Woman and innovation may have been considered oxymoronic by most people up until the late twentieth century. The majority of the most famous inventors and discoverers turn out to be men – in large part because women have often been denied the education and opportunity required to make similar achievements.
Thanks to slow but appreciable progress in the last several decades, women have become empowered to take on more roles as equal partners with men in science, innovation and the public sector. Despite these gains, most countries still tend to be paternalistic, which creates a glass-ceiling effect for many women.
This group of game-changing Women Innovators is not only about women who created or improved something significantly with technological or business value. This list also includes women who innovated in the realm of politics and culture, which may be understood as creating foundational changes for further progress by women in a wide array of domains.
This list of Top 10 Women Innovators recognizes different women innovators from the early nineteenth century to the present. These women could be categorized into three groups: 1) The breakers of stigmatized rules and traditions (Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace); 2) The stars in so-called masculine fields (Indira Gandhi, Katherine Johnson); and, 3) The champions in today’s innovation environment (Michela Magas, Angélica Fuentes and Audrey Cheng).
Scroll down to find out what are the Top 10 Women Innovators.
Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer in history. Thanks to her brilliance in mathematics, she wrote the world’s first machine algorithm for an early computing machine that existed only on paper -- in the 1840s! At that time many first achieved by women were claimed by the men they worked with; therefore, there is a chance that more of her outstanding work is not attributed to her, but to Professor Charles Babbage with whom she worked in the 1830s and ‘40s.
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is the first woman president of the Republic of Mauritius. She is a champion of innovation, education and research in Africa. Prior to that she established CIDP Research & Innovation, where she focused on implications of indigenous plants of Mauritius. In 2015 she was listed among the world’s top 100 most powerful women by Forbes.
Angelica Fuentes is the CEO of global nutrition company Omnilife and a founder of Angelíssima, a cosmetics company with an innovative business model empowering women to seek and gain financial independence. As a philanthropist, she launched the Angélica Fuentes Foundation with a $3 million endowment to promote the empowerment of Latin American women and girls. She is a firm believer and promoter of the idea that in today’s global economy, gender equality is a key driver of competitiveness, innovation and productivity.
Audrey Cheng is only 24 years old and already the change maker in Africa. She is the founder of Moringa School in Kenya that enables a whole generation to gain the skills they need to compete in the digital economy. Audrey Cheng was born and raised in the US, where she acquired a degree in journalism and global health at Northwestern University. Soon after that, she looked for opportunities to change the world for the better and became a tech-preneur. She then sought to work with the Savannah Fund, a seed capital fund that offers funding to early stage tech startups in Africa. The results of the Morenga school are fascinating: two years on, graduates work in the top tech companies in the region, earning on average 350% more than the salaries they had earned before completing the coursework.
Indira Gandhi is the most famous Indian woman in the world. She became prime minister of India in 1966 and the second woman head of state in modern history. Gandhi had an enormous impact on the future of India, defining many policies and systems of government still in use today. Indira Gandhi lived by a maxim she made famous “The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” Multiple educational institutions and funds were established under her name, including the low-cost housing program for the rural poor of India and the Indira Gandhi National Open University.
Katherine Johnson once said: “Never be afraid to speak your mind or ask questions. You have as much right to knowledge & innovation as anyone else.” She is an African-American physicist and mathematician; her passion for science led her to NASA with brainpower that earned her the nickname of “computer”. She had a huge impact on aeronautics and space programs of the United Sates with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA. In doing so she challenged the formidable barriers to achievement facing African-American women of the 1950s and ‘70s; this enabled her to play a major role in helping NASA to enable an astronaut into orbit the Earth and later to walk on the moon.
Mae Jemison is recognized under various fascinating titles; she is a physician, engineer, innovator, academic, entrepreneur, NASA astronaut and the world's first woman of color in space.
She has won multiple awards and has been recognized by major global science organizations; in addition, in 1994 she founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation and its science camp “The Earth We Share,” which builds science literacy and critical thinking in thousands of students and teachers worldwide.
Maria Telkes is a Hungarian-born American physical chemist and biophysicist best known for her advocacy of putting the sun's energy to use. She invented the solar distiller and the first solar-powered heating system designed for residences. She also invented other devices capable of storing energy captured from sunlight. One notable example was the solar salt-water still she developed for the Navy in World War II, which saved the lives of torpedoed sailors and downed airmen.
The name of Marie Curie is equivalent to "innovator." She is the first woman to have won the Nobel Prize and the first person in history to win two Nobel Prizes (only other person to do it was Linus Pauling). She is the symbol of a modern woman: genuine, passionate, dedicated both to her career and her life as a woman. Marie Curie defined the theory of radioactivity, a discovery she actually died for. She discovered two elements and developed the first treatments using radioactive isotopes. Her life story of fleeing Poland for France, helping her family and contributing charitable works is more than inspiring.
Michela Magas is a co-founder of Stromatolite, a company that creates innovation ecosystems, which bring people together from different areas to share ideas, develop new products and create new business models; as of today this Innovation Community has a membership of over 5,000 innovators. In addition to this unique innovation ecosystem, Michela Magas has established policy context and support structure for radical and disruptive innovation by a wide community of creative developers. She was awarded by EU Prize for Women Innovators in 2017.