When you think of inspirational women leaders in business, who comes to mind? Is it Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors—the first female CEO of a major global automaker? Or maybe Indra Nooyi, who served for 13 years as CEO of PepsiCo, one of the largest food and beverage businesses in the world?
With women at the helm of such large enterprises, it’s hard to believe that there had not been a woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company until 1972—when Nooyi was 17. No doubt she and Barra faced formidable obstacles in their journeys to leadership, including discrimination against women in education, in business, and across societal expectations. In spite of this, they rose to prominence and success, blazing a trail for others to follow, and we are right to celebrate what they have achieved.
However, the celebration of women leaders should not be limited to the C-suite. Out of the spotlight and away from the media attention, women throughout global supply chains are quietly taking on leadership roles and driving change for their colleagues, families, and communities. To highlight these lesser-known leaders on International Women’s Day, we have partnered with four committed partners of HERproject—The Estée Lauder Companies, Inc., Nordstrom, UGG®, and Williams-Sonoma, Inc.—to raise the profile of and increase support for women leaders right across the supply chain, from corporate offices to the factory floor.
Our #ThisIsALeader campaign celebrates workers from factories in China, India, Vietnam, and other countries where HERproject is active. Through HERproject, these women have become peer educators: sharing knowledge and skills on health, financial inclusion, and gender equality with their colleagues. And as leaders in their respective communities, these peer educators advocate on behalf of their colleagues, provide them with support, and show what is possible even in societies where women often face overwhelming challenges.
Take Sapna, a HERproject Peer Educator in Agra, India:
I was the sole breadwinner of my family for a long time and I was responsible for the overall well-being of everyone at home. For reasons we never discovered, one of my brothers fell ill and suffered a paralytic stroke. He was bedridden for months. My mother was also unwell and eventually passed away after a heart attack. That happened just after my engagement.
Because of this series of sad events, culminating in my mother’s death, the groom’s family decided that I was a bad omen and called off our engagement. These were really bitter and tough experiences for me. But they only strengthened my determination to succeed in life.
I didn’t know what the HERfinance program was, but when I heard about it, I was curious, and I thought that I wouldn’t lose anything by attending it. So, I took part in the trainings at the factory and they helped me to regain the confidence I had lost. I realized that, along with education, financial planning is critical for our generation. The trainings made me decide to spend wisely and save so that my future is secure.
My brother has now recovered from his illness. He recently started a new job and is looking forward to a bright future. For myself, I’m pursuing higher education again and I’m hoping to graduate.
That’s just one of the amazing stories we hear through HERproject. Like Sapna, women leaders within brands are driving commitment to women’s empowerment. They are connected across geographies by the belief that they can help others and improve the lives of people around them—especially fellow women.
Beyond celebrating women across the global supply chain, we want to catalyze support so that they can go further as leaders: spreading knowledge, belief, and confidence, and unlocking the potential of women around them. Because we believe that when business and partners work to unlock this potential, the impact will be unprecedented.
For International Women’s Day, we call on businesses to commit to empowering women leaders right across your supply chain. And we invite you to join the conversation on social media by sharing a photo of an unsung woman leader with the sentence “#ThisIsALeader because…”. Together, we can raise the profile of the women who are making a difference and step up our support for them as they drive positive change.