The Remarkable Women+ of 2020

By Ellevest Team

2020 was a devastating year in so many ways. The pandemic and “she-cession” meant we lost people, and we lost traction. But it was also a year of remarkable work by women+. Some fought for justice. Some triumphed despite the odds. Some burned themselves into the world’s memory. And some made history. Today, we look back at some of the remarkable women+ who made 2020.

The pandemic fighters

2020 will be remembered forever as the year the COVID-19 pandemic changed world history. Some women+ were fighting on the front lines at work — and others were fighting personal battles at home.

The healthcare workers. Nearly 80% of all healthcare workers and 83% of social support professionals are women. They deserve all the thanks and applause they received in 2020 … and a lot more.

The moms. As sociologist Jessica Calero put it, “Other countries have a social safety net. The US has women.” And because we aren’t valuing and supporting women equally, because we expect women to be caregivers, that created a “third shift” of work for mothers across the country as schools and childcare closed down. 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in just one month in September 2020.

Dolly Parton. Her $1 million donation to fight the coronavirus was used to help develop the Moderna vaccine. (She also saved a child’s life while filming her latest holiday movie, released a book and album, and managed to be the only American everyone likes.)

The essential workers. When the country shut down last spring, one in three jobs held by women was designated essential — meaning women were out there, risking their lives to help hold down the spread of the virus. And many of them were also trying to balance work with childcare — like D’Shea Grant, who takes care of her daughter with cerebral palsy during the day and does DoorDash delivery at night.

Anika Chebrolu. She discovered a molecule that binds to the coronavirus and could be used in antiviral treatments. Btw, she’s 14.

The teachers. 76.5% of charter and public school teachers are women. They have had to deal with health worries as schools opened, new (and more difficult) ways of teaching as schools closed, and the new burden of providing critical child care for burdened families. It’s exhausting, especially as they try to find balance with caring for their own kids.

Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott. Gates has donated $250 million to COVID-19 vaccine research, development, and delivery and nearly $500 million to coronavirus relief overall through the Gates Foundation and spoken out about how the pandemic has exposed America’s broken caregiving system. In December, Scott announced that she has given $4.2 billion (with a B) to pandemic relief and systemic change in just four months, on top of the $1.7 billion she gave the year before. Together, Gates and Scott launched the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, a $40 million initiative to help “expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.”

The political groundbreakers

The 2020 elections loomed over the entire year as we collectively wondered how the country would be run for the next four years. As that question played out, women+ were campaigning … and winning. A few firsts of 2020:

Kamala Harris. When sworn in as vice president, she will become the highest-ranking woman in the 244-year history of the United States — and the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian person to hold the office.

The women in Congress. When the session begins in January 2021, the 117th Congress will have the most women ever, with at least 135.

The Black women representatives. In January, the US House of Representatives will have 23 Black women representatives — also a new record.

The Republican women. 32 Republican women will serve in Congress, another record.

Dr. Jill Biden. In January, Dr. Biden will be the first First Lady with a full-time job outside the White House.

Marilyn Strickland. The first Korean American woman elected to Congress, Strickland is also the first Black person to represent Washington State in the US House.

Sarah McBride. When elected to state senate in Delaware, McBride became the first transgender woman to hold that role.

Stephanie Byers. She’s the first BIPOC trans woman elected to a state legislature, in Kansas.

Mauree Turner. The first gender non-binary person elected to a state legislature, Turner is also the first Muslim to be elected to the legislature in the state of Oklahoma).

The media powerhouses

Adriene Mishler and Tabitha Brown. Mischler found a new audience for Yoga With Adriene as people gravitated to her reassuring yoga videos. Brown’s TikTok of soothing vegan recipes made her the platform’s #2 influencer.

Megan Thee Stallion. Her song “Savage” earned four Grammy nominations. She pushed boundaries with “WAP,” her explicit duet with Cardi B. (“This is my body; why can’t I talk about it? Men have been doing it for years.”) And when she was shot in July, she became a focal point in the conversation about how Black women targeted for violence are unprotected and disbelieved — something she spoke about on her new album “Good News.”

Yamiche Alcindor, Savannah Guthrie, and Kristen Welker. The three journalists each pushed for the truth in 2020, whether in a press briefing, a debate, or a town hall. Alcindor was honored with the Gwen Ifill Award and named the National Association for Black Journalists’ Journalist of the Year, while Guthrie and Welker were profiled in the January issue of Vogue for their “tough but fair” coverage of the election.

NK Jemisin. Her novel “The City We Became” landed on any number of books of the year lists. She received a MacArthur genius grant for “pushing against the conventions of epic fantasy and science fiction genres while exploring deeply human questions about structural racism, environmental crises, and familial relationships.”

Billie Eilish. In January, Eilish became the first woman (and only second person) to sweep the “Big Four” categories at the Grammys: best new artist and album, song, and record of the year. In November, she became the youngest two-time Grammy nominee.

Taylor Swift. She started the year talking about sexism in “Miss Americana” and “The Man.” She ended it re-recording her catalog in reaction to an exploitative former manager. In the meantime, she spoke out about systemic racism and homophobia and released two albums.

Brit Bennett. Set during the Jim Crow era and published just a week after George Floyd was killed, her novel “The Vanishing Half” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 27 weeks and counting, sparked a seven-figure HBO deal, and earned a place on the National Book Award longlist.

Selena Gomez. The actress, singer, and entrepreneur achieved another #1 album (“Rare”) — but that’s only part of her remarkable year. She used her platform to amplify Black voices. Her HBO Max show “Selena + Chef” was celebrated as personal, pared-down quarantine viewing. She launched Rare Beauty with a mission of inclusion and a vast variety of skin tones. And she also debuted the Rare Impact Fund with the goal of raising $100M over the next 10 years to help give people access to mental health services.

The women+ who played for something bigger

As sports reinvented itself throughout 2020, women+ in sports were making big professional moves — and making their voices heard.

The players of the WNBA. Across the league, players came together in an incredible show of activism. They dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor. They pushed back against Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler, who criticized their support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. And they worked hard to get out the vote. They’re all MVPs.

Kim Ng. The new general manager of the Miami Marlins is the first woman to be a GM in any major men’s sports league in North America and the second Asian American to lead a major league baseball team.

Sarah Fuller. On November 28, Fuller suited up (including a helmet that said “Play Like a Girl”) and tool the role of kicker for the Vanderbilt Commodores. It’s the first time a woman has played in a Power 5 football game.

Layshia Clarendon. A basketball player for the New York Liberty, Clarendon has been called “the most visible non-binary athlete in sports.”

Naomi Osaka. The tennis player used her platform at the US Open this year to wear seven different masks, each with the name of Black American victim of violence. “Tennis is watched all around the world, so people who might not know these names can google them and learn their stories. That was a big motivator for me, and I think it helped me win the tournament.”

Emily Harrington. After topping the mountain in 21 hours, 13 minutes, and 51 seconds, Harrington became the first woman to free climb Yosemite’s El Capitan — one of the most challenging rock-climbing venues in the world — in one day.

Maya Gabeira. The biggest wave surfed by anyone in the winter 2109-2020 season belonged to Gabeira, who beat out all her competitors — not just the women.

The career achievers

Even as we saw so many career setbacks for women+ in 2020, we also saw incredibly significant moves forward. Some of our favorites:

The Black and Latinx business owners. The number of start-ups founded by Black and Latinx women has doubled in the past two years, according to Project Diane.

The women CEOs on the Fortune 500. When Lauren Hobart takes the helm at Dick’s Sporting Goods in January, there will be 41 women CEOs, an all-time high that shatters last year’s record of 33. (But there’s still so much room for more: The new record is just 8% of the list, which contains only three women of color and zero Black women.)

The astronauts. Upon her return to Earth in March, Christina Koch, who was part of the first all-woman spacewalk last October, set a new record for time in space. And just this month, NASA announced that the 2024 Artemis space program will include the first woman to land on the moon.

Alisha Ramos. As pretty much every night became relevant to her mission of connection and self-care, the founder of Girls’ Night In worked overtime in 2020. GNI launched The Lounge, a membership platform to help people make meaningful friendships. and Whiled, a line of (gorgeous) puzzles to help people slow down and get time away from screens.

Jane Fraser. Citigroup made history by naming Fraser the first woman to run a major bank, recognizing her 16-year career rising through the ranks.

Mariya Russell. Late in 2019, Russell became the first Black woman chef to run a Michelin starred restaurant. And unlike so many in the struggling industry, her restaurant was surviving the pandemic. But she was struggling against a culture of “toxic masculinity,” elitism, and overwork. So she did something brave: She quit her job as an act of self-care and “always remembering to put myself first in all situations for the rest of my life.”

Mellody Hobson. When she was named head of Starbucks’ board of directors, Hobson became the only Black woman chair of a S&P 500 company.

The fighters for justice

In 2020, Black Lives Matter became the largest movement in US history, the fight to make sure everyone could vote resulted in a record-high voter turnout, and social justice and racial equity became a national conversation.

Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. The founders of Black Lives Matter launched the movement in 2013 in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Since then, they’ve continued speaking out individually and through the massive movement they created.

Stacey Abrams. When she lost her run for Georgia governor after a massive purge of voter rolls by her opponent, Abrams founded Fair Fight to combat voter suppression. Her work was instrumental in the 2020 elections in Georgia and beyond.

The teen girls. Tiana Day and Mimi Zoila in San Francisco. Nya Collins, Jade Fuller, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith, Mikayla Smith, and Zee Thomas in Nashville. Brianna Chandler in St. Louis. Shayla Turner in Chicago. Across the country, teenage girls organized and led significant protests that drew thousands of people.

Raquel Willis. The director of communications for the Ms. Foundation and the founder of Black Trans Circles, she was also one of the organizers of one of the largest actions in support of trans people, the Black Trans Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn last June.

Judy Heumann. In the ‘70s, Heumann was a key organizer who led a sit-in for disability rights — which paved the way for the Americans With Disabilities Act. In 2020, a new generation heard her story in the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp.”

Rachel Cargle. Through her Instagram and its companion The Great Unlearn, Cargle provides a free classroom on systemic racism.” She’s also the founder of the Loveland Foundation to get therapy to Black women and girls. In September, Cargle launched the pop-up Elizabeth’s Bookshop and Writing Centre.

The women+ we lost

There’s no way to be inclusive of everyone we lost in 2020 — in so many ways, loss is the defining word of the year. Below, a few of the women+ whose loss changed the world this year.

Breonna Taylor. Anguish and fury about her death at the hands of police in her own home made Taylor one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter protests and the Say Her Name movement for gender-inclusive racial justice.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A beloved Supreme Court justice and lifelong advocate for women’s rights, Ginsburg was so symbolic of feminism that people across the world mourned and paid tribute.

Katherine Johnson. A NASA mathematician, Johnson’s long-unrecognized work was finally given credit late in her life, especially in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. These two Black transgender women who were murdered in the same week last June, bringing a spotlight to the crisis of violence in the Black trans community.

Helen Reddy. After becoming a ‘70s anthem, Reddy’s song “I Am Woman” reached a new generation after #MeToo.

Phyllis Lyon. A civil rights pioneer, Lyon began advocating for lesbian rights in 1955 and was part of the first legal same-gender marriage in California.

Lynn Shelton. Her work put women at the center — and her career, started at age 40, was a triumph of “second act” success.

Monica Roberts. A journalist, storyteller, and advocate for Black trans rights, Roberts started her influential blog TransGriot in 2006 simply because “nobody else was doing it.”

All of the women+ we’ve lost to COVID-19.

Progress is never a straight line. It’s two steps forward, one step back, a step to the left, a step to the right. And progress in a society is even more complicated because things often move backward and forward all at once. But even during the steps backward, you learn, you keep going. And you celebrate every single step forward.

FYI, Gates’ investment and incubation company Pivotal Ventures is an investor in Ellevest.

She’s also an investor in Ellevest, btw. Our investors continue to be amazing.

© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.

A newsletter you’ll love

Get all the news, advice, and must-know info on women, money, and career.

Ellevest Team

Ellevest helps women build and manage their wealth through goal-based investing, financial planning, and wealth management. Our mission is to get more money in the hands of women.