2023 Women’s History Month
The Council recognizes the significance of the start of March, as it marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. During this month, we take the time to reflect and celebrate the vital role women play in both American history and modern culture, and recognize the lasting impact that many historic women have left through their dedication, work, and passion.
Countless women have pioneered their way into the world of business, opening doors for generations of females to come after them. In recognition of Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight a few lesser known—but no less noteworthy—women and explore how they shifted the business paradigm to be more equitable and inclusive for all.
- Anna Sutherland Bissel was the first female CEO in the United States. After her husband passed away in 1990, she took over the Bissell Sweeper Company. By 1999 she grew the company to become the largest organization of its kind in the world. Anna Bissell was also the first business owner to provide her employees with pensions and other benefits, and lead the movement to change the way workers are treated.
- Thasunda Brown Duckett is the President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA. While holding a high ranking position, she also serves several boards of well known companies like Nike. Despite her busy work life, she has also founded the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation to recognize and reward people who empower and uplift their community. She is passionate about helping to close the gaps in wealth creation, educational outcomes, and career success for communities of color.
- Annie Malone was a daughter of formerly enslaved people. She developed a chemical straightener for coarse hair. She herself was worth millions, but used her wealth to donate land and cover a portion of the building costs for the St. Louis Colored Orphans’ Home, now known as the Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center.
- Estée Lauder created the well-known cosmetics company that is still highly prosperous today. In 1998, she was included on the annual list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century, notably the only woman listed among this prestigious group.
- Christine Poon was the vice chairman of Johnson & Johnson and their former worldwide chairman. During her time there, she built Johnson & Johnson’s medicines to the leader that it is today. In 2004 she was named the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association “Woman of the Year” and in 2008 she was listed in Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women.
While this is only a small portion of women who made a positive impact in the business field, the leadership of this group—and many others—have encouraged women of all ages to find their place and their voice in today’s working market. The Council recognizes these and all womens’ achievements, honoring the hard work and dedication that it takes to live by your morals and stand out against your peers.
We encourage you all to get to know our list of Council-certified women-owned businesses and reach out to those listed to create new business relationships. Our goal is to help create more opportunities for minority women-owned businesses to find success, no matter what time of year it is.
Women’s History Spotlight: Azra Khalfan-Kermali
Azra Khalfan-Kermali, is the founder and CEO of Away in a BOX, a division of Plaques by Azra and Signs and Lucite Products. Plaques by Azra is a trusted supplier for awards and signs and recently expanded to offer a Cultural Intelligence Training Program for employee engagement and leadership development.
Azra was born and raised in Queens, New York but has lived in Tanzania, UAE and has traveled the world extensively. She brings over two decades of entrepreneurial spirit, life experiences, education and passion into her new company— aimed at increasing diversity, equity and inclusion and helping with unconscious biases towards marginalized communities. Away in a BOX brings the world to you, one nation at a time through an experiential sensory BOX and educational culture training.
Azra has been actively building her businesses through educational programs with organizations like the Dartmouth-Tuck School of Business – Minority Business Program and the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program through the Tory Burch Foundation
Azra now lives in New York and Dubai with her husband Kazim and her parents. She has been actively involved with community fundraising and awareness towards assisting orphans, widows, empowerment through education and the building of wells in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.
With her passion for advocacy, Azra sits on the NYNJ Council’s MBE Input Committee, the Queen’s District Attorney South Asian Advisory Committee and a co-chair for the Manufacturing Committee at the Queens Chamber of Commerce. She has also served on the Board of TPNY, a non-profit organization advocating for victims of Domestic Violence. In 2016, Azra was awarded the MBE Catalyst Award by the NMSDC. In 2019, Azra received the ACCION Award for Integrity.
She has been featured in four books including a New York Times bestseller: Tory Burch: In Color. She is also a contributing writer for an industry specific online platform GraphicsPro and was featured on The Story Exchange, an online media outlet showcasing women entrepreneurs. In 2011, Azra and her mother were featured as the cover story for Azizah Magazine, which highlights the achievements of Muslim women around the world.
In what little spare time she has, Azra enjoys hiking, kayaking and traveling. She is particularly intrigued by Middle Eastern architecture and enjoys learning about different cultures and visiting churches, temples and mosques.