Every year Forbes creates a list of the world’s most promising and inspiring young leaders. The selected honorees answer questions about their goals and life inspirations, one of which, and perhaps the most defining, is who their dream mentor would be. The choices shared by the women on the under 30 list are both fascinating and revealing – very strong, dynamic and in some cases, polarizing public figures who have nonetheless used their vast platforms to advocate for women’s rights.
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, a self-made billionaire, activist, author and philanthropis. She received an education from Harvard University and once served as chief of staff to the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers. Her best-selling book Lean In was both a rallying cry for women and a hotly debated premise. Was this a book that only served the privileged few, was the gender inequality really our own problem for failing to step up? Regardless, the book did open the door to broader conversations about diversity in the workplace and has spawned a global movement to correct gender based bias.
A highly educated lawyer, with degrees from both Princeton and Harvard, Michelle Obama is an obvious top pick. She is a powerful and outspoken activist on issues such as global health, education, women’s rights and has been a particular champion to young women of color. In her new book Becoming, she further inspires by opening up about her early life as a wife, mother and First Lady and the personal struggles she overcame to ultimately find her sense of self. As typically happens with strong black women she initially polarized some in the public sphere, who characterized her strength as ‘aggressive’ and ‘angry’. She overcame those biases by staying completely true to herself, serving as a role model to all women about the importance of authenticity.
Oprah Winfrey is the ultimate entrepreneur – a talk show host, tv network boss, actress, producer, and philanthropist, she is a self-made billionaire who has established a globally-recognized personal brand. She uses her platform to advocate for numerous worthwhile courses with an emphasis on girls education. At the Golden Globes last year where she received the Cecil B de Mille award, Winfrey gave a galvanizing speech on race and sexual assault, in support of the metoo movement in which she singled out the story of Recy Taylor, a black young black woman who gang raped in the 1940s and whose attackers were never persecuted. That speech led to multiple calls for #Oprah2020 though I for one prefer to keep her as private citizen effecting change through the extensive platform.
Hillary Clinton has had an incredibly successful political, activist and educational career. She is a lawyer by profession and dedicated much of her early career in public service defending women and children. This mission carried over during her time as First Lady of the United States and her two terms as a Senator and then as the Secretary of State. As First Lady she famously delivered a speech at the Beijing United Nations conference that has become the cornerstone of her activism, that women’s rights are human rights. In 2017, Clinton became the first ever female Democratic nominee. Despite her successes and dedication to gender equality, she continues to divide public opinion among women and men alike, with 53% of white women voting for Donald Trump over her.