Phenomenal Women – Laverne Cox

Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” is a firm favourite with everyone at WoK HQ it should come as no surprise that Laverne Cox has made it onto our list.  An outspoke LGBT activist with an emphasis on the T and a talented actress she has racked up an impressive number of firsts including being:

  • The first openly and African-American trans* person to be nominated for an Emmy for a Primetime show
  • The first openly trans* person to grace the cover of Time magazine
  • The first openly trans* person to be on the cover of any Cosmopolitan magazine

Born in Alabama known for its civil rights history Laverne was often teased for being too effeminate a comparison made more apparent because she also has an identical twin brother.  By age 11 she had recognised that she didn’t feel like a boy “should” and as she got older she made the decision to transition and in so doing became the outspoken and proud African-American and trans* activist and pioneer.  In her own words:

“I am a person of color, working class, born to a single mother, but I stand before you tonight an artist, an actress and a sister and a daughter, and I believe that it is important to name the multiple parts of my identity because I am not just one thing, and neither are you”

Phenomenal Women – Tarana Burke

Although you may not have heard of Tarana Burke her call to action is one that has been unavoidable in recent months.  Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement which has been the catalyst for revelations, recriminations, and retributions for years of systemic sexual abuse and harassment highlighted by recent high profile cases from within the entertainment industry.

Tarana was born in the Bronx, New York and is a tireless advocate and activist for human and civil rights.  As founder of the Me Too Movement, she has had and will continue to have an impact on victims of assault and abuse.

Here at WoK HQ, we talk about what more we can do to help women and girls to speak out against their attackers and abusers and get everyone to understand that they have a responsibility when it comes to abuse. For us there should be no bystanders, we should all stand in solidarity with those people who are brave enough to tell their story and utter the words “Me Too.”

Phenomenal Women – Indra Nooyi

Our latest profile is of another formidable businesswoman.  Indra Nooyi is the Chief Executive of PepsiCo.  A worldwide brand and household name, PepsiCo is globally one of the biggest FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies and at its helm is a woman.  A passionate speaker and innovative leader she is trying to push boundaries for the company while retaining its impressive reputation and market share.

Born in India where opportunities for women to be business leaders is limited Indra was always a high achiever, focusing on the sciences in her early education then moving on to business and management.  Most notable for us at WokHQ was an article that was an interview that she did with Huffington post talking about the need for women to work together and help each other more.  She recounts an example to help make her point:

“Many times we’re in a presentation and the guy is giving a presentation, not going so well, so we call a break.  They go to the men’s room. “Hey Bill, that was awful, your presentation.  Fix it, man.  Don’t gesture so much”. Little fist bump, they come back, and Bill’s doing fine.”

Woman does a terrible job and you walk into the women’s room and you go, ‘you know Mary, that was terrible, what were you doing?’ ‘God she’s so bitchy’. No! I’m trying to give you constructive feedback. So what we do is, we assume feedback from women mean something is wrong, if the same feedback came from men, we’d accept it. Or worse still, we don’t give the feedback the way we should.

Even though we know they’re not doing well because we go, ‘good she’s struggling, I can take that position’. I think we have to change our whole approach to supporting each other, taking advice from each other, seeking it out. One thing I feel very badly about is all my mentors in my life have been male. But then I sit back and say maybe I came into the work force at a different time. Let’s figure out how we can help each other way more than we are today.”

Phenomenal Women – Mellody Hobson

Everyone at WoK HQ was excited to share this profile because we know that depending on the industry you work in you may have missed her.  Mellody Hobson is a formidable American businesswoman.  Her accomplishments include being the President of a large investment company  (Ariel Investments)as well as being Chair of the Board of the DreamWorks Animation company.  Just one of these jobs would be enough for one person, but the Mellody takes them both in her stride.

Her story is all the more important and poignant because she joined Ariel as an intern proving that it is possible to learn and rise through the ranks.  She also serves on various boards and gives her time to raise awareness about the issues that are important to her in a range of ways including fronting a television show about money management in 2009.

The final thing we will say about Mellody, because it is interesting, but by no means, an achievement or an accolade, is that she is also Mrs. George Lucas!

Phenomenal Women – Janet Jagan

Irrespective of your political persuasion, no series looking at notable women especially Guyanese women would be complete without mentioning Janet Jagan.  Janet Jagan was the first female president of Guyana which is no easy feat considering that it is an extremely patriarchal society.  It is so patriarchal that she was only able to take the role of President after her husband’s death in 1997.

An avid activist and women’s rights organiser, Janet was dedicated to progressing equal rights for women and founded the Women’s Political and Economic Organisation in 1946.  Born in Chicago to Jewish immigrant parents her dedication to Guyana was even more remarkable because it was her adopted home after her marriage to her Guyanese husband.

In yet another tribute to her adopted homeland, Janet was one of the early and staunch objectors to the British rule in Guyana and along with her husband and many others she actively fought for independence and was subject to house arrest and jail by the British government in their efforts to undermine the challenge to colonialism.

A heroine to some and a bitter political foe to others she received polarised opinions in Guyana, but ultimately she still stands as an example fo what a tenacious woman prepared to challenge stereotypes can achieve.

Phenomenal Women – Rita Williams & Ramona Nedd

Today it is Mother’s Day in the UK, and it is also the 17th anniversary of the passing of my grandmother.  I only ever had one grandmother, so it was heartwrenching when she passed.  Her story is one of strength and resilience she was a domestic for rich plantation owners in Guyana and was descended from the indentured East Indian labourers who were duped into moving to Guyana after the abolition of slavery.  A single mother to 6 children she made immense sacrifices for the good of her family including sending my mom and her sister’s to live in a Catholic orphanage giving them the opportunity to have a good education and raise their aspirations.

My mother obviously got her work ethic from her mom, and she took the opportunities given to her through being placed in the Orphanage a focused student and avid athlete she balanced school work with netball, swimming, and cycling.  As soon as she could start working she sacrificed higher education to begin working to support her younger siblings and to enable her mother to stop working in other people’s houses.

So today I wanted to honour both these women who set the blueprint for the other women in our family, as one of my favourite quotes says,

“Here’s to all the strong women, may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them!”


Phenomenal Women – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Women’s History Month would be incomplete without mention of our latest phenomenal woman.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria and is a successful and award-winning poet and author and outspoken advocate for feminism.  Her stories have had the impact of highlighting different cultures and bringing together men and women to understand multiple cultures as well as the concept of feminism.

Her popular article and book “We should all be feminists” is a call to action for everyone to embrace the concept of feminism and to accept that men and women together can achieve equality for all. As she said:

Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”