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From politics to the pandemic: How women changed the course of 2020

In a year like no other, we celebrate the historic gains for women in politics, business and the fight against Covid-19.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sandra Lindsay, Dr. Jill Biden.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sandra Lindsay, Dr. Jill Biden.Getty Images, AP

As 2020 goes down in history, it will be remembered for more than just the year that the coronavirus pandemic changed the world as we know it. The year 2020 will also be remembered for the women from many different walks of life who made a profound impact and great progress, from female politicians and women making strides in corporate America to frontline nurses providing care and relief in these very challenging times.

“In a year like no other — and truly like no other — I would like to reflect on the triumphs and challenges of women who shattered ceilings, demanded more and paved the way for a brighter year ahead despite all odds,” said Mika Brzezinski, Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host.

In a virtual roundtable interview this month, Brzezinski spoke with Kristen Welker, NBC News White House correspondent and Weekend TODAY co-anchor, Susan Del Percio, senior advisor to The Lincoln Project, Errin Haines, editor-at-large for “The 19th” and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine and MSNBC medical contributor. The women reflected some of these monumental moments for women – especially women of color – and what this means for the future.

Women and the election cycle

In politics, this year was unique in the sense that in the election cycle, women on both sides of the aisle broke records across the country, winning no less than 141 seats in Congress. Furthermore, Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala Harris made strides as the first female, Black, South Asian-American elected to the nation’s second highest office.

RELATED: Inside the movement that swept Republican women into Congress

“It is an extraordinary year,” Haines said, mentioning that many women of color had to continue to fight throughout history to have a voice and be represented. “Women have helped to usher in the most diverse Congress in history,” Haines said. Given the particularly challenging year, it was notable that women were able to pull this off despite this time of suffrage and setback. That said, Haines explained that while women are making great progress in politics, they still have a long way to go. “We know that women still are not represented in line with their demographic numbers in this country,” she said. Haines believes that it will be quite interesting to see how gender factors into policy in the months and years ahead.

Welker added that women winning more seats in Congress and the first female and Black vice president elected sends a message to little girls that they can do this too and have a voice. Now, the world will watch to see what these women will do with their elected offices. Will they address critical issues that are impacting women? Will there be policies that are directly targeted to women to help them get back into the workforce? Will they address issues impacting communities of color that have been disproportionately hit by the Covid-19 pandemic? Welker has confidence that these women in positions of power will pave the way for more milestones as they work to make an impact.

Impact of incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden

Incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was also celebrated as a woman of 2020, rising above challenges and stereotypes. In Dr. Biden’s case, she was unintentionally part of a controversy brought on by an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that questioned whether she should keep the honorific doctorate title before her name.

RELATED: WATCH: Mika to WSJ, 'You owe Dr. Jill Biden an apology'

Dr. Biden will be the first first lady to continue her own professional career while in the White House. “Dr. Biden will send a message to so many women, not just young women but to women in their 40s, 50s and beyond that it is OK to keep working and that you are not defined by your spouse,” said Del Percio.

Kristen Welker moderating the last presidential debate

Brzezinski also touched on Welker’s historic moment moderating the last presidential debate on Oct. 22, saying she was “spot on from start to finish.” Welker hoped that other young women and girls who found something inspirational in the debate recognized it as a team effort bolstered by many strong, supportive women. “It was a real sisterhood and helped me to find strength in that moment and ask questions on behalf of the American people,” Welker said.

In 2020, female voters turned up to the polls to make an impact. According to NBC News exit polls, some 91 percent of Black women voted for Joe Biden, thanks in part to leaders like Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

“Black women have been working to perfect this democracy, even before they had access to the franchise with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They have been working to bring about a freer and fairer America not only for themselves… but for their communities, this democracy, for this country,” Haines said. “What these Black women know is that the future of the Senate can have an impact on their daily lives, and they vote with that in mind.”

Del Percio nodded to the power of women and in particular, women of color. “This is a force to be reckoned with,” she said.

Top women in the fight against Covid-19

In the battle against Covid-19, women also showed up and made a big difference, especially those in health care. Sandra Lindsay, a Black nurse at a Queens hospital, became the very first person to be vaccinated in the U.S. The critical care nurse wanted to help other women and communities of color who might be hesitant to get vaccinated.

Some 70 percent of the world’s healthcare workers are women, according to the World Health Organization. “In this pandemic, women have been frontline care takers as healthcare workers and at home. Because of their greater numbers as healthcare workers, they also make up 79 percent of healthcare workers with Covid-19,” Dr. Bhadelia said. “I cannot thank my fellow healthcare workers enough for working tirelessly these past months to care for our patients.”

Strides for women in the corporate world

Despite the economic crisis that emerged from the pandemic, this year was also one where diversity of female employees in corporate America improved. “Women are now running more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, and for the first time in 20 years, all S&P 500 boards have at least one woman,” Brzezinski said.

In celebration of these great milestones, Know Your Value partnered with Forbes for a special project called 50 over 50, to elevate women who have shattered age and gender norms, founding success later in life. Many of these women are also paying it forward to help other women.

RELATED: Nominate a woman for Know Your Value and Forbes' 50 over 50 list HERE!

While 2020 will be remembered for the trials and tribulations brought on by Covid-19, it also marks the year that women overcame formidable challenges and made positive gains by lifting each other up and setting the stage for a brighter year ahead.