Celebrating innovative women throughout history
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Celebrating innovative women throughout history

To commemorate International Women’s Day, Design Thinkers Academy London are shining a light on women who have innovated and shaped history.

We’re celebrating women who have taken risks and changed things for the better.  Paving the way for future generations and inspiring other women to believe they can achieve great things too.

This blog was inspired by my weekend trip to the V&A’s Diva exhibition. A truly heartening exhibition that showcased amazing stories of determined spectacular women. I couldn’t recommend it more, make sure you see it before it closes on the 10th of April.

There are so many we could mention, but here are 9 pioneering women admired by the women in our team:

Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid

Zaha Hadid an acclaimed Iraqi-British architect known for her ground-breaking designs and her legacy that continues to inspire and influence architects around the world.

Widely regarded as an innovator, for her unconventional designs, pioneering use of technology and combining striking aesthetics with functionality.

Her designs are a strong symbol for social progress and breaking through barriers.

She was the first women to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize and has earnt her place as one of the most innovative and influential architects in history. Still inspiring minds today!

Chosen by Emma – Our Graphic Designer

"Not only was she incredibly bold and innovative with her work but she was also a female architect from Iraq where she experienced an oppressive male dominated society.

Octavia Hill

Octavia Hill was one of the three founders of the National Trust and an advocate for preserving green space. She was also a pioneer for social reform and active philanthropy.

Through a friendship struck up with John Ruskin, she was able to improve housing, by cleaning renovating and managing houses Ruskin had leased then renting them at affordable rents. She believed everyone should have access to clean and affordable housing. She employed a mainly female team of housing managers to support the tenants and achieve that.

In the 1860s she took on two more projects, eventually managing 15 schemes with 3000+ tenants. We are still benefiting from her legacy today, and The Chartered Institute of Housing comes from the schemes Octavia put into place.

Chosen by Sophia – Our Director

“Famous as a founder of the National Trust, but I admire her for social innovation - conceiving of social housing and even inventing a forerunner of modern social workers. Her female rent collectors acted as social workers, helping tenants. The Octavia Housing Trust is still operating today plus, she protected and conserved valuable open spaces for Londoners such as Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill. She did so much we can all be grateful for”.

Marie Van Brittan Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown an African-American inventor from Queens. Marie was a nurse before she went on to invent the first ever home security system alongside her husband.

After becoming increasingly concerned with the rising rate of crime in her area and the poor response times they created the CCTV for the home in 1960, not only could it capture different angles it also included a two-way microphone and a button to notify the police.

Marie faced many difficulties trying to patent her invention, often facing racial and gender discrimination and didn’t have it patented until 1969. Her determination and desire to improve peoples' safety helped her succeed, paving the way for the security systems we have today.

Marie has a lasting legacy that inspired future generations of inventors to this day, in particular women and people of colour.

Chosen by Becky – Our Producer

"The invention itself responds to a real need for people to feel safe in their own homes - especially in areas that have historically been poorly served by the police due to race and class discrimination. While the security system itself does not tackle the wider social issues, I'm inspired by this innovation as Van Brittan Brown saw the need for a practical solution that would increase safety and the feeling of safety in her community".

Tove Ditlevsen

Tove Ditlevsen was a Danish poet and author, admired for writing with honesty, emotional depth and relatability about personal experiences, covering topics such a love, identity and mental illness.

She wrote the novel Copenhagen Trilogy that shared her struggles with addiction and mental health whilst growing up in a work-class family in Copenhagen. The powerful and passionate emotions she brought into her writing have made her a much-admired poet and author not only in Denmark but globally.

Chosen by Lena – Our Operations Director

“Through her social realist writing, she recounts growing up in the Danish working class. She broke a glass ceiling to become one of the first working class women in Denmark to be published and raised the bar for social realism with new levels of authenticity and bravery”.

Lola Flores 

Lola Flores was a Spanish actress, dancer, and singer, was born into a humble family with gypsy roots in Jerez de la Frontera (Andalusia, southern Spain) in 1923.

She elevated flamenco and folk music to international fame, leaving an indelible mark on Spanish culture. Her fearless and brave attitude, along with her pioneering spirit in breaking social norms by addressing topics such as machismo, poverty, ethnic minorities, homosexuality, domestic abuse, drugs, and prostitution, made her a woman ahead of her time.

She paved the way for future generations of women in the fight against patriarchy and for feminism.

Chosen by Azahara – Our Service Designer

"It was really hard to pick one, there are many incredible women which inspire me. However, I choose Lola Flores because as an Andalusian woman and designer, Lola Flores' story deeply inspires me to embrace authenticity and fearlessly express our roots, thoughts, and unique talents. Her advocacy for marginalised communities and women reminds me of the importance of using design as a platform to amplify diverse voices and promote inclusion. Lola's legacy encourages me to speak out, fight for my identity, and advocate for positive change, embodying empathy and resilience in both my personal and professional undertakings."

Jane Traies 

Jane Traies is a writer, researcher and storyteller who works to uncover the hidden histories of marginalised women. Her best-seller Now You See Me is a collection of older lesbian life stories: her second life-history collection, Free to Be Me, captures the stories of a group of lesbian and bisexual women seeking asylum in the UK.

Jane is always looking for new ways to make hidden histories heard and seen. She is currently working on her first film project Three Thousand Lesbians Go To York, the extraordinary true story of how a lesbian bookseller (who also happened to be trans) created the largest gathering of LGBTQ+ women in the UK; and how, from 1998 to 2008, the quietly conservative city of York became the unlikely centre of all things lesbian. She is an advocate of the LGBTQ+ community!

Chosen by Kate O – Our Financial Director

"I saw her give a talk recently and she is bringing awareness and joy to many people as she documents events & stories, it moved me, I love this quote from her book:"

“I realised that, if you are an old woman and a lesbian, society doesn’t really ‘see’ you at all; and had decided that I wanted to try and do something about that invisibility…”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginburg the former Supreme Court Justice, was the second woman to hold that position and the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the supreme court. She spent her life fighting for gender equality and civil rights.

Born into a working-class area of Brooklyn she was taught the power of independence and education by her much-loved mother. 

She attended Cornel, then later Harvard where she had many struggles, being in a male-dominated field with a young child, often facing hostile environments and gender discrimination. She worked through the barriers and became the first ever woman to be a part of the Harvard Law Review and finishing at the top of her class in Columbia Law school. After all of this, she still struggled to find employment due to gender discrimination.

She pushed through it all, to became the great women we hear about today, empowering and inspiring through her fight for social justice. Before she died, she was a key proponent in passing the Affordable Care Act and legalising same sex marriage in 50 states. A true legend!

Chosen by me, Kate M – Sales and Marketing Lead

"Like Azahara, I found this hard, as there are so many inspirational women out there and picking just one to talk about was difficult. I went for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second ever woman to be supreme court justice and a massive advocate for female equality. Such a strong female role model, powering through barriers and overcoming them with elegance and class".

Happy International Women’s Day! Strong inspiring women, may we be them, may we know them, may we support & uplift them!