I can't remember the last time I heard a friend or acquaintance say they've been inspired by a multicultural woman who wasn't a celebrity or actress. So, instead of sulking — well, after I sulked, I should say — I decided to be that person for myself, and for everyone else out there who just hasn't been given the chance to see what kind of strong females are paving the way for multiracial girls step into roles of leadership. Somebody has to start the conversation, right?
To be clear, while all the ladies below are multicultural, only some of them are multiracial. The former implies that they may not descend from two or more races, but they identify with and function within more than one culture; for example, a person who comes from a Mexican family but has grown up in the States would be Mexican-American, and multicultural. The latter term refers to the fact that they fall into two or more ethnic categories by bloodline. Think of Rashida Jones, whose parents are interracial. It might seem like semantics, but this distinction does make a difference, especially when seeing how these factors play a role in a person's success story.
Frankly, I wish this list were much, much longer; I ran into more trouble than I would have liked finding full-length information about the work these women do. While the past several years has definitely opened the door for us to hear more about them, the number of female multicultural powerhouses in America is still disproportionately low. But, if we continue to support and encourage them, I'm sure we'll see many more — and pave the way for the next generation of multicultural women to step up.
Here are five multicultural women leaders you should know about.
1. Andrea Jung
Talk about a force to be reckoned with. Jung served as the first ever female CEO of Avon Products, Inc. from 1999-2012; in 2010, Fortune placed her at No. 5 on the Most Powerful Women list, and she was the longest-serving CEO female out of the whole bunch. She is on the board for Apple Computer and General Electric, and she was the first woman to be both Chairman of the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association, and Chairman of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.
During her reign at Avon, the company raised and donated almost $1 billion to "support health and empowerment causes, becoming the largest women-focused corporate philanthropy around the world." Even after she stepped down from her role of leadership, she continued to serve as senior advisor, and, in 2014, she moved on to become President and CEO at Grameen America, a nonprofit microfinance organization founded by Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
She was born and raised in the United States, but her parents were immigrants from China; she speaks Mandarin fluently, and speaks of her memories growing up in a traditional Asian home. Her mom and dad were quite progressive, though, and they encouraged her to pursue a solid education so she could hold a steady job. That she did, graduating from Princeton University magna cum laude.
When Jung speaks of the hard work it took to rise to the top, she often refers to the fact that she was the only woman and the only Asian at roundtable meetings with senior executives. Many of them assumed that she couldn't possibly be the boss, mistreating and underestimating her; she had to learn how to be assertive, regardless of how little people believed in her.
2. Consuelo Ross
Surviving the Odds is a nonprofit organization that lends a helping hand to breast cancer patients who are either uninsured or underinsured. They helps hundreds of women get access to the care they are lacking, yet desperately deserve and need. Having been a breast cancer survivor herself, Ross is an African-American/Latina woman who considers this her 365-days-a-year job; if there's anyone out there saving lives and doing everything they can to alter the bleak cancer statistics, it's her.
Black women face the highest mortality rate when it comes to breast cancer, so she has taken a specific interest in educating and caring for women in minority communities. Surviving the Odds offers workshops and classes, community health worker training, and survivor support groups — all to ensure women of color are knowledgeable and don't feel like they have to endure breast cancer alone.
She's also a founding partner and President of the KC Cancer Equity Alliance, which addresses the disparity of late-stage diagnosis of black women in Kansas and ensures the quality of care is up to proper standards. Glamour magazine named her one of the 50 most influential women of the year who are making a difference, and it's clear that her work is just getting started.
3. Lisa Marie Rollins
This Black/Filipina woman is everything, and then some. Based in the Bay Area, she's a writer, performer, lecturer, and playwright who leads the conversation on so many multicultural issues, such as transracial adoption, feminism, and African Diaspora studies. She recently toured the U.S. with her solo show called Ungrateful Daughter: One Black Girl's Story Of Being Adopted By A White Family ... Who Weren't Celebrities. Rollins is truly a pioneer, in the sense that she is tackling a topic that has yet to come to the forefront of the general public — but it deserves our attention. I have a feeling we will be hearing much more on this subject in the near future, thanks to her.
She's also the founder of Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora (AFAAD), a volunteer-run organization devoted to providing support for individuals and families who have either been adopted by or have adopted individuals of African descent. They focus on all-around care, whether it's physical, spiritual, or mental health-related; additionally, there is an initiative in the works called Strong Families, which focuses on reproductive justice and policy.
Numerous anthologies and literary journals whose themes are multiracial and multicultural have featured her work, both in the form of essays and poetry. She has been featured as a commentator on NPR and CNN, and was recently a primary panelist for the 2015 Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles.
4. Lucy Flores
She's been dubbed the "Latina star the Democrats have been waiting for," a Nevada state politician representing the 28th district in the northeast Las Vegas Valley. In 2010, she was elected to the Nevada State Assembly, and she became vice chair of the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus in 2012. Last year, she ran for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada but lost to her Republican counterpart. She recently announced, however, her candidacy for the United States House of Representatives seat in Nevada's 4th congressional district. Fingers crossed.
Her path to politics is far from conventional. She is one of thirteen children of a Latino family, and all of her sisters became pregnant in their teenage years. Flores is a high school dropout who spent months in a juvenile detention for stealing a car with local gang members. Her parole officer helped her turn her life around, though, and she eventually graduated from the University of Nevada with a J.D. and a drive to help Latinos in the United States receive the education they have been deprived of. Go girl.
For women and Latina activists alike, Flores is a shining beacon of hope. She is especially determined to change the way we approach sex education in schools, considering how she and her sisters were failed by the system when it came to learning how to safely prevent pregnancy (she's open about the abortion she had when she was 16). Her honesty about her early life and the transformation that led her to who she is today has made her a big favorite among young voters.
5. Briohny Smyth
Yes, that's her, the star of the infamous Equinox video a few years back that caused quite a stir, not just in the yoga community but all over the Internet. Before you purse your lips at her — or at me, for that matter — know that she is so much more than a bendy, toned body and the controversy that followed her incredible visual display of physical strength. She revealed her true character in her response to the video's negative reactions, acknowledging that she understands why some were offended, yet noting that her intentions were to celebrate women's strength, not over-sexualize our gender.
Having struggled for years with bulimia and anorexia, she found yoga at a crucial point in her life; it was path of healing, as well as an outlet that allowed her to face her pain and insecurities. Now, she's one of the most successful yoga instructors roaring through the United States teaching workshops, running teacher trainings with her husband, and helping women everywhere adopt a healthy lifestyle that is physically and spiritually fulfilling. A mother of three, she is committed to creating a world where her daughter and young females everywhere can simply be who they are without any structured expectations.
In interviews and seminars, she speaks often of what it means to have a good relationship with your body, because only then, when you find self-love and acceptance, can healthy eating habits start to stick in your daily routine. She's an especially strong role model for pregnant women and mothers everywhere, having given birth three times and continuing her yoga and meditation practice through it all.