The 20 Most Influential Moms of 2018
Occupation Social activist and author
Mother of Nain, 26, Georgia, 18, Cassius, 12, Penelope, 10, and Othello, 8
Jodie didn’t set out to be a transgender activist, but when her child Penelope told her that he was a boy, it was a wake-up call. She wanted to create a world that was safe and just for people like her trans son, and she is helping create new blueprints.
“When I started advocating for my transgender child, it struck a chord. It was about my son Penelope’s right to be himself, but also my right and each human’s right to be authentic.”
The greatest myth about motherhood is that it gets in the way of things, and it’s a liability to a career, or even a marriage. Truthfully, it can be our greatest training for success. A good mom can manage a team, balance a budget, make a tough, deliberate decision, say no and mean it, have empathy and grow with the times. Boss!
When my daughter Georgia saw me struggling to understand my transgender son, she lovingly said, “Stop being old and weird, Mom. Penelope is healthy and natural.”
I used to think excellence was winning, being ahead of someone else. Now, at almost 50, it’s about knowing the things that make me happy and then doing those things. Spirituality, family, travel, health and love are my touch points. When I contact with each of them daily, I win.
I take the energy of fear and transfer it into the energy of action. Every time you see me in action, it’s usually because something has frightened me. So, I push myself to do something about it. LGBTQIA advocacy is my pushback to hatred.
- Look Back: The 20 Most Influential Moms of 2017
Leah Missbach Day
Occupation Cofounder of World Bicycle Relief and documentary photographer
Mother of Lincoln, 11
Leah knows the power of two wheels, and she’s been helping women and men around the world harness that energy through her global nonprofit. Since 2005 her organization has distributed more than 400,000 bicycles to health care workers, students and entrepreneurs in rural developing countries.
The work I do is a gift. When I share beneficiaries’ universal stories of love, loss, striving and thriving, I feel as though I’m bridging continents.
We were distributing bicycles to help people return to their normal work, school and health care routines after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and a joyful soccer game erupted. A tire pump was included with each bicycle and that day it helped revive their long-deflated soccer balls, bringing everyone together to enjoy a game. To me, that moment transcended survival.
Being an older mom lends some wisdom and patience to parenting, which reminds me that I can be this way outside of parenting too. It’s also a youth serum!
If I had a hashtag, it would it be #KnowYourTruth. Follow her on Twitter.
Occupation Vice President of Amazon Alexa
Mother of Maëlle, 15, and Isabelle, 12
Who better to stand behind an always-listening virtual assistant that predicts everyone’s wants and needs than a mom? Toni joined the Amazon team in 2014, when Alexa was still a top-secret project, and has been behind its growth ever since.
“I was hooked the first time I experienced Echo and Alexa. The team had invented something customers didn’t know they needed—which was amazing to see.”
I look holistically at my accomplishments, failures and the impact I am having on those I care about. It’s important to me that I evaluate myself based on how I get it done versus simply looking at the output. This means staying true to my authentic self and putting more energy into the health and well-being of myself and my family.
When pushing past fear, I focus on the outcome/results I want to see.
My girls have given me innumerable pieces of feedback on the devices. They wanted features like the ability to make phone calls. They also wanted more jokes and to be able to see lyrics on a screen while music plays—all of which we’ve added. They’re useful beta testers!
If I had a hashtag, it would be #ThinkBigHaveGrit. Follow her on LinkedIn.
Occupation CEO and Cofounder of Enuma
Mother of WJ, 9, and Yeji, 1
The idea of designing learning games for children with special needs came to Sooinn right after her son was born. The doctor in the NICU diagnosed him with multiple special needs. For Sooinn, a game designer, that was the moment she realized she wanted to dedicate her talents to supporting her son and other children with similar issues.
Being a mother of a child with special needs, I learned how to celebrate each small milestone in life, and that a new diagnosis or opinions from others don’t change the state of my family’s happiness. I came to understand that success can be defined in many different forms. It changed how I live my own life and work as an immigrant female tech entrepreneur.
One of my favorite moments was when my son, who was 3 at the time, used limited sign language to say, “Father. Mother. Family. Together.” Those four words in that moment were so profound and meaningful.
“Mom knows best” is a prevalent assumption that I question a lot. There are experts out there with degrees in early childhood or child psychology. I seek out help for areas I’m not very good at and I take the lead on things I’m more confident about to address my children’s needs. I’ve met some moms who believe they know what’s best and try to do everything. Though I respect them, I see value in collaborating because I may not always know what’s best for my children in every situation.
Occupation CEO of Motivating the Masses
Mother of Jelani, 23
Before she was a motivational speaker with a multimillion-dollar business, Lisa was a single mother on government assistance with $11.42 in her bank account. She knew no one was coming to save her, so she saved herself by attending lectures on entrepreneurship and brand creation. She started a program to empower teens and when she realized she had a gift for motivating others, she founded her business as a resource for professional and personal development. It went public in 2013.
“I get to be a catalyst for a person’s desire. I love being a part of that and witnessing the before and after.”
I knew my work was the right fit for me when a woman who had heard me speak at a battered women’s shelter approached me one year later. She told me that because of my words, she found the courage to leave her abusive husband and build a safe new life with her children.
Motherhood has taught me how to be present in the moment with no reflection on the past and no planning for the future, and just be. I want to look back and say unequivocally that I played full-out. I felt the fear and I moved forward anyway. When I failed, I failed forward, learning my best lessons and continuing to move toward my goal. I want to say that I forgave myself quickly, allowing for a thousand second chances to get it right.
- Also See: The 20 Most Influential Moms of 2016
Occupation Founder and CEO of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee
Mother of Lillie, 19, Emma, Grace, 17, Beau, 13, and Bitty, 8
It’s challenging for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities to find work. Amy, who has two children with Down syndrome, decided to do something about it. She opened Bitty and Beau’s Coffee shop—named after her kids—in Wilmington, NC, and began hiring employees with disabilities. She just recently added her second shop in Charleston, SC. Amy’s heartfelt mission earned her the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year award and the chance to help more people like her children thrive.
I enjoy watching the transformation of typically developing people when they truly “see” people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for the first time.
My kids always give me advice: Bitty tells me to never leave the house without bracelets, and Beau reminds me to never skip meals—or dessert.
The question I wish more people would ask me is “What’s it like having two children with Down syndrome?”
When I learned there are 6.2 million people in the U.S. with intellectual or developmental disabilities and only 34% are employed, I knew my work was the right fit for me.
Christina "Thumper" Hopper
Occupation Air Force Reserve Major
mother of Asher, 12, Aaliyah, 10, and Judah, 8
Christina made history as the first African American female fighter pilot to fight in a major war. Motivated by her Christian faith, she has never let any of the challenges of the role stand in her way and has pushed through those barriers to excel.
“The first time I flew an F-16 solo, I knew it was the right work for me. Being airborne and looping around the clouds while experiencing the solitude, I felt like I was as close as I could get to heaven without dying.”
As a woman of faith, I believe that God wanted me to pursue aviation as a career. Knowing that helped me overcome any insecurities about my abilities and what I believed I could or could not achieve.
Some of the best advice my mom ever gave me was that other people do not get to define me unless I let them. I experienced racism as a very young child and was told that the color of my skin made me less worthy than others. The fact is that people can think what they want about you, but their thoughts only become your reality if you let them.
Failures are only stepping-stones. They hurt for the moment, but if I don’t let them keep me down, they are quickly followed by my next success.
If I had a hashtag, it would be #FaithNotFear. Follow her on Twitter.
Occupation Filmmaker and activist
Stepmother to Dante, 25
Mother of Luka, 8, and Mateo, 7
Years ago, while researching a film, Lori met a young girl whose many challenges led to her cycling in and out of juvenile detention. The girl said the silver lining of this sad life was that locked up, she was at least guaranteed three meals a day. This propelled Lori to look more closely at the reality of widespread hunger in this country and use her camera as a lens to open dialogue about it with her documentary A Place at the Table.
“I’ve always believed that good films—human stories—can break down walls. We’re so much more alike than different, and movies remind us of that.”
Right from the start, directing felt effortless and fun. It allowed me to combine the things I found most exciting: storytelling, social justice, music and human psychology.
“Get your career under way before you have kids”—that was the best advice my mother ever gave me. It’s not one-size-fits-all, but it was right for me.
The three qualities that got me where I am today are my big mouth, a willingness to look stupid, and a belief that the truth matters.
If I had a hashtag, it would be #TruthToPower. Follow her on Twitter.
occupation Founding Principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy and CEO of The Lopez Effect
Mother of Cenné, 16
Nadia’s career changed after a student sang her praises on the site Humans of New York, turning her into an internet sensation and inspiring a fundraiser that brought in $1.4 million for her school. But Nadia has been a superstar all along—she supports underprivileged kids and lets them know they matter.
“I love working with young people—they are creative, resilient and often underestimated. I created a school where adults listen, nurture and support them to be great.”
I realized teaching was for me the day one of my former scholars told me that no one ever believed she was smart enough to finish middle school. Until I became her teacher, she didn’t think she would either.
My greatest fear was getting divorced, but after it happened, it was the most liberating experience. So now I think about how good it is to be free, and I never allow fear to dictate what I want or where I plan to be.
As a principal, I love my scholars beyond measure and try my best to listen to them and truly see them beyond the data.
The best advice my daughter has given me is to take care of myself because I am the only mom she has, and she needs me around!
If I had a hashtag, it would be #InvestInYou. As women, we always invest in everyone else and never make time for the things we want to accomplish. Put yourself first. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Occupation Director of Research and Development for Jigsaw, Google parent’s internal tech incubator that focuses on international security issues
Mother of Zeba, 3
Taking on repressive censorship, online harassment and digital attacks is all in a day’s work for Yasmin. Her job is trying to comprehend how global security challenges intersect with the internet and how to manage it all with innovative technology.
“What I do brings me joy. I work with brilliant, passionate people to tackle seemingly intractable problems such as violent extremism and the rise of online hate mobs.”
My failures have taught me to listen more. The only failures I’ve regretted are the ones attributable to not hearing what people were telling me.
Growing up, I always expected that there would be three chapters to my life: being single, being married and then being a family. I had always implicitly understood those life stages to be sequential and discrete. But when I became a mother, I realized that I needed those three identities to coexist, and that everyone would be better off if I could maintain them all.
Watching my child’s development helped make machine learning techniques more intuitive to me, and it’s surprised me how much this informed my work. In both young children and smart software, one can appreciate the power of pattern recognition versus linear learning, the value of diversity to avert biased outcomes, and the inevitability that some learned behavior will be inexplicable.
Occupation Cofounder and CEO of Miss Jessie’s
mother of Faison, 17
When Miko decided to let her naturally curly hair do its thing, she discovered that the styling products she required weren’t on the market. Along with her late sister, Titi, she invented Curly Pudding and revolutionized the hair care industry for women with kinky and wavy hair.
“Failures helped me be more successful. They gave me no choice but to think outside the box.”
My dad was a product of the civil rights era and understood the sacrifices that were made for me to be in a position of choice. He groomed me at an early age to be my own boss.
Finding balance in life includes happiness, wellness, family time and a closer relationship with God. It’s where my spirituality is open to new ways of understanding life while doing all the things I love.
The best advice I ever got from my mother was to listen to my thoughts first thing in the morning. She believes that those initial early thoughts are the purest. If there are any problems looming, I tend to work them out best in the morning.
Occupation Physician, surgeon, researcher and director of the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center
Mother of Marisa, 27, and Max, 23
Laura’s mission is to care for and empower breast cancer patients during treatment and beyond. Her cross-disciplinary approach has also earned her a place as an innovator and activist in her field.
“Every day I get to use science, creativity and ingenuity to find better ways to treat women.”
My job is to help solve the problems facing my patients, like how to find the most effective and least toxic treatment, when they are at risk for or have breast cancer. Treatment is personal, and the connection you make with each patient helps them navigate through a very difficult time. Fear and panic can be surmounted by acquiring knowledge and making a plan. I also love to sing my patients to sleep in the operating room!
You learn most from what does not work. First you understand what went wrong and why, and then move on. Keep trying. Resilience is key.
You do not have to choose between having a career and motherhood, but we could certainly benefit from having more infrastructure to support working families. And not just mothers—today raising a family is the responsibility of both parents, and mothers and fathers both need support.
If I had a hashtag, it would be #Warriors4Change.
Occupation Investigative reporter, The New York Times
Mother of Talia, 12, and Violet, 2
As a seasoned journalist, Jodi has been digging deep on various topics for years. But her collaborative exposé on Harvey Weinstein last year—detailing allegations of abuse and sexual harassment—pushed her to the front and center of the hot-button #MeToo movement and opened new dialogues. That work earned her a Pulitzer Prize. Read her stories here.
“Being a journalist gives you license to ask questions—including the kind that others would find inappropriate or just off-limits.”
I see the world with a mother’s eyes. At one point, my editor teased me that every story I wrote—about Amazon, Syrian refugees—somehow involved pregnancy. (This was when I was having my second child, so guilty as charged.) I just tend to do journalism in which the primary point of view is female.
I dropped out of law school to become a journalist. A week in, I knew I’d made the right decision.
Doing work that motivates readers is my definition of success. In 2006 I wrote an article about the class gap in breastfeeding, with pumping virtually impossible for many low-income workers. Unbeknown to me, two readers were inspired and spent years developing the world’s first mobile lactation station. They now have more than 400 units across the U.S. I often see those Mamava pods in airports; they’re my personal reminders of why I do what I do.
My failures have taught me humility that comes from having your work widely dissected, debated and sometimes criticized. I’m in the business of perceiving, and yet I’m constantly reminded, often by readers, of what I don’t see.
Occupation Attorney, women’s rights activist and Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
Mother of Milan, 23, and Ali Gabriel, 19
Taina’s legal career, which was launched at a Wall Street firm, gave her an understanding of power structures and how to navigate and break them down. She embraced those skills and is now a crusader for social justice, defending the rights of women and girls on a national and global level.
“Gains in protecting women’s rights are slow and fragile, but when victories come, they’re seismic.”
What I love most about my job is the knowledge that everything is possible. Dedicating my life to nonprofit work is a great privilege, but I’ve imposed sacrifices on my family, especially my partner of 30 years, Veronica. But I’ve seen groundbreaking changes in laws happen in my lifetime.
Mothering and loving sons continues to be an awe-inspiring gift. My boys keep me honest and give me great hope for the future of humankind.
My mother left Haiti as a young woman during the dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Like many immigrant parents, she instilled in her children the values of discipline and hard work. One piece of advice she often gave is “You can never find lost time, so seize the day, every day.”
Gender inequality affects everything, from economic development to peacemaking to preserving our planet.
If I had a hashtag, it would be #Equality. Follow her on Twitter.
Bozoma Saint John
Occupation Chief Brand Officer at Uber
Mother of Lael, 8
Companies like Pepsi and Apple have turned to Bozoma to shake them up with her special brand of creativity and pizzazz. Her position at Uber makes her unique: She’s one of the rare African American C-suite executives in tech. But Boz is always ready to be a change agent.
Satisfaction is my personal definition of success. It‘s my own bar, and it changes levels constantly. I know if/when I‘ve done it. And then I‘m proud, and I celebrate that excellence.
The best advice I ever got from my mom was to stand up straight and never bend down to satisfy anyone—make people rise to meet me. It’s literal and figurative.
My teammates and I had a chant when we ran track in college and I still use it: “No pain, no gain, no guts, no glory.” Whenever I’m fearful, I go back to the chant. I’m usually mumbling it under my breath before a big meeting or a big decision, or screaming it into the mirror at home to get myself hyped up.
I wish more people would ask how to say my name properly and then remember it. I’m named after my grandmother, and I want to honor her. It bothers me when people dismiss it as “too hard”—it’s special to me.
Occupation Founder of Crisis Text Line; its upcoming spin-off, Loris.AI; and Dress for Success
Mother of Sydney, 13, and Houston, 11
Nancy is a nonprofit innovator. When just in her 20s, she founded Dress for Success to help low-income women with career attire and mentoring, and she was the CEO of DoSomething.org, a global organization for youth. Now at Crisis Text Line, a text-based crisis support service, she continues to break new ground.
“My work is about strangers helping strangers in their darkest moments. It’s kind of the most amazing thing ever.”
When I was just in preschool, a boy declared purple to be a “boy color.” It was my favorite color—and my grandmother’s too. I crawled under the table and ran around the room with the magenta, lilac and lavender crayons in my fists. My parents were called. Liberating the purple crayons was my first act of social justice. It stuck.
I push past my fears with humor, speed and a pint of ice cream.
The question I wish more people would ask me is “How does your husband balance his work with his personal life?”
Occupation Civil rights advocate; president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Mother of Chetan, 9, and Rohan, 6
Before stepping into her current role, Vanita led the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama. She continues to protect the human and civil rights of people across the country.
“I love that I never have to question whether there is meaning in my job—I get to serve others and build an America as good as its ideals.”
I've been a civil rights advocate my whole adult career, and I’ve never questioned the purpose, even as challenging as the work is. My first job was at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where I represented dozens of wrongfully convicted men and women in Tulia, TX, and got them exonerated.
My husband has a big job but he’s able to do so much to support my career and our family. He has really put his money where his mouth is as a feminist.
My definition of personal excellence is being mission-driven and achieving my goals while being humble and giving others the space to lead. It’s also about driving change professionally while raising my kids to be loving and compassionate people.
If I had a hashtag, it would be #ChangeTakesCourage. Follow her on Twitter.
Occupation Founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation and Circle of Mothers, author and inspirational speaker
Mother of Jahvaris, 27, and Trayvon, who would have been 23
Six years ago, Sybrina had to confront a mother’s worst nightmare, the fatal shooting of her son Trayvon, then just 17 years old. She channeled that pain into her foundation to help other parents deal with senseless losses and bring about change.
“My life is now dedicated to transforming personal tragedy into worldwide social change. I keep moving forward because I am speaking on behalf of my son who is no longer with us.”
I push past fear by striving to be an advocate for the voiceless. I fear less because in my heart, the worst thing to happen to a parent has happened to me—losing a child. Everything else pales in comparison.
I wish more people would ask: What can I do to help others who have suffered unimaginable loss? What can I do to improve social injustice? How can I make a difference in the world as it relates to senseless gun violence?
Through all I have experienced, I know that the loving devotion of motherhood serves as a connection with other mothers.
Mother of Cazzie, 23, and Romy, 22
When it comes to facing hard facts, be it the global warming crisis or the obesity epidemic, Laurie has always been ready to speak up. She produced the Academy Award–winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth and was executive producer of the documentary Fed Up.
“Giving back is my definition of personal excellence. In any way, shape or form.”
What is the greatest myth about motherhood? That it’s easy, peachy-rosy, and your kids will be fabulous, brilliant and picture-perfect. So much of raising kids was not fun! OK—there, I said it.
“Failure” is such a strange word. It’s such a condemnation. It completely undermines the effort put in or the motivation. Even if you don’t succeed, is it a failure? Maybe I don’t believe in failure. Even when I got divorced, it didn’t feel like a failure. It felt like a great 13-year marriage that came to an end.
Go greener, if you can: Eat less meat, drive an electric car, make it a voting issue, support an environmental group, support companies with green values. Reduce, re-use, recycle!
I want to become a regular meditator. I do it on occasion, but I want to be able to brag that I have a meditation practice like some of my most balanced girlfriends.
If I had a hashtag, it would it be #EveryDaySomethingDrivesMeCrazy. Follow her on Twitter.
Occupation Novelist and current national ambassador for Young People’s Literature
Mother of Toshi, 16, and Jackson Leroi, 10
Jacqueline believes that reading can encourage kids’ hopefulness and their interest in changing the world around them. With over 30 books to her credit, she’s the award-winning author of young adult titles such as Brown Girl Dreaming and Feathers and the adult novel Another Brooklyn.
Motherhood has helped me see far beyond myself into the lives of other people—especially young people. As a writer of young adult literature, this was already somewhat the case, but motherhood made it less theoretical. I no longer had to imagine the young people—they were right there in front of me. And they were VERY different from all that I had imagined. My kids have helped me think differently and understand deeply the need for truly listening without judgment or intent.
The best advice I ever got from my mother was “In all your getting, get understanding.”
I love creating new worlds through fiction—just being able to sit in a space and imagine the unimaginable, then bring that to the page.