12 Women Who Absolutely Shattered The Glass Ceiling

Rule-breakers, game-changers

Throughout the years, the world has had its share of incredible, powerful women taking the reins and proving their worth in male-dominated industries. They are the rule-breakers, pioneers and glass ceiling smashers who helped to change and shape the world for every woman who came after them. 

Ahead of Wednesday’s marie claire and Bumble Glass Ceiling Awards, supported by Estée Lauder Companies, we’re taking a look back at the women who took hammers to the glass ceiling in their respective industries – from the first woman to win Best Director at the Oscars to the first woman to be Prime Minister.

Get inspired below. 

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The first woman to fly solo around the world 

Geraldine Mock

On April 17, 1964, Geraldine (Jerrie) Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world. Dubbed the ‘flying housewife’, it took Mock 29 days, 11 hours, 59 minutes and 23,103 miles before she landed safely in Port Columbus Airport in Ohio.

The first woman to climb Mount Everest

On May 16, 1975, 35-year-old Junko Tabei reached the peak of Mount Everest with assistance from a Sherpa guide, Ang Tshering. In a 2012 interview, Tabei explained how momentous the feat was, considering women in Japan were still expected to stay at home and leave work to men at the time. “Back in 1970s Japan, it was still widely considered that men were the ones to work outside and women would stay at home. Even women who had jobs — they were asked just to serve tea. So it was unthinkable for them to be promoted in their workplaces. We were told we should be raising children instead,” she told The Japan Times

The first woman to go to space 

Valentina Tereshkova

On June 16, 1963, Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. She spent nearly three days in orbit before returning to Earth. In honour of her accomplishments, Tereshkova received the former Soviet Union’s two highest possible decorations, the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards. 

The first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow

In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for her 2008 film about the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker. As of 2019, she is still the only woman to win the coveted award.

The first woman to be a Prime Minister

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was the first woman in the world to become a prime minister. After the death of her husband, Bandaranaike became the leader of his political party and eventually worked her way up to leader of the country. 

The first woman to become publisher of a major American newspaper 


When Katherine Graham’s husband died in 1963, she took ownership of the Washington Post, one of the biggest newspapers in America at the time (and still to this day).Under her leadership, the paper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. 

The first woman to become an Olympic champion 


Charlotte Cooper became the first woman to win an Olympic medal after she attended the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, the first Olympics where women were allowed to participate. There, she won the tennis singles and mixed doubles.

The first woman to become a self-made millionaire

first woman

In the early 1900s, Madam CJ Walker became the first woman to be a self-made millionaire in the US, after starting a business selling hair produces for African-American women.

The first woman to be nominated for a major US political party


In 2016, Hillary Clinton made history when she was confirmed as the Democratic presidential nominee, making her the first woman to ever secure the backing of a major American political party.

The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Aretha franklin

In 1987, Aretha Franklin solidified her superstar status by becoming the first female inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, setting the stage for generations of female African American artists to come. 

The first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court


Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court. O’Connor retired from in 2006 after a 24-year career and number of important votes in cases like Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore.

The first woman to become a CEO

Anna Bissell took over her husband’s company, BISSELL – which makes vacuum cleaners – in 1889, after his death, becoming the first woman CEO in the United States after his death. The company still runs successfully today. 

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