are by women.
6. Banking Big Bucks: Sandra Bullock reportedly earned at least $70m for her Oscar-nominated role in the film Gravity, in which she starred as a brilliant and emotionally distressed scientist/astronaut stranded in space. Male actors traditionally receive bigger financial payouts than their female counterparts, but Bullock’s take-home for Gravity has her on track to top the lists for 2014. And in early March, Jennifer Lee, who directed the animated film Frozen, became the first woman director to surpass $1 billion in box office sales.
7. Driving National Dialogue: Politically, women are incredibly active—their voices more powerful than ever. Whether it was Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster heard around the world last June, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s stand for gun control legislation, or the widespread speculation that Hillary Clinton will run for President in the 2016 election, women are undeniable power players on Capitol Hill.
8. Making History: Women have served in active military duty in our armed forces since 1941 (and, before that, in medical units). How far we have come in this male-dominated military culture. On December 20, 2013, the United States Senate approved Michelle Howard to the rank of admiral in the Navy. She’s the highest-ranking woman in the US Naval history and its first four-star female admiral. (Howard was also the first African American woman to command a ship.)
9. Leading The Games: Continuing the trend from the London 2012 Olympic Games, American women dominated the podiums, earning 13 medals (four golds, four silvers, five bronzes), plus contributed to two mixed gender medals (one gold, one bronze)—the most of any nation. “I think the biggest thing when I think about the U.S. is equality in sports,” said four-time Olympic medalist Julie Chu, who was selected as Team USA’s flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony after leading the U.S. women’s ice hockey team to the silver medal. “We’re very proud of that and the growth in women’s sport. The more images we can put out of strong, confident women, that’s what we want for our youth,” shared Chu.
10. Striking Out On Their Own: Women entrepreneurs are successfully creating, innovating, and bringing in billions of dollars in the process. Just a few examples from our own Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women: Tory Burch founder and CEO Tory Burch, Spanx founder Sara Blakely, and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who founded and runs the biotech firm, Biocon.
10 Reasons For Optimism This International Women's Day
by Moira Forbes, forbes.com