10 Female Founders Shaping the Future of Work

One Female Founder’s Holiday Bonus Surprise

Everyone who has worked hard and helped their company reach greater levels of success looks forward to the holiday season. Not only for the time off but for the potential of a major holiday bonus, a tradition we hope lasts as we build out the future of work. It’s been a norm of workplace culture in the United States for decades, but one female founder made headlines this last winter. It caused the media to react, her employees to wildly celebrate, and other founders and leadership groups to take notice. The video of the bonus reveal even went viral. 

This past holiday season, Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, gathered her staff at their Atlanta headquarters. Then, she announced that each Spanx employee would receive a pair of round-trip tickets anywhere in the world. Plus a $10,000 cash bonus. Two round trip tickets to anywhere—AND $10,000! Can you picture the scene in that room? Can you now see why a corporate announcement video went viral? Sara Blakely made this announcement not too long after her company was valued at 1.2 billion and sold to Blackstone. That’s billion with a “B.”

A Better of Future Needs Leadership that Represents All of Us

In the case of Blakely’s Spanx bonuses, sure – she had the money to offer this generosity. But a lot of other companies have been in the same position. Very few leaders have shared their success this way. Very few founders have been this generous towards those who helped them along the way. Blakely is a pioneer in the future of work. She is changing workplace norms and culture, and she’s not the only woman to be doing so. 

Despite women founders and leaders having incredible success, Forward Partners reports that the gender funding gap remains staggering. Female entrepreneurs own 38% of all businesses in the US. That number is not reflected in the proportion of startup money that currently goes to female founders. Women-led start-ups receive just 2.3% of VC funding and it is estimated that black women receive less than 1%.

We have plenty of reasons to highlight female founders. In this case, we’d like to focus on two reasons we’re sharing the successes of the women below:

  1. To celebrate and learn from their accomplishments
  2. To encourage a change in the future of work.

We need more leaders like these ten inspiring female founders.

1. Sara BlakelyFounder & CEO of Spanx

So, you’ve already heard one story about Sara Blakely, which should give you a pretty good idea about the type of leader she is. According to her Forbe’s profile (as part of America’s 100 most influential women) “Sara Blakely is founder and owner of shapewear brand Spanx, which sells undergarments, leggings, swimwear and maternity wear in over 50 countries.”

She not only founded the company Spanx, but she also invented their flagship product using a pair of old pantyhose. Since she came up with the idea, Spanx went on to sell for over 1 billion dollars, Sara has been listed in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, and she has her own Masterclass on self-made entrepreneurship. From door-to-door fax machine saleswoman to a global icon as a respected and successful businesswoman, Sara continues to swing a hammer towards the glass ceiling.   

2. Melanie Perkins Co-Founder & CEO of Canva 

Melanie Perkins was already revered as a successful businesswoman when she, along with two partners, released Canva in 2012. Canva is a design tool for amateurs and beginners. According to a profile on Leaders.com “The company’s core vision is to provide a space where anyone can create digital designs for marketing, presentations, invitations, social media, and more. Since opening its doors, the business has seen tremendous success as an accessible design tool.

As of 2019, the company boasts over 15 million monthly users across the world.” With Melanie leading Canva since its launch, it’s now estimated to be valued at close to 5 billion dollars. Beyond the fiscal success, how Melanie leads Canva has set an incredible example to other founders. In 2015, Canva announced that all non-for-profits could access “Canva Pro” for free. Now, over 25,000 NGOs around the world use Canva, helping the company to realize its mission of “being a force for good.”  

3. Sarah Paiji YooCo-founder & CEO of Blueland

Sara Yoo is one of those entrepreneurs and go-getters that could be defined as a cereal founder. According to an article in Entrepreneur, before launching Blueland, she had already cofounded the shopping app Snapette in 2010 (which she sold to PriceGrabber) then she helped launch brands like M. Gemi and Rockets of Awesome. Her newest endeavor, Blueline, has not only has been a huge success business-wise—it’s genuinely helping the planet.

Blueline is a refillable home cleaning product line, and she’s not only co-founder and CEO, it was her brainchild. She imagined a tablet that reacts like Alka-seltzer but has the cleaning power of Lysol. That didn’t exist anywhere outside of her mind. So, she chased scientists on LinkedIn, pursued manufacturers, and fast-forward—she’s got a multi-million dollar business. She’s an innovator who trusts her instincts, and a shining example to future CEOs and founders. Her story perfectly illustrates how to take an idea and turn it into a world-changing business.  

4. Ariana HuffingtonCo-Founder of the HuffPost & Founder of Thrive Global 

This list just wouldn’t be complete without the household name, Ariana Huffington. According to CareerAddicts list of 20 female entrepreneurs, “Arianna Huffington is the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the successful news website HuffPost (previously the Huffington Post). After creating a digital news outlet, Huffington set her sights on launching a series of books, including the most recent, The Sleep Revolution. She also manages the wellness site Thrive Global and offers a six-week course to improve people’s overall wellbeing.”

Huffington has been a force for over a decade in the world of news and media. She is now branching out to take on the wellness industry. One workplace innovation she championed was providing nap rooms for her employees so they can rest and prioritize their wellness. Huffington strongly believes that we all need to reevaluate how we define success in the future of work. Sometimes taking a nap in the middle of the workday is what success looks like. 

5. Jasmine CroweFounder & CEO of Goodr

Before founding her company, Jasmine was living the Vision of Goodr. She was practicing servant leadership in her community, trying to repurpose wasted food to feed community members in need. After realizing that hunger is not about a food shortage, but rather a problem with food re-distribution and access, she founded Goodr. According to a profile on Leaders.com “During the research stage of her company, she found that billions of dollars and pounds of food get wasted in the United States alone. Furthermore, with this information, she realized hunger could be solved through logistics.”

Jasmine is a business founder and leader who thinks in terms of the triple bottom line, aiming for outcomes beyond simply profits to shareholders. She raised over 1 million in funding over the past three years and continues to model an example of a servant leader. One who runs a successful business that has a positive impact on society. 

6. Allison RobinsonFounder & CEO of The Mom Project

According to an article in Entrepreneur online, “Research shows that 43 percent of top-rated female talent leaves the workforce within 12 months of having a baby.” Allison Robinson, founder and CEO of the Mom Project, says “It feels very all-or-nothing like you have to go all-in at work or be a stay-at-home mom.”

With this in mind, Robinson founded a marketplace in 2016 that connects female workers with flexible opportunities. She saw that the future of work was trending in a more flexible, human-first, direction. She also saw that new mothers often needed this shift the most.

Robinson raised 36 million and built a network of 300,000 professionals and 2,000 companies who collaborate to bring her vision to life. Along with impacting how employers and employees perceive flexibility in the workday, she’s been vocal about reimagining what a better work week might look like. In particular, Robinson’s an advocate for the four-day work week!

7. Padma LakshmiCreator/Host of Taste the Nation & Founder of Home Decore

Padma Parvati Lakshmi, is an Indian American founder, author, philanthropist, model, and most famously—a television host. She impacted culinary culture specifically, hosting Bravo’s hit TV show “Top Chef” for 16 seasons. She also recently launched a new television series on Hulu that shows a far deeper side of her. According to a profile in Entrepreneur online, “Taste the Nation would be a way to wrap thorny politics in mouthwatering dishes, with Lakshmi visiting, cooking, and talking history with people in various cultural pockets.”

While she is more well known as being a television host, she has had incredible success as a founder as well. From her own website: “Lakshmi created a fine jewelry line The Padma Collection, which sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. She also designed a home décor line under the same name featuring tabletop dishware, stemware, and hand-blown glass décor pieces […] sold nationwide in Bloomingdale’s.”

Whatever Padma involves herself in has success and permeates with her identity and ethos. She is a wonderful example of a powerful multi-talented female founder who isn’t afraid to pursue any idea across any industry. 

8. Ashley SumnerFounder & CEO of Quilt

According to a Techcrunch article, “Quilt started as a community platform founded by Ashley Sumner, which let local folks meet up with one another in their own homes. Sumner was on the founding team at NeueHouse and has spent her career building community through physical space. Thousands of Quilt conversations were happening out of peoples’ homes until the pandemic struck in March, resulting in an existential crisis for the startup.”

That moment of change, of doubt, is where Ashley’s true leadership shined brightest. Rather than panic or pause the platform, she orchestrated a massive pivot. She built Quilt 2.0. Quilt 2.0 was an audio app that would allow anyone to start a virtual room in order to hold a specific conversation. The response and retention rates have been fantastic. Ashley raised five million dollars for Quilt 2.0 in 2021 and continues to lead Quilt into the future of work. 

9. Melanie KlineCo-Founder & CEO of 23andMe

23andMe, the direct-to-consumer DNA testing company is now valued at around 2.5 billion dollars. In 2006, before Melanie co-founded the company, the concept was incredibly novel. There was no service where you could send a saliva sample through the mail, and then get valuable information about ancestry and health risks. 23andMe can make individuals aware if they’re at higher rates of risk for type two diabetes or breast cancer, for example.

Melanie brought her forward-thinking vision to life and built a hugely successful business. A business that is now a household name. According to a profile on Leaders.com, “Wojcicki is one of the most innovative women entrepreneurs in the biotech industry. A successful businesswoman, she serves as a revolutionary force in making important healthcare testing accessible and affordable to all.”

10. Emily WeissFounder & CEO of Glossier

Getting turned down doesn’t phase Emily Weiss. She was met with a lot of rejection when first trying to pivot her beauty blog to a beauty company. Now, in her series D round of funding, she landed the company over 100 million in overall investments. It’s safe to say, they’re in it for the long haul. In a recent press release, Emily states the following.

“We are building an entirely new kind of beauty company: one that owns the distribution channel and makes customers our stakeholders…Thanks to this direct relationship with our customers, we have access to endless inspiration for new products, experiences, and ways of building an enduring business—all while staying true to our core belief that beauty should be a celebration of individuality and personal choice.”

You can tell from this quote alone, Emily is reimagining what a successful beauty business looks like, how it operates, and how it builds trust with customers. With Emily at the helm, Glossier has an exciting future of endless growth and possibility. 

Building a Better Future of Work With Female Founders

In contrast to the history of low funding rates for female founders, there are signs pointing towards progress. According to an article by Leaders.com, “the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that between 2007 and 2018, women entrepreneurs rose by 58 percent. Furthermore, during this time, women of color who own businesses grew by 163 percent.

In addition to these positive signs of growth, the statistics also show these businesses increased their hires and revenue.” So, the tides are slowly changing, but the work is not close to being done. We need more female founders and inspirational leaders like the ten featured above to lead us into the future of work with heart, creativity, innovation, and determination. 

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