Women’s issues are finally becoming everyone’s issues. That was one of the messages of 2019, according to our list of top milestones that affect women, and especially female business leaders. Although change often comes slowly and setbacks are inevitable, glass ceilings were shattered, silence on sexual harassment was broken, and goals were scored for women — both on and off the field. Below, find our list of the most notable moments, people and movements of the year.
1. Paid Family Leave Took the Spotlight
For perhaps the first time in debate history, Democratic candidates for president in 2020 were asked about paid family leave, reflecting the growing importance of the issue among voters. The candidates came up with different solutions: Andrew Yang proposed universal basic income for families to spend up to $2,000 a month on child care, while California Sen. Kamala Harris suggested up to six months of paid family leave, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar offered a three-month plan. Regardless of the answers, pundits and news outlets flagged the televised moment — the fifth debate on Nov. 20 — as an important turning point when moderator and Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker, part of an all-female team of moderators, asked the question.
2. #MeToo Workplace Scandals Were Exposed in Blockbuster Books
Before the harrowing Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford hearings put the #MeToo movement in stark, televised relief for the world to see, reporters in 2017 were doggedly piecing together women’s stories that would expose and ultimately bring down longtime players in Hollywood and beyond. She Said, by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, is a gripping account of how they dug up the story about Harvey Weinstein abusing women under his wing — including actresses Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow — and how a covert army of handlers kept it secret for years.
[Related: The Resist List: Meet 7 Female Founders Taking #MeToo and #TimesUp to the Next Level]
A month later, in October, New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow published Catch and Kill, his own tale of how NBC had tried to thwart his reporting on the Weinstein scandal — in large part because the network was covering up its own predators. Both books were culminations of the #MeToo movement that the journalists first helped expose.
3. Rent the Runway and Glossier: Cue the Unicorn Emoji
In quick succession, the online fashion rental service and the makeup line achieved unicorn status in March — valued at $1 billion or more. First, Glossier reached a $1.2 billion valuation, and shortly afterward, Rent the Runway followed suit with $1 billion. That means the creators of the companies — Emily Weiss of Glossier and Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss of Rent the Runway — joined the exclusive club of female-founded companies that have reached this milestone. According to a March article in Fortune, just 14 venture capital-backed unicorns in the country out of 130 had a female co-founder.
[Related: 5 Women-Led Companies Who Scored Big with VCs in 2019]
4. Serena Williams Raised Her Investing Game
When the tennis star publicly announced she started a venture fund for women, people of color and young entrepreneurs, the firm had already invested for five years in more than 30 companies. Those included The Wing, MasterClass and tampon subscription service LOLA. Dubbed Serena Ventures, its portfolio covers several industries, including fashion, food and health and wellness.
[Related: Serena Williams Just Revealed That She’s Been Secretly Investing In Women for 5 Years]
5. Equal Pay Became a Star at the Emmys
Awards shows have long morphed into activist stages, where celebrities use their speaking time to spotlight issues close to their hearts, and the 71st Emmy Awards were no different. This year, actress Michelle Williams delivered a passionate speech about the equal pay gap — thanking her bosses on the FX show “Fosse/Verdon” for “paying me equally,” and then imploring studio executives to listen to the women they hire. Williams is no stranger to onstage activism — during the 2018 Golden Globes, she invited Tarana Burke, the founder of the original “Me Too” movement.
6. Megan Rapinoe Showed Us How Girls Can Win
The soccer player became a superstar after leading the Women’s National Soccer Team to victory in the Women’s World Cup in July, and showing the world that girls can be fierce both on and off the field. The purple-haired icon tussled with President Donald Trump on Twitter, spoke up for equal pay, and was the object of scorn for talking a big game — and then she won anyway, scoring the game-winning goal for her team in a penalty kick. It makes sense that she was just named the winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or award, which recognizes the world’s top female soccer player of 2019.
7. For More Women, the Personal is Political
Since Donald Trump was elected president, women have raced to the polls — but this time, to be on the ballot. So far, it has changed the makeup of our government to look more like the constituents it serves. Four freshman congresswomen of color — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, also known as “The Squad” — rode this wave to progressive fame. And for president in 2020, a slew of Democratic female candidates ran in one of the most diverse lineups in recent history. The voters will ultimately decide whether to usher in the first female president.
[Related: These Businesswomen Are Fed Up and Running for Congress in 2020]
8. Audrey Gelman Told Us We Can Have it All
The Wing co-founder and CEO became the first visibly pregnant woman to appear on the cover of a business magazine — and nearly broke the internet. Dozens of articles cropped up about the game-changing cover, for Inc. magazine’s October issue. In interviews, Gelman said she wanted to show that women can run a successful startup while raising a family. She said on the “Today” show, “My hope is that women see this and, again, feel the confidence to take greater professional risks while also not shelving their dreams of becoming a mother and starting a family.”
9. Fast Fashion is Out, Sustainable Style is In
The bankruptcy in September of fast-fashion chain Forever 21 may signal a greater shift in the clothing and accessories industry, which is becoming more eco-conscious and sustainable. Longtime designers like Stella McCartney, a noted environmentalist, and Eileen Fisher, considered a pioneer of sustainable fashion, are being joined by newer brands like Alabama Chanin, started by Natalie “Alabama” Chanin. She is part of the “zero waste” fashion movement and uses all organic materials, along with other brands like Thought Clothing, started by Rachel Kelly, and Reformation, launched by Yael Aflalo. The companies are appealing to customers by using recycled and organic materials, offering suppliers fair wages, and creating minimalist, modern styles.
10. Michelle Obama Isn’t Going Anywhere
The former first lady continues to spread her family’s message of hope, first through her memoir, Becoming, and now through a companion book released in November — a journal that helps readers write their own “Becoming.” The guided journal includes more than 150 quotes and prompts from Obama and, of course, has been featured on Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things” list. According to People, Obama also recently announced that she would donate more than $500,000 from sales of her best-selling memoir to support girls’ education around the world. That’s an inspirational end to 2019.