Breaking Barriers, Building Futures: Celebrating Women’s Progress Across Generations

Filed Under: Generations, Multicultural, Youth & Family


Jane Ott

Senior Vice President, Quantitative Research

Maya Angelou once said “I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” As a women-owned business, C+R Research has long valued the contributions of women both inside our own doors and in the rest of the world. I’ve written about Women’s History Month in the past and have highlighted girls and women who are presently shaping history. This year, I’m feeling more retrospective. With the recent retirement of C+R’s first woman president, Robbin Jaklin, the baton has successfully been passed to a new generation of leadership—Erin Barber, President + Chief Client Officer, and Paul Metz, Chief Executive Officer—exemplifying how past leadership has set the stage for the next generation of leadership to build upon. Here are some generations of history-makers and how their dedication and impact continue to influence our world:

The Silent Generation Broke the Glass Ceiling

Women of the Silent Generation shattered norms and their legacies continue to shine a spotlight on the power of women and how far we have come. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks, and Maya Angelou, among others, courageously fought for rights and epitomized the struggle and value of pursuing one’s passions.

“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

Maya Angelou

Baby Boomers Creating a Pathway

Baby Boomer women came of age at the height of the Women’s Liberation and the Civil Rights Movements and were inspired to blaze their own change-making trails. Women like Condoleezza Rice, Sonya Sotomayor, Oprah Winfrey, and Ellen DeGeneres were among the first group of women to overtake men in the completion of college degrees and enter the workforce amid affirmative action. Many baby boomer women across the globe followed the Silent Generation’s example and were elected as the first women to lead their country (in Argentina, Germany, South Korea, and Brazil to name a few).

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

Generation X Fueling Momentum

Generation X women benefited from the progress of those before them while also fueling momentum to make history on their own terms. Rising workforce participation, Title IX, and a diversified population inspired many of their contributions. Gen X women like Sheryl Sandberg, Mindy Kaling, and Shonda Rhimes currently lead Fortune 500 corporations, hold board positions, lead countries, and own their own companies. Most importantly, they use their roles to support and amplify diverse voices and show varying perspectives of the human experience to help pave the way for more progress and compassion. This era also underscored the importance of understanding the complexities of intersectionality as women of color, women from the LGBTQ+ communities, and women with additional minority identities exposed how they navigated additional layers of discrimination. Their achievements and stories highlight the multifaceted nature of progress.

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

Maya Angelou

Millennials Leveraging Technology to Cultivate Culture

Millennials like Serena Williams, Taylor Swift, Malala Yousafzai, Aria Mia Loberti (a visually impaired PhD Student, Fulbright Scholar, Equal Rights Activist, and newly minted actress) navigated a wealth of rapidly advancing technology, economic uncertainty, and growing polarization. This time in history has vaulted them into an adulthood of actively expanding the definition of a powerful woman. They challenged the conversation of what it looks like and means to be a woman in society today by challenging the stereotypes and societal pressures that have boxed women in for generations.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

Maya Angelou

Gen Zers Are Normalizing Vulnerability in Their “Soft Girl Era”

And now Gen Z women like Coco Gauff, Simone Biles, and Greta Thunbergare launching history-making moves at younger ages than their predecessors. They are normalizing that being a powerful woman means you are a whole woman – struggles and all. They exemplify that following passions and making history can happen alongside standing up for yourself and what you believe in. Most importantly, they don’t shy away from having tough conversations around the importance of mental health and self-love. This generation is particularly vocal about the complexities of intersectionality, acknowledging how gender, race, and sexual orientation, among others, intersect to shape individual experiences of struggle and empowerment.

“If I am not good to myself, how can I expect anyone else to be good to me?”

Maya Angelou

Gen Alpha Advocating for Social Awareness and Responsibility

Younger generations are building on the rippling impact of those before us to make waves of their own. Just note that these kids aren’t in the news YET, they’re the kids in your neighborhood and community who will be the next change-makers. We’re already seeing that Gen Alpha’s grassroots efforts have an impact on bigger social issues. From food insecurity, pollinators, homelessness, and normalizing differences, more and more young girls aren’t afraid to initiate change to make the world a better place.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a b—-. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

Maya Angelou

While we highlighted famous women of each generation, we also personally know women in our own worlds/realities who are making history in their own way. To know our history is to allow us to honor the struggles and strengths of those who came before us, and to continue keeping the tides of change flowing. Without knowing who we were, we can’t become who we are meant to be. The future includes more history-making moments with women who are still accomplishing and reaching new heights, becoming the firsts in all areas of society. At C+R, we believe it’s important to focus on these moments and realize how intersectionality plays a role in how we perceive the world and what drives us to create change in our lives.

“I Am A Woman Phenomenally…Phenomenal Woman, That’s Me.”

Maya Angelou

explore featured
Case studies

Hey, get our newsletter

join 5,000+ market research professionals
who “emerge smarter” with our insights