The Matriarchy Power List: 29 Women Who Took Over The World In 2018


Because the present is female. And these are the women making history.

The year of our Lordesse 2018 proved historically traumatic (#MeToo reckonings, all things Trump), triumphant (midterm victories), and transformative for America, particularly American women, with an unprecedented number now assuming their rightful place as leadership, tastemakers, and decision-makers across art, politics, and culture. So, what’s next and who’s in charge? Refinery29 has chosen the 29 women actively reshaping American culture in their image—and yours. Because the patriarchy as we know it is over. This is the age of a new Matriarchy…and it’s here to stay.


Some 200 men fell in the aftermath of #MeToo. But there have always been exceptionally qualified women ready, willing and able to take over.

Tanzina Vega

Host of The Takeaway

Writing for The Cut in December 2017, Suki Kim chronicled the inappropriate behavior of public radio host John Hockenberry. Five months later, WNYC named Vega, a longtime journalist for CNN and The New York Times, the host of popular morning show The Takeaway.

“Having women in positions of power is more than optics. We bring new ideas to the table. We create new dynamics and ways of working. Women have long been denied the social, political and economic benefits that come with these roles and I’m excited for that shift.”




Host of Amanpour & Co

For over 30 years, Amanpour has been an on-air reporter celebrated for her absolutely fearless war coverage. PBS first named her interim replacement when Rose was ousted after he faced harassment accusations from over 30 women, and was named his permanent replacement last May.


Jennifer Salke

Head of Amazon Studios

The accusations against and subsequent resignation of Roy Price was big Hollywood news. Price was nearly omnipotent, and reportedly chose not into invest in some highly successful female-led shows. Determined to topple Netflix, Amazon then tapped NBC veteran Salke to take over. So far, she’s made some exciting moves, including partnerships with Blake Lively and Nicole Kidman.


Karen Costello

Chief Creative Officer,
The Martin Agency

You’ve certainly seen the work of this ad firm: Geico, Hanes, Walmart, and Oreo, to name a few. Joe Alexander had been with the agency for more than 26 years when he was ousted facing allegations from 10 women and 1 man. Costello was promoted back in January. Check out our feature story here on how things at the agency actually went down after women were promoted to top..

“I think it’s fair to say that a lot of men, whether it’s here or somewhere else in the industry, assume ‘well, you got the job because you’re women.’ That doesn’t mean that either one of us weren’t the absolutely most qualified people for these jobs.”


Marie Javins

Group Editor of DC Comics’
Justice League

It was big news when DC announced that Javins would be the editor taking over the Justice League line, after the ousting of Eddie Berganza. She started her career at Marvel, but now she’s a rising star at the competition.

“At Marvel, women worked both in the office and as freelance writers, artists, colorists, and letterers, but maddeningly—like centuries of women in teaching, nursing, and childcare—history tends to ghost them, to overlook their contributions. The younger generation doesn’t need me to show them how to be superheroes. They were already crashing into the glass ceiling of their own accord before I started pointing out the weak spots.”

Shannon White

CEO, John Besh Restaurant Group

Few announce their own takeover, but that’s exactly what White did when famed New Orleans chef John Besh stepped down from his restaurant group after 25 women accused him of sexual harassment. White has been working to repair the culture of the restaurant group, even inviting journalists to document the process.

“Having more women in leadership roles is crucial to moving the restaurant industry forward, but our industry also needs a more diverse workforce overall. With more women and more diversity comes varying life experiences, which leads to new ideas, more inclusivity, increased sensitivity, and a better work atmosphere for all. I believe it will in turn be reflected in an enhanced experience for our guests.”



Amy Montagne

VP, GM of Global Categories
at Nike

Montagne has been at Nike for 13 years, and her promotion was welcomed after a revolt and house cleaning at Nike (including Jayme Martin ousting) led to calls for more diversity at its highest ranks.


2019 promises to be a watershed year in American politics. After a historic midterms, we voted and elected an unprecedented number of women into office.


Letitia James

New York Attorney General

James was already the first black woman elected to City office in New York, when she became the Public Advocate in 2013. Now, she’s the first ever black woman to serve as the state’s Attorney General following the resignation of Eric Schneiderman.

“When the election was called in my favor, I immediately thought of every little girl who has been counted out or told that she can’t change the world. This victory is for those girls — both young and old — and to show them that no dream is too big and no ceiling too high.”


Luz Rivas

California State Assembly

Several high profile politicians fell in the #MeToo reckoning — from Al Franken and Tony Cornish in Minnesota, to Stephen Bittel in Florida, and Raul Bocanegra in California, leading to special elections and appointments across the country including Tina Smith, Terrie Rizzo, Karla Bigham, and Luz Rivas.

“Diversity preserves the American Dream. When the daughter of an immigrant mother who cleaned bathrooms to pay for food and rent is able to progress from an electrical engineer from MIT with a Master’s from Harvard University, to the founder of a non-profit, to eventually becoming an elected official, we are reminded that success can come from anywhere through any path. I want to empower women because we need their voices in government.”


Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House

She’s baaacck! Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful woman in government, and arguably the most polarizing. Love her, hate her, or think the Democrats need fresh blood: You can’t say she’s not an effective behind the scenes operator, even if her whole persona comes off as too establishment for the moment.


Jacky Rosen (Susie Lee, Kate Marshall)

The Nevada women running the state

Majority rules! While women won big on a national scale this November, in Nevada they almost took over: Jacky Rosen beat Dean Heller to become the second female U.S. Senator in the state (the other is Senator Catherine Cortez Masto). Along with Reps. Susie Lee and Dina Titus — Nevada’s congressional delegation is now 67% women. Bonus: At the state level, women will be the majority in the Assembly.

“Women often don’t take a straight path in their careers, especially when it comes to running for office. My path to the Senate has not been linear, but my win in Nevada is the story of the 2018 election cycle — women stepping up to lead. I hope more women will feel empowered to run after seeing Nevada become the 7th state in the country with two women Senators because we need representation at every level in government.”



This is what we call results: a record 116 women were elected to Congress, joining 10 incumbents and 5 delegates, and their work begins January 3rd. There’s still a ways to go for parity on the hill, however: This number represents only 24% of Congress. Next hurdle: 2020. Download our commemorative poster here!


From speaking up for peers to putting their career on the line to make a point, these entertainers made a difference in their industry in 2018.


Taylor Swift

Labor Radical

Ready for it. Swift stood up for other musicians amidst a landmark record deal negotiation. Using her superstar power, the singer-songwriter collectively bargained with Universal Music Group so that all artists on the massive label would receive a small percentage of its stake in Spotify.


Jada Pinkett Smith

Truth Teller

We’ve said this before: Red Table Talk is excellent stuff. In an era choke full of the engineered drama of reality TV, who could have guessed that a show where women just talk to each other would be soul food. Pinkett Smith puts it all on the table with the women in her life — her mother, her daughter, her frenemy, her husband’s ex-wife, and her white girlfriends. You don’t even hear normal people being this honest in therapy.


Robin Wright

House of Cards

We didn’t get a female President, but at least we got one on House of Cards when Kevin Spacey was fired. Claire Underwood said it best: “It’s my turn.”

Jodie Whittaker

The 13th Doctor on Dr Who

Whittaker is the first female Doctor in the 55 year history of beloved British sci-fi cult fave Doctor Who. Ratings are way up, so all the sexist #NotMyDoctor tweets can just go away now.



Sophia Bush


Even for established actors, it’s hard to leave a steady job after trauma. Bush left NBC show Chicago PD because of what she describes as a toxic environment, one where she says was allegedly assaulted in a room full of male colleagues who refused to help her. “I quit because …I’ve been so programmed to be a good girl and to be a workhorse and be a tugboat …ahead of my own health,” she said recently.


Hoda Kotb & Savannah Guthrie

Hosts of the Today Show

Good mornings only from now on, because starting the day with two female anchors on The Today Show is exactly what we need. Last November, when Kotb and Guthrie held hands and looked into the camera to bluntly explain Matt Lauer’s firing, no one knew if NBC execs would let the arrangement last. Now, these women have taken the reins of this morning show behemoth — and they’re here to stay.


Brie Larson

Captain Marvel

After some 60 movies in recent years and decades of virtually zero franchise-leading female superheroes, Marvel Studios finally reverses its course with Oscar winner (and Time’s Up activist) Larson – who’s guaranteed to kick ass in the title role.


Being the first woman in any leadership position is a death-defying feat; after all, once you’ve shattered the glass ceiling, you must find a way to remain aloft in that high, high perch without falling (or being pushed).


Stacey Cunningham

First-ever female President
of the NYSE

Among boys clubs Wall Street has long been the ultimate. But now a woman runs one of the most important, prestigious institutions on the street: Cunningham started as an intern and trading floor clerk at the New York Stock Exchange in ‘90s. Now, she’s the exchange’s first female President in its 226-year history. Take that, bros.

“Anytime you redefine the boundaries, you are redefining them for everyone else that follows you.”


Dhivya Suryadevara

First-ever female CFO of
General Motors

GM is ahead of the curve when it comes to women in the C-suite: In 2013, they named Mary Barra the first female CEO. Earlier this year, the automaker named Suryadevara the company’s first female CFO. She’s also making bank while she’s doing it. Get that money.


This year, the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs dropped — leading many to worry of a devolution. But female execs are not going away. Here’s proof.

Beth Ford

CEO, Land O Lakes

Buttery goodness. Ford’s ascension to CEO is significant for two reasons: She’s a woman and the first openly gay woman to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

“Leadership is a team sport. Male or female — it’s really not about me. That’s why my career advice always begins with: connect with people, and then maintain your confidence, accept your failures, learn from them, and move on. And finally—this is something I learned growing up with seven siblings—if you want something, you have to ask for it. My mom gave me that advice as a kid, and I think it has served me well in a competitive and constantly evolving business environment”



Michelle Gass

CEO, Kohl’s

Do you know who came up with Frappuccinos? It was Michelle Gass. For years, she was called Starbucks’ “secret weapon”, and made them billions of dollars. Now Gass is leading her own ship at Kohl’s, with a plan to revive the brand in a tough era for brick-and-mortar department stores.

“Anytime you redefine the boundaries, you are redefining them for everyone else that follows you.”


Pat McGrath

Beauty Billionaire

McGrath is the real deal: She’s self made, and this July, it was reported that her 3-year-old company, Pat McGrath Labs, is valued at $1 billion. A woman of color with millions of fans, she’s a legitimate powerhouse in the industry, and she’s not done yet. Who’s ready for more sparkle?


Nicola Kilner


Calm after the storm. The beauty conglomerate behind The Ordinary has had quite a tumultuous year, but Kliner is here to turn the ship around. After Brandon Truaze’s social media meltdowns and even a premature announcement that the company was shuttering, Kliner, who had initially left the company, has returned with a determination to put it back on the right track.

“When you are involved in a start-up it develops a love which is embedded so deep that you can never really let go. The start of this year was very difficult and following my temporary departure… but I realised I could never work for a beauty company other than Deciem.”

Rose Marcario

CEO & President, Patagonia

How many CEOs sue the President of the United States? Marcario felt it her duty to sue when the Trump Administration announced that it would drastically reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah — presumably opening up the lands for drilling and mining. Patagonia has been thriving under Marcario, who’s been with the apparel company for a decade. On top of donating the company’s $10 million tax cut to environmental groups, she sure doesn’t mince words when it comes to Trump.

“The more our planet suffers, the more important it becomes for all of us to answer with action, or we won’t have a world worth living in. And in a time when our government continues to fail, the private sector has to do more.”



Yes, inherited wealth is polarizing. But once upon a time, men gave their companies to their most competent sons and found suitors for their daughters. That oppressive fairy tale is over, as more and more power is inherited by the most qualified heirs, regardless of their gender.


Lidia Bastianich and Nancy Silverton

Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

Just desserts. The accusations against Mario Batali came swiftly, along with an NYPD investigation. The celebrity chef built an empire with business partner Joe Bastianich, but when time came for the B&B Hospitality group to distance themselves from Batali, Joe’s mother Lidia (an established celeb in her own right) and chef Nancy Silverton were the ones buying him out.


Debra Perelman

CEO, Revlon

Another glam goddess who’s all business. Debbie is more than ready to take the helm as Revlon’s first female CEO in the cosmetic company’s 86-year history.

“Quite frankly, I think it’s a good time for a woman to lead any company, not just those in the beauty industry. Female entrepreneurs and women-led businesses are creating and accomplishing incredible things and we are seeing an increase in female leaders of all kinds across the public and private sectors, which I agree is both exciting and long overdue.”


Abigail Disney

Heiress, documentary filmmaker, philanthropist, and activist

Magical. From preaching that rich people should be taxed more to being part of a female bid to take over Harvey Weinstein’s production company, to her hilarious and sharp political tweets — Abigail Disney is one hell of an heiress, leading one of the world’s most iconic and enduring entertainment brands.

“Culture matters. Until we fully own our culture — and by ‘own’ I mean, control, govern, capitalize, and shape that culture — we will always be guests in a man’s world. When we take back our culture, we will no longer be refugees. We will be home.”

Feature edited by Bourree Lam, Yael Kohen, Justin Ravitz; additional reporting by Natalie Morin. Art Direction & Design by Isabel Castillo Guijarro; Illustrations by Justyna Stasik and Vero Romero



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