Life & Business

10 Women I Look Up To and Why

by Grace Bonney

Part of my inspiration for In the Company of Women was sitting down to think about and show appreciation for the women who have provided me with motivation over the years. Some know what role they’ve played and some I’ve never met. But each and every one of them has been the spark, the inspiration, or the kick in the pants I needed to get through a tough time. In a world where we’re told to build our personal brands and stand out from the competition, I feel a stronger urge than ever to do the opposite: to lift up others, celebrate their greatness and voices, and to be happy to just stand amongst them — rather than aiming to be above.

I wanted to share 10 of the (many) women who have played that role for me. I’d love to hear who inspires you, too. If you have a moment, share the women who have inspired you in life and business in the comment section below, and why. xo, grace

Thelma Golden: I have admired Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, for years from afar. Her vision and dedication to the next generation of artists is beyond inspiring to me as someone who also helms a creative group, albeit at a much smaller level. She is unwavering in her commitment to her community and inspires me to always keep pushing to do and discover more. I got to meet Thelma briefly for our photo shoot for In the Company of Women, and was completely starstruck. Photo by Sasha Israel for In the Company of Women.
Kathleen Hanna: Growing up, Kathleen Hanna was my north star. I discovered her, Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl scene, at a very important time in my childhood when I didn't connect with anyone else around me. Someone gave me one of her tapes at summer camp and my mind exploded. She reminded me that girls/women/anyone(!) can be loud and strong and aggressive. I needed to hear that. I continue to look to her when I need a reminder that it's okay to take up space in a room and be LOUD and speak UP. [Photo by Aliya Naumoff for Pitchfork]
Tanya Aguiniga: Tanya was one of the first artists I really admired when I started Design*Sponge. I was so motivated by the way she connected culture, activism and art - and still does. She continues to remind me that art and craft can be active players in politics and culture. [Photo by Sasha Israel for In the Company of Women.]
Christine Schmidt: Christine is one of the few people in design that I trust like family, even though we only see each other maybe twice a year. She is smart, she is honest, she is TOUGH as nails, but so loving and she cares so much about the work she does. She is always (always!) pushing herself to try something new and take her art in a new direction. That is not easy and for that, and many other reasons, I admire her endlessly. [Photo by Sasha Israel for In the Company of Women.]
Preeti Mistry: I was first introduced to chef Preeti Mistry when she competed on "Top Chef" and spoke up (along with Chef Ashley Merriman) about marriage equality. She has continued to be a strong and passionate voice for issues of racism, sexism and classism in the food community, and I so admire the courage with which she speaks. Listening to her speak at the Cherry Bombe Jubilee a few years ago was like listening to the sound of lightning strike - she was clear, calm and BOLD, and that was exactly what I wanted to hear. [Photo by Sasha Israel for In the Company of Women.]
Marissa Paternoster: Screaming Females are my favorite band around, hands down. Marissa is a songwriter, musician and artist who fronts the band and who basically knocks the breath of out me every time I see her perform. With one exception, her band is the only band I have seen live in the past five years. She shreds, screams, kicks and bleeds on stage and I truly believe that if I had seen her onstage when I was younger (especially being the same height), she would have inspired me to keep playing guitar and not let that passion wither when people told me, "Girls don't play lead guitar." (My podcast, After the Jump, used a Screaming Females song as the opener and break music). Photo via Sound Effects Blog.
Tina Shoulders: It's hard for me to put into words how much I appreciate Tina Shoulders. She compassionately opened my eyes to the lack of inclusivity on Design*Sponge and has continued to inspire me to work harder, do more good and listen up to others' voices.
Rachel Maddow: At a tough time in my life, Rachel Maddow was there on my TV every night (and later in book form with her incredible book, Drift), to remind me to speak up, stand strong and use your voice wisely and carefully. I will always admire her for being an out and proud gay woman, but also for being so uniquely herself, rather than fitting in to what mainstream news would have wanted her to look/sound/be like. Photo by Bill Phelps via Slate.
Stacy London: I have been following Stacy London for a very long time, thanks to her tenure on "What Not To Wear." But it was this essay that made me completely and utterly awash in admiration for her. "The fact is, my public persona was only ever 'part' of who I was to begin with. The Stacy I was in 2002 cannot possibly be the Stacy of 2016. Age is part of time, and does in fact change things." This wisdom is a guiding light for me. Photo by Nick Onken.
Lucy Feagins: Have you ever known someone online that you felt very sure you would be great friends with if you lived closer? Lucy is someone I have admired professionally since the very first days of The Design Files. She has run her blog with integrity and a commitment to quality and ethics that means the world to me. I so appreciate what she represents and stands for in our community, and continue to wish there was a portal between Melbourne and New York so we could meet for work lunches. Photo by Sean Fennessy for Habbot Studios.

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  • During my first read through I read “screaming females are my favorite” and missed the word band. I said to myself, “Hell yeah! Grace likes screaming females too!” So now I know there’s a band called Screaming Females and hell yeah, screaming females! Double bonus.

  • gah what a great group of women…going to learn more about their diverse practices now. Thanks for the lead, Grace. As usual, your inspiration is a rippling thing. <3 C.

  • My female heroines are the older members, all in their late 70s and early 80s, of my immediate family and extended family. These beautiful women have so much humility and wisdom because of their life experiences. They were born into poor, but loving, farming families in Croatia. They did not have much growing up. They were not able to finish secondary school as their parents could not afford to pay. They lived through the atrocities of the second World War. All of them witnessed death and destruction. Two of them were orphans as a result of the war. In their early 20s, they left (with their husbands) their homeland and support network in search of a better life in Australia. They arrived in a country where they could not speak, read nor understand the English language. At that time (late 50s/early 60s), no assistance was provided by the Australian government to immigrants. When they arrived, they lived in migrant camps. Their suitcases contained their only possessions. They did not understand the Australian culture and they were severed from their support network. Communication with loved ones overseas was by letter writing – no phones, no Skype. All of them missed hearing the voices of their loved ones. In Australia, they were made fun of and belittled because they were different. They worked in factories in labour intensive positions. The work was long, hard, dirty and tough. They were often taken advantage of by management and co-workers and placed to work in the hardest and dirtiest positions – they did not have a voice. They did not speak English and they were too afraid to speak up for themselves for fear of losing their jobs. Opportunities for work were limited when you had little education and were not fluent in English. All of them, however, had enormous love for their husbands and children and resilience. They did not let their difficult circumstances nor hate consume their hearts. They always focused on what they considered the greatest gift – family. I love all of them dearly and am grateful for all that they have done for and taught me. In spite of everything that they have lived through, they have not allowed the difficult things to harden their hearts nor hatred to reside. As they got older, they have always attempted to change things (at work, in their community) in a decent and respectful manner. Nothing gives me greater joy than when they are all together talking and laughing. I love listening to their stories, I love their humility and wisdom, and I love them.

  • Great list, love this!
    Do you have a reading list from this list of women? Either books they’ve written or fav books they recommend?

    • Kate

      Some of these women have written books, if you do a quick google search you can find them, although they aren’t directly related to women in business or topics we discuss here normally. This list was intended as a reminder of just some of the amazing women that are a part of the creative community that I hoped people would check out (links provided) and then share some of their favs….


  • Hello Grace, you most likely are aware of this, but just in case you aren’t here goes. Your book “In The Company Of Women” has been recommended as a must read in the Australian Home Beautiful magazine (December 2016 edition, page 26). Congratulations and warm regards from an Aussie reader of your blog.