We can only hope that one day soon there'll be no reason to single out women as a specific category when we look at up-and-comers in the world of business. But the current reality is this: While the number of U.S. companies owned by women is increasing faster than those of other groups, those companies are responsible for just 6 percent of the country's employees and 4 percent of revenue, according to a 2012 report commissioned by American Express Open. Meanwhile, many studies maintain that women have significantly reduced access to capital and encounter less favorable loan rates. And don't get us started on the discrepancies in compensation between men and women performing equal work.
As relevant (and dispiriting) as these financial truths may be, they are at odds with the fact that fundamentally women are a more powerful presence in business than ever, as a work force and as entrepreneurs, technicians and corporate leaders. Here, we've identified innovators from several significant sectors: science, technology, retail and health, not to mention social and business services. We are certain their contributions and influence will have a profound impact going forward.
Sophia Amoruso, Tastemaker
If Sophia Amoruso has her way, the world is about to get a lot more nasty. Last year the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Nasty Gal, an online purveyor of new and vintage fashion for women, rocketed to prominence from seemingly nowhere after scoring a $40 million round of funding from Index Ventures--investors in Skype, Dropbox and Blue Bottle Coffee. For a retailer with scant discounting and zero debt, Nasty Gal has racked up some seriously drool-worthy numbers: international sales of $128 million in 2012, four times higher than the year before; 535,000 Facebook fans; 420,000 Instagram subscribers; 68,000 Twitter followers; and more than 2 million monthly unique visitors to the website in September 2012.
In 2006 Amoruso was in her garage, watching bids roll in for the one-of-a-kind vintage clothing pieces she had put up on her eBay store. Seven years later she's got a view from Nasty Gal's 10,000-square-foot digs in downtown Los Angeles, boasting arched windows, high ceilings and droves of impossibly cool guys and gals. The bob-haired, bright-lipsticked Amoruso herself arrives in a rock 'n' roll black flared miniskirt, blue sneakers and a rainbow-fringed shag jacket.
At the heart of the brand's success is Amoruso's drive to satisfy the "crazy, freakishly loyal" community that clamors for Nasty Gal's ultra-affordable, young-skewing new merchandise, which is curated from an array of up-and-coming designers, as well as vintage items from luxury brands. "I will never stop making things and imagining cool and trippy things for those girls, and that will become a bigger part of what we do," she says.
Right now Amoruso is on the hunt for more office space in the neighborhood to house her ever-expanding staff--150 employees and counting, with 65 hires in 2012 alone--including executive talent poached from Stella & Dot, Shopzilla, Amazon, Jawbone and Gap. That's in addition to a 500,000-square-foot warehouse that opened in the fall in Louisville, Ky.; the launch of a mobile site; and the simultaneous debut of the biennial Super Nasty print magazine and the brand's first in-house collection, Weird Science, featuring color palettes inspired by computer cables and prints based on data-corruption visuals.
All this, Amoruso asserts, is just the beginning. "We are transitioning from a retailer to a full-fledged brand," she says. "Part of the reason I got to where I am is I never set a goal or look at the top. I like figuring out how to do things myself, and I like the idea of creating an online brand that will last a long time."