The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

With a female 007 on the cards and women refereeing men’s professional soccer matches for the first time, 2019 could prove to be the tipping point year for gender equality.

From banks to airlines hiring female CEOs, to political and sporting firsts, we chart some of the female firsts that are happening both in Ireland and around the world right now.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge - ACTRESS/WRITER

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

The multi-award winning writer and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame and Killing Eve success was brought in as a co-writer on the new James Bond film.

The movie’s producer, Barbara Broccoli, said that it was Daniel Craig’s idea to hire the talent of Waller-Bridge in order to shake things up a bit.

“It was Daniel’s idea, we all leapt to it, we loved her. She has made a great contribution to it,” said Ms Broccoli.

Fleabag’s Waller-Bridge will serve as co-writer on the project, however, she is not the first woman to have this role, she is the second.

She will become only the second woman in Bond history to be credited on a script after Johanna Hardwood, who wrote on 1962’s Dr No and 1963’s From Russia With Love.

Brought in to give the script a polish and add some of her subversive humour, Waller-Bridge isn’t planning on changing Bond, but the movie’s treatment of women.

“The important thing is that the film treats the women properly,” she said. “He (Bond) doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to this character,” she added.

Waller-Bridge, who only turned to writing when she couldn’t get hired in any acting roles and so decided to create her own, still believes that the movie franchise is “relevant” in today’s world.

She believes that it does however, need to “grow” and “evolve” with the changing times. The English writer’s other goal is to make sure that all the characters “felt like real people”. T

his 25th Bond film, now known by its official title, No Time to Die, looks like it could be its most exciting yet, because of another additional hire.

The follow-up to Spectre was originally meant to be directed by Oscar-winning film-maker Danny Boyle but he left the production over creative differences in 2018.

Instead, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga will take over as his replacement.

Norah Patten - AERONAUTICAL FIRST

Nasa the space agency is aiming to put the first woman on the moon in five years’ time. In an Irish context, Norah Patten is on course to be the first Irish, never mind woman, in space.

The aeronautical engineer has already completed several programmes, back-to-back, with Project Possum, an organisation preparing citizens and scientists for commercial space travel.

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

“Project Possum is based in the US but it accepts international participants. Unlike Nasa, you don’t have to be a US citizen to be accepted. I have just completed their aviation egress training, egress is basically how you exit a situation, so we learned about how you would ditch if you landed on water,” Norah told the Irish Examiner.

“My second training was spacecraft egress, where we were in a mock-up space-craft capsule and wearing Final Frontier Design space suits. We were moved into water and again had to egress,” she added. The UL graduate was also enrolled in Project Possum’s training for zero-gravity simulated flights in space suits.

Norah was taught by a former Nasa astronaut trainer. While Ireland, has no space agency of its own, Norah has set her sights on getting into orbit via commercial space travel. She was inspired by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who like her, didn’t think he could ever get to space with Nasa because he wasn’t an American citizen.

Norah kept her dream alive by visiting Nasa several times in her teenage years, and then going on to study aeronautical engineering, a popular qualification among astronauts. After graduating with a first, she decided to do a PhD in the same area, and be ready for whatever opportunities opened up.

“With the whole area of commercial space travel, opportunities are now opening up that weren’t here five years ago. Project Possum, which wasn’t around five years ago, is a big step forward for me.

“These commercial companies, such as Space X and Virgin Galactic, will need astronauts and we are now at the cusp of them making flights,” she said. While she hasn’t gone into orbit just yet, her book about her journey there, Shooting for the Stars was published on September 16.

Ursula von der Leyen -EU COMMISSION FIRST

This July, Ursula von der Leyen, became the first woman to hold EU’s top job.

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

The former German defence minister became the new EU Commission president, after narrowly winning a parliament vote. It was her stance on climate change, and a vow to make serious inroads, that won her the narrow victory.

In the commission’s 61 year history it has never had a female president, although there has been a female vice president. Elected in July as the 13th president, Ms von der Leyen will succeed the well-known Jean-Claude Juncker. Mr Juncker will continue to lead the commission until the newly elected president takes office on November 1.

With a five-year term, Ms von der Leyen will earn an annual salary of €306,655.

The 60-year-old German politician secured a majority in the Strasbourg- based assembly by just nine votes.

Ms von der Leyen is a member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), so her nomination only gained ground after Europe’s liberal bloc announced that it would back her.

She has vowed to create an inclusive five-year programme for the environment, a promised that assuaged the skepticism of some MEPs.

"I will put forward a green deal for Europe in my first 100 days in office. I will put forward the first-ever European climate law which will set the 2050 target in law," she said.

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

Her promise received applause, but Green leaders said it still lacked specifics. Ms von der Leyen is trilingual, speaking English, French and her native German.

The commission, which she will preside over, acts as the executive branch of the European Union. It is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU.

There are 28 seats in the commission, one for each member State. Each member has specific portfolio, similar to a cabinet minister of a national government.

Jasmin Paris - ULTRA RUNNING FIRST

It is a still a commonly-held belief that men are just faster, stronger and more physically able than women.

But it’s an argument you’ll have to run by Jasmin Paris. This January, she became the first ever woman to win the 268-mile Montane Spine Race, all while expressing milk for her baby at the various aid stations. She also shattered the course’s record time by shaving off 12 hours in total.

The 35-year-old scientist, who works at the University of Edinburgh studying acute myeloid leukaemia, is well known in British endurance running circles.

While she has both lead and won other races, this year’s result was the best in her career as she beat all her male and female rivals in completing the course from the Edale in the Peak District to the Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders in 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds.

Her time shattered the previous best of 95 hours and 17mins set by Eoin Keith in 2016, as Paris became the first woman to win the race outright.

The previous female race record was 109 hours and 54 minutes, as set by Carol Morgan in 2017. While both running and expressing breast milk, she also had to counter in sleep to the 83-hour equation. She admitted to experiencing hallucinations in the latter stages of the race.

Two thirds of the time it is dark and it is completely different from any race I’ve run before because it is non-stop. You have the whole challenge of when to sleep and that becomes very tactical, and then you’re sleep-deprived.

“When I was on the final section I kept seeing animals appearing out of every rock and kept forgetting what I was doing – hallucinations. Every so often I’d come to with a start. On top of that it’s very cold and I was wearing all of my clothes by the time I finished,” she said.

Jasmin Paris’s victory not only smashed records, but gender myths too.

Anneliese Satz - SUPERSONIC FIRST

This June, US Marine captain, Anneliese Satz, made history when she completed the F-35B basic flight training course.

While there are all sorts of jets out there, the F-35B is one of a kind. With a short take-off and the ability to do vertical landings (STOVL), the F-35B is what’s known as a STOVL jet.

But it is not just any STOVL, it is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. Now that Capt Satz has her training course complete, she becomes the first woman to ever pilot this supersonic jet. At 29 years of age, she described it as an “exhilarating experience”. Having trained for a total of four years, she puts her success down to “showing up prepared and working diligently”.

The marine said that her first flight in the F35-B was done alone, but she wasn’t phased by the responsibility. Capt Satz said her training, which included time in simulators, had her well prepared.

“The syllabus thoroughly prepares you for that first time you take off and for every flight after that, it’s an exhilarating experience,” said the Marine.

Before joining the US Marines, Capt Satz was a commercial pilot flying helicopters. She said her helicopter piloting and training schools helped her live up to her potential.

Capt Satz, who has more than 300 flight hours, will now join a unit called the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, known as the Green Knights, in Iwakuni, Japan. Female Marines have only been able to fly since 1993, when the service opened pilot positions to women.

Sarah Deal, became the Marine Corps’ first female aviator in 1995. Vernice Armour became the service’s first black female pilot in 2001.

Emma Byrne - FEMALE HALL OF FAME FIRST

In March of this year, Emma Byrne became the first female inductee into the FAI’s Hall of Fame.

In her lengthy career, the 40-year-old won 134 caps for Ireland.Originally from Kildare, Emma made her senior debuting 1996, captaining Ireland for her final four years, before retiring in 2017.

The former Republic of Ireland goalkeeper has also come out of retirement to sign for Terrassa Football Club, in Barcelona.

She joined the Spainish First Division side after they finished second in the league last season.

Emma had been playing in England since 2000, where she won 11 English league titles and a UEFA Women’s Champions League with Arsenal. Her position as Arsenal’s number one allowed her to raise the profile of women’s football in Ireland.

As a huge supporter of other women in sport, she said her resignation meant other players could have the opportunities she has had.

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

“It’s a great achievement to step down having broken the all-time appearance record, but it’s time to give other girls an opportunity to stake their claim in the team. I’ll miss walking out to represent my country and all of the friends that I made, but I’m proud of my time with the team,” she said, on announcing her retirement.

In April 2017, she also joined the group of players who spoke out about the FAI’s treatment of the women’s team.

The team were forced to change into their tracksuits in the toilets of the airport before travelling to games. The players were also given no compensation when they represented the team, when many of them had to take time off work to play for Ireland.

Having taken this stance against the FAI and having been inducted into his hall of fame afterwards, means Emma was only held in even more esteem as a result of her outspoken move, as opposed to being sidelined or punished for it.

Lashana Lynch - POSSIBLE JAMES BOND FIRST

Introducing the first female 007 - Lashana Lynch.

High-level rumours began circulating in July that English actress Lashana Lynch would be the next 007. Not only has the spy always been a man, but he has always been white, so a leap to woman of colour seemed too progressive or too virtue-signalling to be true.

Then in late August official news about the 25th Bond film was announced - it will be called No Time to Die and a short social media video from the brand sees none other than Daniel Craig walk on to screen.

Lashana will play the role of Nomi, but this doesn’t mean she isn’t the new 007. According to the movie’s official synopsis, “Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica”.

The superspy needs to return to service, but when he gets back to MI6 in London, another agent has taken his moniker of 007, and that just so happens to be Nomi.

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Cat’s finally outta the bag! #BOND25

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From the rumour mill, there has been quote that has been cited in every media outlet from the Guardian to Harper’s Bazaar. It is from a “movie insider”, who had originally spoken to the Daily Mail.

“There is a pivotal scene at the start of the film where M (Bond’s superior and the character who is the head of the Secret Intelligence Service) says, ‘Come in 007’, and in walks Lashana who is black, beautiful and a woman. It’s a popcorn- dropping moment. Bond is still Bond but he’s been replaced as 007”.

While fans of the movie will have to wait until next April to find out who the next 007 really is, it seems that Lashana may just be 007, but she will not be Bond. The movie’s producer Barbara Broccoli feels that Bond is not a female role.

“I always feel Bond is a male character. I think that’s just a fact.

“I think we have to make movies about women and women’s stories, but we need to create female characters and not just for a gimmick turn a male character into a woman,” she said.

Sinéad Burke - DAVOS FIRST

Sinéad Burke has spoken not once, but twice, at Davos.

In 2018, as Ireland’s only female delegate and again in 2019, she took to the stage of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Sinéad Burke, who was born with achondroplasia — the most common form of dwarfism — is well-known for her activism work in the area of disability, fashion and design, and in the last two years her star has continued to ascend.

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

She wil grace the September cover of the British edition of Vogue magazine, as guest-edited by Meghan Markle. At 2018’s event, Sinéad spoke at a session called Fostering Inclusivity.

The session had been discussing the “echo chamber” effect of social media where similar messages reverberate around an audience with similar values, causing a situation where there is often little room for dissent, nuance or debate.

She however, credited social media with giving her a platform for her voice. “Without the power of social media giving me a platform, through that echo chamber, would anyone have listened to me?” she said.

Sinéad explained how it has not been her genetic condition that has most affected her, but how the world has been built with only one person in mind.

“So much of my challenges were not because of a [genetic] mutation but caused by lack of creative thinking by those in power,” she said. Ms Burke also described how fashion “matters”.

She is often limited to childrenswear, both in clothing and footwear: “I was given runners that light up — which are wonderful but they’re not suitable for the stage at Davos. Those in privilege need to hear from those with lived experience”.

Sinéad first started out blogging on her site called Minnie Malange.

In 2017, her platform became a TED stage in New York, where she was invited to talk about designing a more physically inclusive world. At close to 1.4m views, it was on the back of this talk that she was asked to speak at Davos for the first time in 2018.

Tianyi Lu - OPERATIC FIRST

Gendered glass ceilings seem to exist in all walks of life and opera is no different.

This August the Welsh National Opera (WNO) said it was delighted to announce its first ever female conductor-in-residence, Tianyi Lu.

“Described by WNO Conductor Laureate Carlo Rizzi as having ‘great musicality with a natural charisma on the podium’, Tianyi Lu is the first recipient of this residency, launched by WNO to help re-address the gender balance across the industry.

“The scheme was developed following WNO’s ‘Where Are All the Women’ symposium in 2018 during which a panel of women and delegates shared experiences on challenges facing women in the classical music industry,” read a WNO press release in August.


Tianyi has a long list of musical credentials to her name and has travelled the world in pursuit of them. Born in Shanghai and raised in New Zealand, she studied in Auckland and Melbourne before completing a Master’s of Music in orchestral conducting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD), graduating with a distinction in 2015.

It was at RWCMD that Tianyi first made a connection with WNO when working on the award-winning production of Kommilitonen! in 2016.

Tianyi’s appointment is a redress step according to the WNO.

“We are taking positive action to re-address the imbalance of women in conducting posts and this is the first step for us creating a developmental position and opportunity specifically for women geared towards increasing diversity and opportunity,” said Emma Flatley, director of partnerships and engagement at WNO.

Fiona Gallagher - CEO FIRST

An Irish woman has been named as the new CEO of the European banking arm of Wells Fargo.

Fiona Gallagher took her new role at Wells Fargo Bank International Unlimited Company (WFBI) on October 1, as the first Irish woman to do so.

Ms Gallagher was most recently a managing director and chief country officer for Deutsche Bank in Ireland. And before Deutsche Bank, she worked in New York for Barclays Capital and Merrill Lynch.

She holds a Bachelor of Civil Law and a Finance and Marketing Diploma in Business Studies from University College Dublin (UCD). Speaking as a UCD alumni, the new CEO, said how having three children propelled her forward in life.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have three kids and still have a great career. I’m so proud of that balance. It’s not perfect – it is not just about leaning in – a lot of organisation and support is needed, and babysitting. It’s definitely a fine balance but I had the biggest trajectory growth in my career in the last five years and people have given me an enormous amount of support,” said Ms Gallagher.

I made the decision when I went back from my first maternity leave that I didn’t just want to have a job, I wanted to have a career: if I was going to be leaving my kids every day, I wanted to get a lot out of it.

The banking professional has also said that her biggest lesson along her career path so far, is saying no.

“I was once offered a job that I didn’t really like the sound of and didn’t really think I’d be brilliant at, but I was terrified I wouldn’t get offered another one so I said yes. I spent the next two years trying to get myself back on track from that.

“I’ve learnt it’s important to not be afraid of saying no. There’ll always be another opportunity and if doesn’t feel right you’re not going to be your best at it. It was a pretty tough lesson –there’s so much stress involved in doing a job that you know you aren’t really cut out to do,” she said.

Louise Richardson - UNIVERSITY FIRST

Tramore native Louise Richardson is a woman well used to firsts.

Ms Richardson, a Trinity and Harvard-educated political scientist took on the role of principal, or president, of St Andrews University in Scotland, the alma mater of both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, in 2009.

Established in 1413, and considered a leading European centre for teaching and research, 2009 became the first time its 600-year history that it had a female president.

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

However, Ms Richardson’s time at St Andrews became about more than just one female first.

Around the exact same time as the Scottish public took to the polling stations to cast their votes in the 2014 independence referendum, which was eventually defeated, the members of the Royal and Ancient (R&A) golf club in St Andrews, Scotland voted on whether to allow women into their institution.

By this stage, Ms Richardson had spent five years at the helm of the university, while not being able to enter the clubhouse for meetings.

“A supporter of the university got in touch and asked if he could possibly have lunch at the R&A today,” she said.

“I had to arrange for somebody I know to take him to lunch at the R&A because, of course, I can’t. And I had to arrange for another member of the staff to take his wife to lunch some place in town because, of course, she can’t get into the R&A, either,” she told the New York Times, right before the golf club’s 2,400 all male members cast their vote in September 2014.

About 75% of the men cast their vote, and 85% of them voted to allow female members, breaking a 260-year male-only membership rule.

By January 2016, Ms Richardson was moving on to better things, becoming the first female Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. The post is the equivalent of a chief executive role, meaning she took over the helm of the oldest English-speaking university in the world.

Jess Lee - VENTURE CAPITALIST FIRST

Two years ago, the celebrated venture capital firm Sequoia Capital hired its first ever female venture capitalist.

This move came after 44 years in business. Jess Lee was the woman who got the job, and it is not without credentials and experience that she came to the investment giant.

She is the cofounder and CEO of ecommerce site Polyvore. She is also a former product manager at Google and when she was hired to Sequoia as their one of their youngest partners, at just 33 years of age.

Jess first got into business after sending a complaint letter. She was one of Polyvore’s biggest fans, and at times would be both impressed and aggravated by their operation.

Jess sent the founders — three former Yahoo engineers — a complaint-filled letter about how they could make Polyvore better, and they invited her to join the team as an honorary cofounder and later, CEO. Polyvore ended up being bought by Yahoo in 2015.

In her new role in Sequoia she attended a conference in Los Angeles wearing a badge that listed her employer and her role there.

Such a badge would usually see a venture capitalist be mobbed by start-ups. But as the first female investing partner at Silicon Valley’s most prestigious firm she was just ignored.

“No one was even looking at my name tag,” Jess said. She left for the bathroom to answer emails on her phone. This experience showed her that classic networking was rife with sexism and it was probably not how she was going to be able to get her best work done.

“This classic networking method of getting deal flow is probably not going to work for me,” she said. Her new approach was to use other’s underestimation of her, based on her age, gender and race, for her advantage. “If you are underestimated, you can use that to your advantage,” said Jess.

Raising money is notoriously difficult work, but statistics show it is even harder for female entrepreneurs and scientists. Just 11% of American venture investors are women, and Jess was Sequoia’s first.

Missy Elliott - A FEMALE RAPPER FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

Missy Elliott is by no means a new name on the block. She’s just turned 48, she’s been recording her own solo music for 22 years now and she’s won a cabinet full of Grammy awards as well as selling tens of millions of records in the US alone.

Real name, Melissa Arnette Elliott, on June 13, she became the first female rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was founded in 1969, and the likes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon were inducted in 1989, and Queen was the first rock band to be inducted in 2003.

While Missy Elliott’s induction was a female first, she is only the third rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. However, the rapper’s talent and success as a solo artist were not the only reasons for her to be induced.

She has also written music for Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé. Michelle Obama, while not present on the night that Missy Elliott was induced into the hall of fame, sent a video message to the creative mastermind.

“Missy, I want to thank you for all of your trailblazing ways,” Michelle Obama said, “thank you not for just sharing your gift with the world, but for being an advocate for so many people out there, especially young girls who are still figuring out how to make their voices heard”.

The rapper herself, giving a 10-minute speech, told upcoming writers to never give up.

“I want to say one thing to the writers, to the upcoming writers, ‘Do not give up.’ We all go through writer’s block. Sometimes you just have to walk away from a record and come back to it. But don’t give up because I’m standing here. And this is big for hip-hop, too,” she said.

But this wasn’t it for Missy Elliott in 2019, she went on to have another first.

On August 26, she became first female rapper to receive the Michael Jackson video vanguard award at the annual Video Music Awards.

Stephanie Frappart - A FEMALE REFEREE FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

Not that 35 is in anyway old, but in the world of sport, youth is a prerequisite for success.

This August, Stephanie Frappart, 35, stepped out on to a soccer pitch and made history. She became the first woman ever to officiate a major European men’s soccer final.

Well used to global pressure, the French woman had already officiated over the women’s World Cup final in July. A month later she was still on the global stage, except this time she was making history by changing our gender stereotypes.

She took charge in the European Super Cup final, between Liverpool and Chelsea, where Liverpool won by 5-4 on penalties, after an entertaining clash had ended 2-2 after extra time.

Liverpool’s boss, Jurgen Klopp, praised the referees after the game, saying his team would have played even better had they played the way they refereed.

“I told the ref team after the game that if we would have played like they whistled, we would have won 6-0. That was my absolute opinion. They played a brilliant game,” he said. He did remark on one contentious decision, but it is unlikely that Frappart was refereeing with just Jurgen Klopp’s approval in mind.

Before the match, Frappart said she and her fellow female refs were more than ready to take on the historic challenge.

“We had to prove us physically, technically and tactically that we have the same than the men. So I am not afraid about that. So I think nothing changed for me,” Frappart said.

She also said that there have only been a handful of occasions where she felt disrespected on the grounds of her gender. One was probably in 2015, when she was accused of having her eye off the ball because she “iceskating”.

This public incident did not stop her from proceeding in her career, with the Super Cup appointment being her latest achievement.

“It’s a real pleasure to show it’s possible. Young girls see me on TV and know it’s possible. I hope this will stimulate them to pursue their vocations,” said Frappart.

Jo Swinson - A FEMALE POLITICAL FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

There are gender gaps when it comes to pay cheques and boardrooms, CEOs of Fortune 500s and especially in government chambers all around the world. In our own Dáil chamber, only 22% of TDs are women, and when it comes to political leaders neither of our major parties have ever had a female leader, but things are changing.

In July, Jo Swinson became the first female leader of the Liberal Democrats, in the UK. But this isn’t just any party, it’s the party that is surging in popularity and it is the party that political commentators believe might save Britain.

Their performance in May’s EU elections showed a return to popularity, with the party progressing from one MEP to 16. Taking in nearly 20% of the overall vote, the Liberal Democrats came second only to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Since May’s elections, various political polls out of London show the party as the most popular in Britain.

“The Lib Dems now seem the most likely vehicle for any centrist resurgence in British politics,” said the New Statesman in July, just before Jo Swinson became the party’s leader.

Not only is the first female leader of this 31-year-old party, she is also the youngest, at just 39 years of age. She was voted in by members of the party and immediately seized on that most female unfriendly of words - ambition.

“There is no limit for my ambition for our party, our movement and our country,” said Ms Swinson.

Though her ascent to the top might come as much of a surprise, because she’s been the party’s deputy leader since 2017, and a member of the party since she herself was 17-years-old.

“Are you a liberal, or are you a feminist?” was just one of the questions she was asked behind closed-door hustings in early July. Her answer was: “you couldn’t be one without the other”.

She was elected by a landslide margin on July 22.

Fiona Kolbinger - A FEMALE CYCLING FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

One of the world’s toughest cycling races, an ultra-distance event called the Transcontinental, has been won by a woman for the first time. German cancer researcher, Fiona Kolbinger, 24, became the first woman to win the 2,485-mile or 4,000-km race from Bulgaria to France. The epic feat took her just 10 days, two hours and 48 minutes to complete.

And it wasn’t just about distance but elevation too, as she gained 40,000 metres in height over the course. Fiona was one of only 265 riders in the race, which was first stared in 2013, by the British long-distance cyclist Mike Hall, who was killed during a race in Australia in 2017.

Fiona’s victory might have been about more than fitness, strength and endurance, as racers get to choose from their route. They can end up passing through Austria, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Italy, Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia and Switzerland. However, in making their own route, cyclists must pass through certain control points.

And it is not enough to just pass, each checkpoint is accompanied by an obligatory specific challenge, from gravel tracks to high-altitude climbs and steep gradients.

Some of the challenges included climbing the 2,474-metre Timmelsjochpass in South Tyrol on the border between Italy and Austria, and traversing the 2,645-metre Col du Galibier, one of the highest paved passes in the French Alps.

Competitors also choose where, and if, they want to rest. Fiona, a medical student at the paediatric oncology unit at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, was one of 40 women to start the race, out of 265 racers.

She said that she hoped for the women’s podium, but never thought she could win the entire race.

“When I was coming into the race, I thought that maybe I could go for the women’s podium, but I never thought I could win the whole race. I think I could have gone harder. I could have slept less,” she said at the finish line.

Kylie Jenner - A BILLIONAIRE FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

This is not a female first, this is just a first, and the person happens to be female. At 21 years of age, Forbes counted Kylie Jenner as the world’s youngest ever self-made billionaire. Many had a problem with Forbes using the term “self-made” as Kylie, of Kardashian clan fame, came from considerable wealth and social stock.

However, the now 22-year-old is officially a billionaire thanks to her assortment of business interests from TV work to a make-up empire, all leveraged by the power of social media. One of her lip kits sells for $29.

With an estimated fortune of $1bn, she is the youngest billionaire, reaching a ten-figure fortune at a younger age than even Mark Zuckerberg (who was 23 when he hit that mark).

While Jenner put it all down to her social media “reach”, saying she had such a “strong” following long before she ever started selling anything of her own, there are other elements to her cosmetics business that it keeps it extremely lean.

“The beauty of Kylie Cosmetics, which Jenner started in 2015, is its minuscule overhead—and the outsize profits that go straight into Jenner’s pocket,” said Forbes.

She employs just seven full-time and five part-time employees. Manufacturing and packaging is outsourced. Sales are handled by online merchant Shopify. And her “shrewd” mother or “momager”, Kris, takes care of finance and PR. Kris’s return? In exchange, she gets a 10% management fee, the same percentage she siphons from all of her children’s earnings.

Marketing then is done mostly through social media, by Kylie herself, who has a massive following of 144m people on Instagram alone. Social media is where she announces product launches and previews new items coming down the line.

Aside from the controversy around the self-made title, despite no one disputing the funds in her account, another criticism labeled at the business woman and influencer is her lack of social awareness, showing videos of her shoe closet worth thousands upon thousands of dollars, while failing to refer to issues such as a burning Amazon rainforest.

Jen Welter - A FEMALE NFL FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

In a country where women’s rights are constantly being eroded, and where maternity leave just means your job will be held for 12 weeks after the birth of your child, a female achievement in American sporting culture is something to write home about.

Meet the NFL’s first woman coach, Jen Welter. She is the first female coach in the National Football League that first started in 1920, and has 32 teams that need coaching.

The Arizona Cardinals is the first team in NFL history to have ever hired a female coach. They added Jen Welter to their coaching staff as a training camp and preseason coaching intern. While not a head coach, this small inroad in 2015, was still historic.One of the players she coached, Kevin Minter, said that Welter was not only a good coach, but she helped you become a better person.

“She’s helped a lot and she’s a stickler about fundamentals and what not. She knows a lot about making you better as a person, too, with the notes she left on your locker, the words of encouragement from what she sees on film. She was like a real good person to feed off of,” he said.

Welter explained the important role of men when it comes to female firsts.

When you’re the first woman, and there’s no women in the room, a man has to open the door for you. And that’s when it really has to be about progress and working together.

"Because if it’s not in alignment, it’s going to be a really tough process,” she said.

While her term with the team ended, it heralded a gender game-changer in a league, where 50% of its fan are female, yet women make up just one-third of its employees.

For the 2016-2017 season, Kathryn Smith became the first woman to hold a full-time coaching position in the NFL, working for the Buffalo Bills.

And in 2018, Katie Sowers became the NFL’s first openly gay and second full-time female coach. She worked as an offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, making her the team’s first female assistant coach.

Sarah Mullally - THE FIRST FEMALE BISHOP OF LONDON

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

In May 2018, Sarah Mullally was installed as the first female bishop of London.

In a historic service held at St Paul’s Cathedral, she became the 133rd Bishop of London, but the first ever female one. While religion might be one of the last places to see change when it comes to gender, legislation was formally adopted by the Church of England in 2014, to allow for female bishops - this is the legal change that Bishop Mullally came in on the back of.

Bishop Mullally now holds the third most senior position in the Church of England. However, her appointment was not just a box-itching exercise in gender equality, as she has previously been the Bishop of Crediton in Devon and the Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral.

Bishop Mullally is also well-known for her medical work.

In 2005, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her outstanding contribution to nursing and midwifery.

Aside from Bishop Mullally and the 2015 legislation, change has been coming in the Church of England for some time. Women have been able to be ordained as priests in England since 1992 and now make up a third of the clergy.

The Church of England is the mother church of the global Anglican Communion, which has around 85 million followers in more than 165 countries. Other Anglican churches around the world have been appointing female bishops for years. The first was appointed in the United States in 1989.

Bishop Mullally said that for women to progress it’s important that they are able to see and identify role models to emulate.

“The first thing we need to do is to ensure there are actually women role models. What we need to do is make sure that those women who are already in more senior roles are seen and are out there,” she said

Mandy Ng - FEMALE AVIATION FIRST, IN HONG KONG

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

While the female CEO club is a relatively small one, the small club of female CEOs running airlines is even smaller.

However, the latter’s membership did increase by one when Mandy Ng was appointed the CEO of Hong Kong’s budget airline, HK Express, in August of this year.

The appointment meant Mandy Ng became the first ever woman to lead a local airline.

The airline itself just acquired Cathay Pacific, an airline that Ng used to work for. She spent 17 years with Cathay Pacific, beginning her career with the Cathay Pacific Group as a management trainee in 1999. She went on to hold a variety of positions in the airline, involving planning, revenue and sales in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia.

The veteran airline professional’s appointment couldn’t have come at a better time.

Last year, the International Air Transport Association, which represents the interests of airlines, said that the percentage of female CEOs in airlines stood at 3%, compared with 12% in other industries.

In Europe, there seems to be more of a gender balance when it comes to the business of air travel. Anne Rigail holds the top job at Air France, and its sister budget airline Transavia France is led by Nathalie Stubler. Brussels Airlines is led by Christina Foerster and Spain’s Air Europa is overseen by Maria José Hidalgo Gutierrez.

In America, JetBlue Airways appointed Joanna Geraghty in May 2018, as president and chief operating officer, placing her as the highest ranking female executive for a major US airline.

Ann Sarnoff - A FEMALE ENTERTAINMENT FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

Even Warner Bros are at it, they have hired Ann Sarnoff as their new CEO - marking the first time in studio history that a woman is at the helm of the company. Warner Bros was founded in 1923.

Her rein officially began in August with a memo to staff, announcing the “start of a beautiful friendship”, that had noting to do with gender, and everything to do with business success.

“This is an exciting - and challenging - time in the entertainment industry, and we need to keep looking at new business models, new competitors, new content platforms and formats - and finding new opportunities. With our talent, expertise and unmatched IP (intellectual property), we’re in a great position to capitalise on them,” she said.

Sarnoff takes over the role after the CEO seat was vacated last March by Kevin Tsujihara. He was forced to resign amid allegations that he had used his role to get acting jobs for a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair.

He denies playing a direct role in casting matters involving the woman. There were interim CEOs until Sarnoff took over. She had previously been president of BBC Worldwide Americas.

Sarnoff, at Warner Bros, will run one of the entertainment industry’s largest production operations, spanning film, TV, digital, video games and consumer products.

She was hired through the standard headhunting process according to Variety magazine, having had no prior connection to any Warner Bros leaders. Now, with more than 8,000 employees to lead, Warner Bros will be the largest organisation that she has ever led.

Stacey Cunningham - A FEMALE STOCK-EXCHANGING FIRST

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

In May 2018, the New York stock exchange (NYSE) has its first female leader in its 226-year history, Stacey Cunningham.

Her appointment as NYSE’s president, raised major hopes that the glass ceiling was finally cracked on Wall Street. The banker started in Wall Street early, she began interning there while still in university in 1994. Two years later, she was hired as a training floor clerk.

When she returned as an employee, she asked to start on a Wednesday, even though the NYSE wanted her to start on a Monday.

“They sent the head of the firm over to intimidate me,” she said.

“He was trying to say, ‘So, you can’t start until Wednesday. Why is that?’ I just decided in that moment I was going to set a tone with these guys going forward,” said the now president Cunningham looked the boss straight in the eye and joked: “Well, my astrologer told me that Wednesday was a better day to start new ventures.”

Her soon-to-be-boss laughed and told her she would do just fine on the floor.

When asked how she eventually climbed to the top of this maledominated institution, she replied by saying that it was not about climbing, but building.

“It’s not about climbing a ladder. It’s about what skills you have,” she told Fortune magazine.

When she mentors young men and women, she tells them to “focus on your skills” whether it’s “working in a kitchen, working on a trading floor, running a household”. If you do that, she said, “You can go do anything”.

The 44-year-old also believes that your career does not need to be linear.

She left the NYSE to become a chef, then did a brief stint working at the Nasdaq, the second largest stock exchange after the NYSE. She returned to the NYSE in 2012, and was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in 2015.

Now in 2019, as the head of the world’s largest stock exchange, she is the most senior woman in the American financial sector. “Your career does not need to be linear,” she said.

Dhivya Suryadevara and Mary Teresa Barra - TWO FEMALE FIRSTS IN THE AUTO INDUSTRY

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

In June 2018, General Motors (GM) became the first major auto company in history to have a female CEO and a female CFO.

Last year, at 39 years of age, Dhivya Suryadevara became GM’s first female CFO (chief financial officer).

She followed in the footsteps of Mary Teresa Barra, who is the chairwoman and CEO of GMC. She has held the CEO position since January 2014, when she became the first female CEO of a major global automaker.

The company’s new CFO is not new to the company, but has had a rapid ascent through its ranks. Suryadevara began working there 14 years ago, and her appointment as CFO is significant. She is not only the first female CFO in the automaker’s 110-year history, but her appointment on top of Barra’s, makes GM one of only two Fortune 500 companies that have both a female CEO and CFO.

Hershey, led by CEO Michele Buck and CFO Patricia Little, is the other company holding that distinction. Born and raised in Chennai, India, Suryadevara’s father passed away when she was a child. Raised by her mother, the importance of education and self reliance was instilled in her from a young age.

“My mom had to raise three children on her own, which is difficult to do anywhere, let alone in India.

“She wanted to make sure there were no corners cut when it came to our education and to prove that we could have the same resources as a two-parent household,” she said.

She went on to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degree in commerce at the University of Madras. Then, when she was 22, Suryadevara traveled to the US for the first time to attend Harvard Business School, where she got an MBA.

Alison Rose - A FEMALE FIRST IN BRITISH BANKING

The female trailblazers breaking down barriers

Alison Rose made it a banking flrst when she was appointed CEO of the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland. She is the first female head of one of Britain’s major lenders.

Ms Rose is the second woman to be installed in an executive position in the period of just one year after Katie Murray was appointed as its finance chief back in January. None of RBS’s main rivals, Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group, have ever appointed a woman for any ofthe top three boardroom positions.

Rose herself has done much practical work when it comes to levelling the financial playing field. She led a Treasury-commissioned inquiry into the barriers facing female entrepreneurs, known as the Rose Review.

She also appeared in Downing Street in July to launch the Investing in Women Code, a pledge by UK lenders to boost funding for female business owners.

The Guardian said, her leadership will come at a turning point for the bank, which is still trying to repair its reputation following its £45bn bailout at the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

She said her appointment would be the beginning of a new chapter for the bank.

“Maintaining the safety and soundness of this bank will continue to underpin everything we do, as will our commitment to our customers and to delivering steady returns for our shareholders.

“This is an exciting time as we enter a new chapter for this bank. Our industry is facing a series of challenges; from the ongoing economic and political uncertainty to shifts in the behaviour and expectations of our customers,driven by rapid advances in technology.”

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