She’s The First: Power Women Who Are Still Making History

(By Samantha Sharf)

I think in my own country it became abundantly clear that women could do anything and could lead the country and be in very significant positions, and be well respected and regarded as doing a good job. And I think that is a great legacy to leave.” Rodin also takes her responsibility to those who will come after her seriously telling young women that, “they need to have the audacity to dream and the tenacity to pursue.

Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin keeps an old New Yorker cartoon next to her desk. It features a group of men and one woman sitting around a table. The man at the head says, “That’s a really interesting comment, Miss Brown, maybe one of the men would like to make it now.”

Rodin, who ranks 99th on FORBES’ list of the 100 Most Powerful Women this year, is the first female to head the century old charitable organization. Previously she was the first female president of an Ivy League institution, serving at the helm of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994 to 2004. Along with Rodin, at least 39 of the women on this year’s power list are the first at something.

Angela Merkel, number one on the list, is the first female chancellor of Germany. Sara Blakely, No. 90, was the first female billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge. And Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, No. 87, is the first female head of state in Africa.

Despite her success, Rodin uses the cartoon as a reminder of the work still to be done. “Even now,” Rodin says, “there are moments when women are made to feel invisible. We want women to understand that they have to not back off when they have that experience. They don’t have to accept that our culture often makes what a man says seem smarter than what a woman says. I don’t know a woman who hasn’t had that experience no matter how famous and powerful she is.”

Rodin is absolute about the need for women to hold positions of leadership. She notes that a female leader will often care more about the work environment than a male counterpart might. In her first year at Penn, Rodin set out to create family friendly working policies and opened a childcare center on campus.

Helen Clark feels similarly. Clark, No. 21 on the power list, is the first female administrator of The United Nations Development Program — and was the first woman to be elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. “It is a well established principle,” Clark says, “that those who are out of sight are out of mind. So if women aren’t visible in decision making, in policy making then the chances are there are not going to be very many voices speaking up for women and their perspectives and their needs.”

Despite facing challenges at home and in the work place, both Clark and Rodin are emboldened by their historic achievements.

Clark says, “I think in my own country it became abundantly clear that women could do anything and could lead the country and be in very significant positions, and be well respected and regarded as doing a good job. And I think that is a great legacy to leave.” Rodin also takes her responsibility to those who will come after her seriously telling young women that, “they need to have the audacity to dream and the tenacity to pursue.”

A new generation of women is taking on the challenge of being first.

Tammy Tibbetts is the founder and president ofShe’s The First, a non-profit organization that helps underprivileged girls become the first in their families to graduate from high school. In 2009, Tibbetts was 23 and editing a prom website. After launching a directory for distributing prom dresses to girls who could not afford them, Tibbetts imagined a similar listing of educational programs for girls in the developing world. Of secondary-education aged children in developing nations only 29% are enrolled in school and in the least educated regions few girls graduate. Tibbetts wants to change that.

As the first member of her family to graduate from college Tibbetts’ understands the challenge and reward of being first. “It takes a lot of courage to set yourself up for a goal that hasn’t been reached by those around you.”

While Tibbetts lists power women like fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, No. 74, and Liberian President Sirleaf as inspirations, she notes “my inspiration are on both ends of the spectrum.” Tibbetts celebrates the college age women who have become a part of her organization and tells the story of Anna, a young scholar in South Sudan. When her school house was destroyed by a tornado, the 17 year old rounded-up her peers and led them to a neighboring village to attend school.

As Rodin says, “Those of us who have been firsts do have a responsibility to not pull the ladder up behind us.”

At least 39 of the women on the 2013 list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women are first at something.

Angela Merkel

First: Female chancellor of Germany
Power Women Rank: #1

Dilma Rousseff

First: Female president of Brazil
Power Women Rank: #2

Michelle Obama

First: African-American U.S. first lady
Power Women Rank: #4

Hillary Clinton

First: U.S. first lady to become secretary of state, senator
Power Women Rank: #5

Sheryl Sandberg

First: Female member of Facebook board
Current Position: COO Facebook
Power Women Rank: #6

Christine Lagarde

First: Female managing director IMF
Power Women Rank: #8

Indra Nooyi

First: Female president PepsiCo
Power Women Rank: #10

Park Geun-hye

First: Female President of South Korea
Power Women Rank: #11

Virginia Rometty

First: Female CEO IBM
Power Women Rank: #12

Oprah Winfrey

First: African-American billionaire
Power Women Rank: #13

Ursula Burns

First: African American female CEO Xerox
Power Women Rank: #14

Maria das Gracas Silva Foster

First: Female president Petrobras
Power Women Rank: #18

Jill Abramson

First: Female executive editor of The New York Times
Power Women Rank: #19

Irene Rosenfeld

First: Female CEO Kraft Foods
Current Position: CEO Mondelez
Power Women Rank: #20

Helen Clark

First: Female administrator United Nations Development Programme
Power Women Rank: #21

Nancy Pelosi

First: Female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Current Position: House minority leader
Power Women Rank: #22

Anne Sweeney

First: Female co-chair of Disney Media Networks
Power Women Rank: #24

Kathleen Sebelius

First: Female governor of Kansas
Current Position: Secretary, Health and Human Services
Power Women Rank: #25

Julia Gillard

First: Female prime minister of Australia
Power Women Rank: #28

Yingluck Shinawatra

First: Female prime minister of Thailand
Rank: #31

Marissa Mayer

First: Female engineer at Google
Current position: CEO Yahoo
Power Women Rank: #32

Marillyn Hewson

First: Female CEO of Lockheed Martin
Power Women Rank: #34

Ellen Kullman

First: Female CEO of DuPont
Power Women Rank: #34

Drew Gilpin Faust

First: Female president of Harvard University
Power Women Rank: #43

Rosalind Brewer

First: First female and African American CEO of a Wal-Mart business unit
Power Women Rank: #44

Joyce Banda

First: Female president of Malawi
Power Women Rank: #47

Ellen DeGeneres

First: Openly gay TV star
Power Women Rank: #51

Padmasree Warrior

First: Female CTO Cisco Systems
Power Women Rank: #57

Gail Kelly

First: Female CEO Westpac Group
Power Women Rank: #62

Amy Hood

First: Female CFO Microsoft
Power Women Rank: #63

Chanda Kochhar

First: Female CEO ICICI
Power Women Rank: #65

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi

First: Female cabinet member in the United Arab Emirates
Current Position: Minister of Foreign Trade
Power Women Rank: #67

Diane Sawyer

First: Female anchor ABC World News
Power Women Rank: #73

Denise Morrison

First: Female CEO Campbell Soup
Power Women Rank: #81

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

First: Female CEO Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Power Women Rank: #84

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

First: Female president of Liberia, first female head of state in Africa
Power Women Rank: #87

Sara Blakely

First: female billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge
Power Women Rank: #90

J.K Rowling

First: Author billionaire
Power Women Rank: #93

Judith Rodin

First: Female president Rockefeller Foundation
Formerly First: Female president of an Ivy League school (Penn)
Power Women Rank: #99

(Source: Forbes)

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