As we progress in our careers, it can seem as though climbing the ladder and reaching our full potential means having to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. But what if this isn’t the case? Many women have achieved their ambitions by setting clear boundaries and going against the established order. Here are seven who have done things their own way and inspire us to do the same.
1. Amelia Earhart
American Amelia Earhart is an aviation pioneer. Her career was punctuated by numerous records, including being the first woman to participate in a transatlantic flight in 1928. After promising herself to do it again on her own, she became the first woman to fly the same route solo in 1932 and the first to complete a solo flight across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles and from California to Hawaii without a stopover.
2. Greta Thunberg
Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg needs no introduction. The 19-year-old Swede has become the environmental spokesperson for Generation Z after gaining media attention with her school climate strike (Skolstrejk för klimatet). She began a tour of demonstrations worldwide and regularly addresses international leaders and the United Nations, telling them they’re not doing enough for the environment. Her activism earned her a spot on the cover of Time magazine as its 2019 Person of the Year.
3. Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai may be well known, but her journey is no less inspiring. The young Pakistani risked her life for her education. After blogging for the BBC in 2009 about the violence directed at young women’s education by the TPP, a terrorist group also known as the Pakistani Taliban, she was the victim of an assassination attempt two years later while leaving school on a bus. The media coverage of this event, and her survival, propelled Malala’s activist career. In 2014, she became the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi, an activist who campaigns against forced child labour.
4. Thérèse Casgrain
For Quebecers, the name Thérèse Casgrain is familiar. The Montrealer was a politician and feminist who worked tirelessly from 1920 to 1940 for women’s rights in Quebec and Canada. In 1921, she became a founding member of the Provincial Committee for Women’s Suffrage, advocating for women’s right to vote in Quebec until it was achieved in 1940. She was also the first woman elected to head a political party in Canada when she became the leader of the Social Democratic Party from 1951 to 1957.
5. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka is a talented tennis player who is impressing the world with her determination: in 2018, at the age of 20, she faced off with the then-reigning queen of tennis, Serena Williams, just one week after winning her first tournament. Her talent isn’t the only thing to gain media attention: the young woman surprised everyone by putting her 2021 season on hold to look after herself and her mental health. The move has gotten a lot of press and is being praised by fellow athletes, who are inspired by her strength and vulnerability.
6. Mary Two-Axe Earley
Born in Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk Ma0ry Two-Axe Earley is known for her Indigenous women’s rights activism. After losing her Indigenous status for marrying a white man, she became actively involved and succeeded in changing the Indian Act in the Canadian Parliament, thereby regaining her once-lost status. This gave her the right to own property, live in, and be buried in Kahnawà:ke. In the wake of her struggle, she received several awards, including the Governor General’s Award in 1979 and, in 1996, a National Award of Excellence, now called the Indspire.
7. Kathrine Switzer
Although women were not welcome at the 1967 Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer, a pioneering runner, completed the event at the age of 20. She convinced her university coach to let her enter on the condition that she prove to him that she could complete the required distance and that it was not explicitly forbidden in the marathon rules. She finished the race despite being chased by one of the event’s directors, who tried to stop her by snatching her number. After this great moment, the runner advocated for women’s inclusion in the Olympics marathon event.