When Bensalem Police captain Michelle Kott found out she was one of this year's honorees, she said, "I thought it was a joke. I didn't believe it was true. I thought it was a prank. But then I realized it was real."
And now that she got to share the stage with the other four women being honored, who she calls trailblazers, "it's unbelievable," she says. "I'm still in shock. I'm so blessed to be here. It's like a fairytale."
Kott worked her way to the top of a predominantly male profession. At 37, she is the first-ever female captain of the City of Bethlehem Police Department. Before that, she was the first female lieutenant in the department's history.
She says she didn’t strive to be the best female officer. "I wanted to be the best officer," she said.
CBS's Margaret Brennan of "Face the Nation" says the women's stories are inspiring. She was this year's Women's Achievement Awards moderator.
"One of the reasons I think an event like this is important is recognizing the achievements of these people as amazing individuals," she said. "Their gender is sort of secondary to the achievements they've been able to accomplish, and I think it's important to be able to recognize publicly when we see that."
And she said it's not just important for women.
"It is redefining, not just for other young women who want to strive, but for other young men, who may have to deal with authority figures who look different from them," she said. "And that is important for the next generations, and that is societal change, how it happens."
Honoree Neha Gupta, inspired by visiting her parents' homeland in India, decided at the age of 9 to start a nonprofit to help disadvantaged kids get education, health care and mentorship programs.
"It was something that I felt like I needed to do — raise my voice so all these other kids could have them, too," she said.
Empower Orphans, which she started as a project to help 360 kids in one Indian orphanage, has expanded to reach now 30,000 kids across four countries: India, the United States, Haiti and Uganda.
Honoree Anna Payne is packing a lifetime of goals in, one day at a time. She has cystic fibrosis, a rare, deadly lung disease.
"When I was born, my parents were told I probably wouldn't even make it out of elementary school, let alone graduate from high school," she said.
The 32-year-old is doing what she can to help those who need it most in the best way she knows how: through science.
And honoree Dr. Sheena Howard has distinguished herself as an author, teacher, academic, and comic book game-changer.
While working toward her Ph.D. at historically black college Howard University, she established her identity as a Black, queer woman.
She says she wrote her first book, "Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation," because the texts she needed most when writing her dissertation on Black comic strips did not exist.
"It was really upsetting to not have a book that really delved into the history of Black people in the comic industry," she said.
Filling that void paid off for her: The book won her an award at San Diego Comic-Con, making her the first Black woman to receive an Eisner Award — the equivalent of an Oscar in that industry.
Brennan delivered a keynote speech that touched on the emergence of women in leadership roles, and how that affects society and government. She also discussed the responsibility of those delivering news — to highlight the facts, tackle the complicated issues and to not chase the "shiny object" just because it will get the most reaction, the most clicks or retweets.
She called meeting the five honorees "an inspiration."
"Looking at their achievements and the decision that they made to get involved at the community level is something that actually gives me a lot of inspiration and optimism, a reason for it right now, when, at the national level, we're only talking about the inability to get things done," Brennan said.