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Women Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

March 08, 2018
Women leaders and entrepreneurs
Seven extraordinary and inspiring women share their stories of success

Celebrating female leadership and entrepreneurship on International Women’s Day.

Women have come a long way. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey found that from 2015 to 2016, women entrepreneurship rates doubled compared to their male counterparts worldwide. In the U.S., 36 percent of all businesses are owned by women, according to the U.S. Census, an increase of 6 percent from 2007. While women are still outnumbered by men in the most prestigious positions, the number of women leaders around the world is slowly growing. To celebrate International Women’s Day, and women’s economic, political and social achievements worldwide, here are the stories of seven extraordinary female leaders that are breaking through the glass ceiling and empowering other women across industries.

1. Michelle Rodriguez

Named as “arguably the most iconic actress in the action genre, as well as one of the most visible Latinas in Hollywood” by Entertainment Weekly, The Fast and the Furious franchise star Michelle Rodriguez talks about diversity in the entertainment industry and gives advice to young people trying to make it in Hollywood. “Stand up for what you believe and be true to yourself,” says the action star who is known for portraying tough, independent women in such blockbuster films as “Avatar,” “The Fast and the Furious,” “Resident Evil,” and TV shows such as “Lost.” Learn more about this prominent Latina and what advice she has for women at Michelle Rodriguez: Don’t Settle for Less.

Michelle Rodriguez
Michelle Rodriguez. (Photo credit): de Boer

2. Wei Zhang

Wei Zhang is the president of Alibaba Pictures, the film unit of China’s biggest e-commerce company. Prior to Alibaba, she was a top talk show host in China, the chief operating officer of Star Television, and a managing director at CNBC China, among other positions, and got her MBA from Harvard. Now, Zhang is tasked with developing Alibaba’s entertainment business and creating the gateway from Hollywood and China, soon to be the largest movie market in the world. With so many accomplishments under her belt, Zhang advises young people to “be brave, follow your heart, and be persistent when you run into difficulties.” Read more about this accomplished female executive at Alibaba Pictures President Says Don’t Give Up.

Wei Zhang, president of Alibaba Pictures
Wei Zhang, president of Alibaba Pictures. (Photo credit): Christina Gandolfo

3. Elise Buik

Elise Buik is the first female president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles (UWGLA). She started out at United Way 23 years ago in the marketing department and rose through the ranks. As CEO, Buik has kickstarted several initiatives that educate people on how to maintain financial stability and fight homelessness and poverty in Los Angeles County. As a result, Buik and UWGLA have successfully moved over 36,000 people into permanent supportive housing and helped over 57,000 kids receive real-life work experience since 2011. Read more about the background of this extraordinary woman and what brought her to an organization that is making a difference in the lives of many at Elise Buik: Creating Pathways to Success.

Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles
Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles

4. Agnes Lew

Agnes Lew, the senior vice president and director of Wealth Management at East West Bank, is one of the top program managers in the country. Coming from a scientific background (she was educated as a scientist at California Institute of Technology), Lew switched industries and careers to become a president of a cross-border brokerage firm and later joined East West Bank. Under her leadership, the Wealth Management department has expanded, and its revenue has grown almost ten-fold. Learn more about this gifted business leader who’s breaking the barriers in a male-dominated field at Agnes Lew: Keeping it Real in the World of Wealth Management.

Agnes Lew, senior vice president and director of Wealth Management at East West Bank
Agnes Lew, senior vice president and director of Wealth Management at East West Bank

5. Belinda Sarooei

Belinda Sarooei is the owner and CEO of Flower Girl Dress for Less, an e-commerce business that sells discounted party dresses for kids. Sarooei and her husband first saw the potential of e-commerce back in 1999, before Amazon hit it big, and later launched their online business selling flower girl dresses at a discount. She also came up with a brand new marketing strategy, which resonated with shoppers and set the shop apart from the competition. Today, Flower Girl Dress for Less is a thriving business with approximately 30,000 products for sale on its site. Learn more about this visionary business woman at Flower Girl Dress for Less: E-commerce Strategy of the Future.

Belinda Sarooei, owner and CEO of Flower Girl Dress for Less
Belinda Sarooei, owner and CEO of Flower Girl Dress for Less

6. Elaine Chin

Elaine Chin is a producer with over 15 years of experience in global content development and production. Passionate about entertainment from an early age, Chin started off as a literary agent assistant at William Morris agency and quickly rose through entertainment development ranks. Chin’s former titles include vice president of production at Walt Disney Studio, where she launched their film initiative for the China market, and director of development and production for 20th Century Fox and HBO. Learn more about this talented film and television executive and get her expert opinion on U.S.-China entertainment at Elaine Chin: Digital’s Impact on Hollywood-China Entertainment.

Elaine Chin, the producer and former vice president of production, China at Walt Disney Studios
Elaine Chin, producer and former vice president of production, China, at Walt Disney Studios

7. Hailey Kwon

Hailey Kwon is the founder and owner of gourmet cupcake bakery Dots Cupcakes and its offshoot, Dots Café, a new sit-down café in Southern California. Before there was a cupcake shop on every corner, Kwon decided to take a risk, crafted the perfect cupcake recipes, and opened her own cupcakery in 2006. Since then, her gourmet cupcakes have been featured in numerous magazines and at celebrity events. Recently, she realized her long-held dream of opening a cafe. Learn more about this cupcake pioneer and entrepreneur and how her business achieved sweet success at Dots Cupcakes: How a First Business Achieved Sweet Success.

Hailey Kwon, founder and owner of Dots Cupcakes and Dots Cafe
Hailey Kwon, founder and owner of Dots Cupcakes and Dots Cafe