Women Leaders on How They Are Disrupting Their Industries
Challenging the status quo is how change is made. And despite the inherent risk that comes with pushing boundaries, countless women have shown us that doing so has the power to transform the world forever. Take, for example, Mae Jemison, Marie Curie, Kamala Harris, and Frida Kahlo.
For the following 18 trailblazing women, their disruptive work is pushing past “the way things have always been” to create a future that is more impactful, more sustainable, and more inclusive for everyone. At the core of the work they do is bravery—bravery to critically look at their industry and say, “We can do better.”
Perhaps most importantly, their visions for the future are a critical reminder that no matter how set in stone an industry may be, there is always an opportunity to disrupt what has been in exchange for something better than we could have ever imagined.
Sehreen Noor Ali
Co-Founder of Sleuth, a GPS for early childhood health, giving parents next-step directions for their child's unique health journey.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: At a time when chronic conditions have risen 400 percent in two generations and 45 percent of the children who need immediate intervention do not get it, we're disrupting the way parents get information about children's health and development. We center parents' lived experiences, translating their knowledge into data about symptoms, treatment pathways, resources, and daily living tips. We are building the first-ever crowdsourced database for childhood health.
My Vision for the Future: I want thoughtful technology to help us center the voice of children and caregivers in childhood health. That way, we can more deeply understand the interventions and experiences that are most supportive to each child. I'd also like to see more amplification from the market for the many solutions that parents have already built, such as the daily journal designed by a special need mom or the E-IQ game designed by a child psychologist to help families learn evidence-based emotional skills. There's so much innovation in the space from parents themselves, but the market has not yet really recognized or supported them.
Founder and CEO of Ossa, a podcast network connecting women-hosted podcasts and women-focused brands in order to increase the representation and influence of women’s voices worldwide.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: As a passionate supporter of women’s initiatives, I launched Ossa to help women in podcasting to reach and exceed the success of the podcast industry that was dominated by men. Other networks focus primarily on attracting celebrities with much larger audiences. In contrast, our approach is to support the ‘everywomen’ microinfluencers with a small to midsize niche podcast audience. Ossa connects our women creators with advertisers who understand the power of micro influencers.
My Vision for the Future: The podcasting industry is now focused on consolidation. Major platforms and businesses are buying each other up and becoming more powerful. This acquisition frenzy may squeeze out smaller industry players, inhibiting industry inclusion and innovation. My wish for the industry is to promote innovation by embracing and fostering new technology and communications players.
Rosario B Casas
Co-Founder and CEO of XR Americas, a company looking to improve the future of workforce training and contribute to safer field operations.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: My company is in the education technology industry. We are working with frontier technologies such as immersive realities and advanced analytics while they are still under development. We are also finding ways to improve the safety and the capacity of workers who are usually underestimated and therefore oftentimes not taken into consideration for state-of-the-art technology use cases.
My Vision for the Future: As a Latina who worked and lived in Colombia for many years, I know that technology must be accessible, affordable, and people-first. I am convinced that immersive realities will be the future of interaction between humans and the world. My greatest wish is that we are not leaving anyone behind. This is the only way the industry will create inclusive technology to solve critical problems.
Founder and Chief Narrative Strategist of The New Quo, a leadership and inclusion consultancy that uses behavioral-science based strategies to transform behavior and build inclusive communities.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: Most training organizations focus on fixing the external symptoms of bias: recruitment, process, procedures. Those are important steps in the equity process, but bias cannot be solved through external strategies. It's an internal and psychological challenge as well. My work at The New Quo uses a unique methodology called narrative intelligence, which is based on the concept that 65 percent of all daily communication, including the stereotypes and assumptions we hold about each other, is done through story. Raising narrative intelligence can help people become more equitable decision makers and build inclusive habits that stick.
My Vision for the Future: My wish is for people to incorporate more behavioral-science-based strategies into their work, to go to the root causes of bias and inequity, and to become more intersectional in approaches. We can't solve these complex problems in silos or with one singular method.
Founder of Good Impact Network, which helps purpose-driven companies find innovative social impact opportunities that align with their brand values and support their business goals.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: At Good Impact Network, we are changing the way companies and nonprofits partner to influence change. We are guiding more corporate funding toward charitable causes by making it easier for purpose-driven businesses of all sizes to find aligned causes and programs to support, as well as providing tools and resources to help nonprofits become exceptional partners in brand activism.
My Vision for the Future: In 2019, companies donated a total of $21.09 billion to charitable causes in the United States, a mere 5 percent of the total charitable giving figure for the year. Meanwhile, U.S. companies also spent a whopping $239 billion on advertising. While these stats might seem gross to most, at Good Impact Network, we see it as an incredible opportunity to leverage corporate resources to bring awareness and, more importantly, funding to important causes and charitable organizations.
Co-Founder and CEO of DIG labs, which brings lab-quality pet insights to your backyard with just one poop photo.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: We are bringing real-time insights to pet parents backyards with contactless, on-demand technology—no peeing on sticks or bagging up poop to send off to a lab just to wait weeks for a result. The key is patent-pending, computer-vision technology to help pet parents take the guesswork out of pet health via stool photo analysis.
My Vision for the Future: Our greatest wish is for pet parents to have better access to real-time, personalized insights so their animals may live healthier lives. While pets are our fur babies, unlike human babies, they never grow into the ability to communicate with us about their health. We are forced to decipher context clues or wait until a preventable situation bubbles up to an emergency symptom: diarrhea, a limp, and more. At DIG labs, our mission is to arm pet parents everywhere with smarter technology to act sooner, faster, and with the right steps the first time.
Co-Founder and COO of Kintra Fibers, a material science company that manufactures bio-based and compostable performance materials for apparel and other textile applications.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: Synthetic textiles such as PET, rPET, and nylon represent 63 percent of global fiber production. Petrochemical-based polyester alone represents 52 percent of the textile market. With a proprietary chemistry that uses 100 percent bio-based inputs, Kintra Fibers provides farm-to-fabric transparency for the synthetic textile supply chain. Furthermore, because their chemistry is intrinsically compostable, Kintra provides a powerful solution to the microplastic pollution.
My Vision for the Future: I am seeing the early stages of massive industry transformation happening already. Consumers are empowered with knowledge, and they are increasingly demanding products that are not harmful to the planet.
Founder and CEO of Chuan Skincare, an affordable, hand-crafted skincare line made from all natural ingredients.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: I'm disrupting the beauty and wellness industry in three ways. First, I prioritize using high-quality, all-natural ingredients and am transparent about my ingredients, process and products. Next, I've made sustainable choices about sourcing, packaging and shipping from the start. Finally, I recognize that the beauty and wellness industry is not diverse or representative, and I'm actively taking action against racism and building an inclusive brand.
My Vision for the Future: I want to see the societal shifts we see in sustainability and anti-racism come into the beauty and wellness industry. As a millennial, I know these are two core values of many people in my generation, but I don't see big brands or the industry changing fast enough to adapt to them now.
Founder & CEO of ThyForLife Health Inc., an award-winning technology company built to enable the more than 200 million thyroid patients globally to efficiently manage and optimize their health.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: After personally enduring and surviving thyroid cancer, I experienced first-hand how overlooked and underserved thyroid patients are within the healthcare system as a whole, despite being the sixth most commonly diagnosed condition in the U.S. We are changing the way patients are able to track their lifetime condition, engage with the thyroid community for support, and access latest research in the field. ThyForLife is the only platform focused on streamlining all thyroid patient’s data into a singular location accessible via a consumer mobile app.
My Vision for the Future: I look forward to the day when the industry provides standardized access to electronic medical records and finally shifts away from legacy technology to flexible plug-and-play mobile solutions that integrate seamlessly across physician and patient platforms. It’s past time each patient is empowered with easy access to their own health information and end-to-end records at their fingertips.
Kat de Haën
Co-Founder of The Fourth Floor, a new kind of ecosystem that leverages community capital to democratize access and drive systemic change for women.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: We are disrupting the "old boy" network and the traditional path to board seats, money, and power. We are connecting women founders of early-stage companies to women leaders so that the founders can benefit from expert guidance, mature networks, and credibility to effectively raise capital, and the leaders can initiate and advance for-profit board careers and leverage the experience into increasingly larger board opportunities including public board seats.
My Vision for the Future: We want to see increased access driving systemic changes that ultimately break down the invisible and insidious barriers that have kept women out of the loop when it comes to board rooms, C-suites, and from generating wealth.
Vice President of SAP.iO Foundries North America, SAP’s global network of equity-free startup accelerators that help promising startups integrate with SAP solutions.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: The long-term trajectory of technology depends upon who is at the table when solutions are crafted. I believe there is a moral obligation to ensure enterprise software is developed and deployed in a way that is truly better for all, not just for some. At SAP, I'm doing this by creating an ecosystem of startups primarily led by underrepresented founders for our customers to partner with. They are providing solutions to some of the most pressing business problems but often lack access to networks.
My Vision for the Future: I fervently hope that initiatives like ours are not unique in the future. I want to see a robust network of women and diverse founders in enterprise technology. Finally, I would love to see many enterprise tech unicorns led by underrepresented founders.
Founder and CEO of Adventurely, a meetup app that helps digital nomads, solo travelers, and local adventure seekers discover and share local experiences.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: We knew the world would eventually go remote, but never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that a pandemic would instantly give 100 million Americans more flexibility than ever before to travel at any time and work from anywhere. Adventurely's app is disrupting the intersections of travel, the future of work, and social media as an easy, fun, and adventurous ways for digital nomads to safely meet and connect for fun things to do together while exploring new cities they temporarily live in.
My Vision for the Future: My biggest wish for the travel industry is for it to embrace digital nomad travel more. There's still a slight resistance mostly originating from traditional travel brands that never encountered the digital nomad customer before but instead focused their business on classic traveler profiles such as business travel, family travel, group excursions, and couples. With all of the new health, safety, and quarantine requirements for travel in these times, digital nomad travel is absolutely key to the travel industry's full recovery.
Founder and Chief Art Advisor of smART Advisory, which empowers, elevates, and creates opportunities for visual artists through entrepreneurship and partnership with collectors and businesses.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: The art world and art history have been romanticizing and fixated on the "starving" artist and the idea that artists make money after their death for centuries. Some successful artists have trouble admitting they are entrepreneurs because they fear they won't be accepted as an "artist" in the art world. As an art historian, entrepreneur, and art advisor, my mission is to rewrite art history and guide artists to raise creativity, cultural, economic, and social values through strategic entrepreneurship and partnerships.
My Vision for the Future: My mission to shift the "starving" artist's mindset began long before my son's birth. Being a new parent has inspired me to pursue this mission even further. I'd still encourage my son to be an artist if he chooses, and I'd make sure he has the vital skill sets to thrive as an artist. I want him and his generation to have more options and freedom to choose their career path and make the "starving" artist a thing of the past.
Founder and CEO of WE Global Studios, a full-stack startup innovation studio and digital DIY platform for women entrepreneurs around the world.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: We are an innovation startup studio modeled after Hollywood. Instead of making deals with talent, we make deals with founders. And instead of making movies, we make companies. We have rearchitected the entire startup ecosystem for women to optimize for traction, revenue and efficient scaling by focusing on taking founders through strategic, sequential building blocks—as they do in Hollywood.
My Vision for the Future: I would like to see the market seek women out to fund them and recognize and place value on their superior ROI. I also would like to see 100 times the rate of female led IPOs and real wealth generation for female founders so they can better their communities and our world.
Founder and Creative Director of Sonderlier, a sustainable clothing brand offering women camera-ready clothing that they can sleep in.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: Combining fashion, wellness, and sustainability, I founded Sonderlier to change our relationship with clothing. We offer radically versatile designs that not only fulfill our aspiration for beauty but also our everyday need to be comfortable and free. It's our mission to ensure that harnessing the power of beauty on a daily basis through fashion is no longer a hassle or discomfort, but rather a no-brainer.
My Vision for the Future: I hope that the fashion industry will become more well-being driven, rather than purely looks-driven. Having a more well-rounded view of the well-being of the wearer, the workers, and the environment is key in pushing the industry forward. I look forward to the day where sustainable and ethical fashion are the status quo.
Executive Coach at Arielle Shnaidman LLC, an executive coach for founders and leaders.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: Over the course of my career, I've noticed that many of the people who stand to benefit from executive coaching the most can't always afford it. Whether you're an early-stage founder, your company has fallen on hard times, or something entirely different, there are a lot of leaders with untapped potential who just need better access. That's why I've built my practice around full-fee, low-bono, and even pro-bono clients. My full-fee clients enable me to be more flexible and work deeply with people who otherwise might not be able to make that investment in themselves.
My Vision for the Future: My greatest wish is that leaders and companies will start to see how coaching can help even the most brilliant people reach their next level of success. To be blunt, if a company is paying someone more than $100,000 per year, how can they afford not to invest in that person's professional development?
Founder and CEO of PositiveHire, which connects experienced Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women in STEM to management roles.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: By advocating for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women in STEM, I am disrupting the industry because we are overwhelmingly underrepresented. In my industry experience, it was very seldom that underrepresented women were being promoted with years of experience and formal education. I myself was stuck in the same role, without any promise of advancement. By advocating for underrepresented women, we are giving them the tools they need to climb the ropes in a very biased industry.
My Vision for the Future: I wish to see Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women in more management and C-suite level roles across the board. I want women to be confident that when they enter the workplace with their STEM degrees. I would like to see the change in leadership, as the problem starts at the top. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just a trend.
Co-Founder of Halo Incubator, an accelerator for early-stage women entrepreneurs.
How I’m Disrupting My Industry: Halo Incubator is exclusively focused on early-stage women and radically eliminates the usual gate-keeping criteria for similar programs to ensure women-founded companies get similar attention, resources, network, and funding opportunities to succeed. Our programming focuses on education, prioritization of key build and growth activities, and fostering an inclusive community, which includes an alumni program that founders can access support from Halo even years after their cohort ends.
My Vision for the Future: My greatest ambition for the future of the accelerator space is to source both more diverse funding and greater mentorship and education for women founders early on in their growth. We should get to the point where minority-specific programs are redundant as the industry is inclusive and diverse as a whole.
All individuals featured in this article are members of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.