March marks Women’s History Month, and as we honor the contributions of the incredible women who came before us, it’s equally important to recognize those who are making history right before our eyes.
The past year has been incredibly difficult, especially for women. Covid-19 has economically hurt women the most, with many being laid off or leaving to care for children home from school.
Yet in the face of unprecedented adversity, many remarkable women have refused to give up. And in doing so, they’re making history right now.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Know Your Value is spotlighting just a few of the many women who are battling for change and are sure to be in our history books for years to come.
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, viral immunologist
Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett has literally saved millions of lives. Corbett, 35, leads a team of scientists at the national Vaccine Research Center. It was largely due to her leadership that the Moderna mRNA Covid-19 vaccine was developed late last year.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, oversees Corbett’s center. In a Time Magazine feature, Fauci called Corbett a “rising star” and credited her and her colleagues for having “a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years.”
Before Covid-19, Corbett studied Dengue fever immunology in Sri Lanka. By 2014, she was already studying coronaviruses at the NIH, making her well-suited for developing a vaccine when the pandemic hit.
Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi needs no introduction. As the first woman speaker of the House elected in 2007, she held the highest political rank of any woman ever until 2021, when Kamala Harris was elected vice president.
Pelosi has been a tenacious proponent of progressive-leaning politics throughout her career, which has spanned decades. Most recently, Pelosi has negotiated fiercely for a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, the biggest stimulus package ever proposed in America.
The 80-year-old legislator was targeted during the violent Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
As a result, Pelosi launched a second impeachment inquiry against President Donald J. Trump—a historic first for impeachment proceedings.
3. Kamala Harris, Vice President
Kamala Harris made history when she became the first woman, the first African-American and the first South Asian to become Vice President of the United States last year.
Harris and President Joseph Biden came into power during an era of record unemployment, social unrest and mass deaths due to the global pandemic. Harris has worked side-by-side with the president since day one, attending key meetings and giving input to his executive orders. Recently, Harris became the tie-breaking vote in a 50-50 stalemate in favor of debating a $1.9 trillion stimulus package in the Senate.
The daughter of Indian and Jamaican parents, Harris, 56, became the first South Asian woman and the second Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate in 2017. Harris rose to national fame when she boldly challenged the Trump Administration during Senate sessions, particularly during the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.
JoAnne S. Bass, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
In 2020, Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass became the first woman and the first Asian-American to hold the Chief Master Sergeant position in the U.S. Air Force, which is the highest enlisted leadership rank in the organization. She oversees 600,000 Airmen.
In January, Bass became an outspoken proponent of changing grooming standards for women throughout the Army. As of late February, military women are allowed to wear ponytails, buzz cuts, earrings, lipstick and nail polish. They will also be permitted to wear multiple hairstyles, as long as they don’t interfere with headgear.
Previously, the Army implemented strict minimum hair length restrictions of ¼ of an inch from the scalp. Things like braids and cornrows came with strict length regulations, a policy that was contested as discriminatory.
Hailing from a Korean mother and a retired U.S. Army colonel father, Bass has been in the Air Force since 1993.
Sarah McBride, Delaware state senator
Representing Delaware, Democrat Sarah McBride became the first out transperson state senator in 2020.
McBride, 30, has been a visible trans advocate since her early 20s. While serving as student body president for American University, McBride came out as trans in the school paper, garnering personal congratulations from fellow Delawareans Jill, Joe and Beau Biden.
She became the first openly transgender person to work in the White House as a 21-year-old intern. At just 22, she successfully advocated for the passage of Delaware’s Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act, which banned all institutional discrimination against people based on their gender identity.
Ava DuVernay, filmmaker
Few people have changed the conversation around racial justice in recent years as much as filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
In June 2020, DuVernay was elected to serve as a governor of the directors branch of the Academy. The position gives her considerable influence within the Academy, including the awards.
Since 2014, DuVernay has marked many “firsts.” She became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe and Best Picture Oscar for the film “Selma.” She also became the first Black woman to direct a film with a budget of over $100 million (“Wrinkle In Time”).
Her Netflix series about the Central Park jogger, “When They See Us,” received a record 16 Emmy Award nominations. Her Oscar-nominated documentary “13th” is an unprecedented deep-dive into the vilification and incarceration of African-Americans.
DuVernay’s film collective ARRAY aims to uplift other Black filmmakers and increase representation in the field.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Representative
Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, conquered all odds to become a representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District.
After defeating 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in an upset in 2018, Ocasio-Cortez rose to national fame.
At age 29, Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress. At the time, she didn’t have much money or seniority clout behind her, but she had a massive social media presence, ushering in a new generation of politicians.
AOC supports progressive causes, including the Green New Deal, free college tuition and the abolition of ICE. AOC, who is often the victim of sexist, racist and violent threats, has made headlines by holding people accountable for the verbal attacks against her and for the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
Jennifer King, NFL Coach
Just before the pandemic hit, an historic announcement was made: Jennifer King was hired as an assistant coach in the NFL, becoming the first Black woman to hold the position. In 2021, she was promoted to full-time coach of the Washington Football Team, formerly the Redskins. Once again, she is the first Black woman to hold the post.
Covid-19 overwhelmed the announcements, and it also canceled many football events. But King is thrilled about the job, writing in ESPN, “Some think football is complicated [for women]. But I've never felt that. The game has given me so much. The friendships, the coaches, the teams -- everything I'm getting now is just a bonus.”
King, 36, played football in the Women’s Football Alliance for 13 years. She coached women’s basketball at Johnson & Wales University before being tapped by the Panthers NFL team in 2018. She moved up from being an intern to an assistant wide receivers and special teams coach in the same year.