In a world where men continue to dominate positions of cultural, economic, and political leadership in America and across the globe, gender equality can sometimes feel light years away. And while individuals and organizations are working towards a future where women will no longer have to fight for a seat at the table, it's important to remember our foremothers who set the foundation for today's activism.
Even when there was no path to follow back then, they blazed a trail and paved the way for our efforts today. We've got a long way to go, but if these women can help shape America for the better, then there's no reason why we can't make a positive dent in history, too.
As the first woman aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart challenged the traditional stereotypes of her time. She went on to receive the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her extraordinary accomplishment, after moving on to break many more records and document her experiences in fascinating books. Sadly, her life was cut short when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the globe. To this day, the San Francisco Chronicle states that the mystery of her disappearance still captivates people everywhere.
Sitting down when and where you are not supposed to may seem like just a simple act of defiance, but CNN states that it was enough to be a pivotal catalyst in America's civil rights movement. In 1955, Rosa Parks made history when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man — a custom that was expected in the time of segregated buses — and was slapped with a civil disobedience charge. Parks came to be known as "the mother of the freedom movement" and continued her activism throughout her life, playing a major role in the Montgomery bus boycott and serving as a symbol of the historic movement.
We all know the story of the first man on the moon, but what many don't know is that it was a woman who put him there. Margaret Hamilton was a 24-year-old mathematics graduate who worked in a lab despite living at a time when women were discouraged from going into highly technical work. Despite this, she eventually led a team credited for developing the software behind Apollo and Skylab — pioneering one of the most groundbreaking and epic accomplishments in human history.
Best known for her stark contributions to the Lewis and Clark expeditions in the American West, Sacagawea has since become a symbol for women's independence. A woman from the Lemhi Shoshone tribe, she traveled thousands of miles, crossing North Dakota all the way to the Pacific Ocean. On the way, she established cultural contracts with Native Americans. An article on Thought Co claims that no other Native American woman has more statues in her honor. Not only is her portrait on the new dollar coin, but monuments of her can be seen in public schools, lakes, and parks.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Hot on the heels of her graduation from Cornell University, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasted no time and decided to get her law degrees from both Harvard and Columbia law schools. She then went on to become a professor at some of the most esteemed law schools in America, but she was even more instrumental at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she helped establish the Women's Rights Project. In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court by then President Bill Clinton. During her tenure, she was known to be incredibly outspoken and not afraid to express opinion when needed, earning her a well-deserved place in Special Counsel's feature on female trailblazers in the legal profession. To this day, Justice Ginsburg continues to use her voice to mold the course of America's history.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.