In honour of International Women’s Day, we tracked down the world’s most influential women. From techies to teens, founders to philanthropists, prepare to meet some inspiring and frankly kick-arse names.
Co-founder of Design Army
Spending the first half of her life in Asia and the second half in the US has given designer Pum Lefebure a unique perspective. As the co-founder of Design Army, the Washington-based graphic design firm, she has concocted campaigns for Bloomingdale’s, the Ritz-Carlton, Disney and the Academy Awards. Her co-founder and CEO of the agency is her husband, Jake, while Pum, working as the chief creative officer, is the force behind its vision. She is also on the board of directors for The One Club, a global not-for-profit that aims to inspire future generations of designers.
Dubbed ‘television’s voice of Millennial feminism’, the senior producer at Vox has become the go-to commentator whenever a US television network needs a Gen Y perspective on politics, women’s issues and reproductive rights. As the creator of viral campaigns including #WhyWomenDontReport, #WithoutTheWageGapIWould and #AllMenCan, she knows how to expertly use social media to draw attention to inequality.
Regional General Manager of Uber Northern Europe
Four years ago, Jo Bertram was working for a management consultancy in South Africa when she heard about an opening at a start-up called Uber. Now, she is responsible for Uber’s business across 15 cities in six European countries, and has the final say on where they should launch next, the company’s marketing strategy and how to combat legal issues. She’s had to quit social media due to constant trolling, particularly from taxi drivers, but won’t let that stop her. Her Twitter account is now monitored by a colleague who keeps a log of the abuse.
Principal Product Manager at Amazon
This US product designer has a very braggable achievement: she helped develop the Amazon Dash, a wi-fi-enabled device that adheres wherever put it (your fridge, your washing machine, your bed…) and allows you to automatically reorder your favourite products with the push of a button. According to Amazon, one Dash order is placed every 30 seconds globally. Laura is working on an improved version to “continue to take the friction out of the shopping experience”.
— Carmel Johnston (@_CarmelJohnston) February 28, 2017
As the leader of the HI-SEAS Mars simulation mission in Hawaii, Carmel Johnston spent a year with a team of five others living in a simulated Martian station 2700 metres above sea level to determine whether humans could survive the conditions. As well as the psychological impact of living like they were on another planet, there were practical issues to explore. With background in environmental science, Carmel focused on a crucial question: how could humans grow food on Mars?
Athlete and ESPN Sports Writer
Popular with male and female sports alike, Kate Fagan earned respect a professional basketball player in US, before joining ESPN as a sports writer, holding her own in a media niche dominated by men. Kate came out as a lesbian while playing college basketball and later wrote about her experiences of discrimination as a gay athlete in Reappearing Act. She continues campaign for inclusivity in the sports world.
Silicon Valley head-hunter
If you want a top job in Silicon Valley, Morgan Missen is the woman to win over. After working as an in-house recruiter at Google, Twitter and Foursquare, she jumped ship in 2012 to launch her own recruitment agency, Main. Using the model of a Hollywood talent agency and applying it to the
code-savvy stars of the tech industry, Morgan advocates for engineers and developers. She says demand for top talent is at an all-time high – and she’s the person who can get you places.
Co-creator of TEDWomen
In 2010, Pat Mitchell approached chief curator, Chris Anderson, with an idea – would he consider launching a TED conference dedicated to the potential power that women and girls have to be change makers? Over the past few years, TEDWomen and TEDxWomen have inspired an audience of millions across the world, with Pat curating and co-hosting the 2016 conference in San Francisco. She also persuaded Sheryl Sandberg and Hillary Clinton to take to the stage.
If you’ve ever watched a speech given by Michelle Obama, there is a good chance that Sarah Hurwitz wrote every word of it. From 2008 to the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, she served as a White House speechwriter, crafting some of the President’s words before becoming a personal speechwriter for Michelle, writing or editing nearly every word she said in public (including the speech later borrowed by Melania Trump). Previously a lawyer and Hillary Clinton’s speechwriter during the 2008 primaries (and author of her “18 million cracks… in the highest, hardest glass ceiling” concession speech), we’re eagerly awaiting her first post-Obama career step.
Television host and activist
A divisive figure in her home country of Saudi Arabia, Muna AbuSulayman hosts Kalam Nawaem, one of the most popular and controversial television shows in the Arab world. Presented entirely by women, the show discusses topics including homosexuality, gender equality, sexual harassment and divorce. Muna was the first Saudi woman to be appointed as a United National Goodwill Ambassador. Off screen, she is a partner at Glowork – an e-recruitment agency that supports women in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region in finding employment.
The Kenyan-born Somali-British poet behind the spoken words between songs on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, was flung into the spotlight when the visual album became one of the most talked-about musical moments of 2016. With lyrics like, “If this is what you truly want, I can wear her skin over mine”, her powerful poetry sheds light on marginalised individuals and communities. Her words are her weapon. The New York Times even quoted her poem, Home, in a 2015 opinion piece urging Western countries to be more sympathetic towards the plight of refugees. At a recent protest in the US against the ‘Muslim ban’, protesters waved signs with lines from the same poem: “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
The founder of the not-for-profit Samasource is empowering people the world’s poorest countries by providing job opportunities. Since 2008, Leila Janah has worked with companies like eBay, Google and Microsoft to break down digital projects into ‘microwork’ that can be outsourced to workers in Kenya, Uganda, India and Haiti. She is also the founder of the luxury skincare brand LXMI (pronounced ‘Lux Me’), which provides well-paid work for the women who source the product ingredients.
Investor and Chairwoman at DreamWorks Animation
As the inspiration for Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In (they met as board members of anti-domestic violence organisation, V-Day), and a woman colour, Mellody Hobson has broken through more than one glass ceiling. youngest daughter of a single mother who was frequently evicted her homes, she is now the president of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based company with US$10.7 billion in assets under management. She also runs the board of directors at DreamWorks Animation – and she’s a director at
Estée Lauder and Starbucks.
DJ and Eco-activist
Tala Mortada, an art-director-turned-DJ, is using music to combat the impact of political conflict on Beirut, Lebanon, where she is based. One of the biggest names in the club scene, she is using her profile for good. Tala and her team have built a recycling program at the city’s most popular nightclub, The Grand Factory, where they teach clubbers sustainable living tips. They also run a clothing donation program help people in the cold, notably those affected by the refugee crisis.
The youngest on our list at just sixteen years of age, Jazz Jennings was only six years old when she appeared on a news report about transgender children. Since then, she has starred in a documentary and a reality TV series about her and her family – both called I am Jazz. As well as publishing a children’s picture book with the same title, she has become the ‘honorary co-founder’ of TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, a not-for-profit that supports young people with gender dysphoria. Over 300,000 people subscribe to her YouTube channel, where she discusses dating, puberty and how to help parents understand their teens. The Tonner Doll Company in New York has recently released a transgender doll inspired by the teen activist.
Creative Director Céline
Awarded an OBE from the Queen for her services to fashion, Phoebe Philo has been credited with bringing minimalism and realism back into fashion, both at Céline and previously at Chloé, where she worked her way up from assistant to creative director. As well as being stylish, she is also loyal. Recently rumours swirled that she was leaving the fashion house, but Phoebe assured her staff in a memo that she is “more motivated and committed than ever” to their partnership.
The co-executive producer behind HBO’s hit show Girls, Jenni Konner is also the co-founder, along with Lena Dunham, of newsletter Lenny. In 2015, she instigated the viral campaign #AskYourMother, which encouraged women to talk openly about their abortions. Her advice for getting ahead in your career is to ask for what you want and know you’re worth it. The mother of two also believes that, once women rise to the top, they have a responsibility to hire women – “a lot of women”.
More than 900,000 people have watched Krista Donaldson’s TED talk – The $80 Prosthetic Knee That’s Changing Lives. The Canadian engineer is the CEO of D-Rev, a Silicon Valley not-for-profit that brings medical devices to people who need them, many of whom live on less than US$4 a day. D-Rev has also developed an affordable treatment for babies with jaundice. In her previous career, Krista was employed by the US Department of State to work on electricity reconstruction in Iraq.
Co-founder of Conscious Commerce
You’ve probably heard of Barbara Burchfield’s business partner Olivia Wilde. The duo met while working on a charity project in Haiti. Frustrated by the limitations of traditional fundraising, the duo launched Conscious Commerce, an e-commerce platform that partners luxury brands with small-scale charities, so that a portion of all profits goes to charitable projects. Barbara, who splits her time between Venice, California, and Brooklyn, is also the creative director of an achingly cool media and events company that produces the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s
Industrial Designer at Google
Two words: Google Glass. On her first day at Google, after moving to Silicon Valley from Sweden two years prior, Isabelle Olsson was shown a prototype of the virtual reality glasses, and became integral to their development. (She was also responsible for the spectacles being featured in a Diane von Furstenberg fashion show). As she explained to Refinery29, her next goal is to develop the look of the ‘face computer’. “Right now you see this one iteration with a colours, which is great, but there’s so much that can be done to fit into style.”
CEO of Deloitte
As the first woman to be the CEO of an Australian big four accounting firm, Cindy Hook is passionate about diversity, as well as work-life balance. In her first address to the firm’s 6000 employees she played a video of her executives having fun on a beach. These are the 13 busiest people in firm,” she said. “If they can find way to work this into their lives, you too.” She is also executive sponsor of the Deloitte Foundation in Australia, which financially supports not-for-profits and encourages its employees volunteer for them.
Director of Tate Modern
The first female director of London’s storied contemporary art gallery, Frances Morris is on a mission to make women more visible in the art world. A Tate curator since 1987, Frances took on lead role last year, and isn’t afraid be daring – she’s already opened 260 million building extension. One of her first initiatives? Adding more seats throughout the whole gallery, with the aim of making it a place where people can mingle, network and rest.
Talia Leman discovered her considerable philanthropic power at the age of 10, when she raised US$10 million to help victims of Hurricane Katrina by convincing kids to swap Halloween candy for coins. Now the CEO and founder of not-for-profit RandomKid, she wants to inspire the next generation of change-makers. The charity provides support and resources to children with big ideas on how to solve global problems. To date, they’ve helped than 12 million youths from 20 countries to fund water pumps, build schools and provide medical care across four continents.
Vice President of original documentary and comedy programming at Netflix
The Netflix executive who brought Making a Murderer to our screens, Nishimura could be responsible for the streaming company’s first Oscars win this awards season. In charge of green-lighting documentaries, she also holds the purse strings for comedy series. As the daughter of Japanese immigrants, she is proud to represent diversity in the entertainment industry.
One of the world’s most influential trend forecasters, Lidewij Edelkoort predicts what people want, before they know they want it. Under the auspices of her Paris-based company, Trend Union, she travels widely, studying socio-cultural trends and sharing her predictions with clients in fields as diverse as fashion, textiles, interiors, cars, food and banking. At a recent conference she warned the fashion industry they must stop trying to be individualistic realise that “we live in a society hungry for consensus and altruism”.
Disability rights activist
Paralysed from the waist down at the age of 14 due to complications from malaria, Virali Modi has become a significant voice for the rights of people with disabilities in her home country of India. After pursuing a career in acting and modelling, she began writing about her life experiences on Quora and now has over 60,000 followers. Over 90,000 people have signed her petition lobbying India’s railway service to make their trains and platforms more accessible.
Chief Executive at Oxfam Australia
As the CEO of Oxfam Australia, Helen Szoke is an advocate for human rights and aid for impoverished countries who fights against gender and race discrimination. Previously, as the Australian Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner, she fought to reduce cyber bullying; she now works to Syrian refugees, and has urged G20 leaders to address the gender gap. Her next target is global inequality. In February, 2017, Oxfam called for leaders attending World Economic Forum to move a model of “inclusive capitalism”.
Executive Vice President of LVMH
At the age of 28, Delphine Arnault became the first woman to be appointed to the management board of the LVMH group. Her father, Bernard Arnault, may be chairman of LVMH, but she still had to earn her place. Having apprenticed at John Galliano, she is passionate about nurturing talent, creating LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers. The winning creator, aged under 40, receives just over US$400,000 plus support with intellectual property, sourcing, distribution and marketing.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff
Event Planner and Strategist
The former director of New York Fashion Week has taken an unexpected career step. Having helped produce the 2017 Presidential Inauguration ceremony, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is now a senior advisor to the new First Lady. A long-time friend of Anna Wintour – who nicknamed her ‘General Winston’ for her ability to see complex projects to completion – she worked in PR and events at Vogue, before opening her own consulting firm, SWW Creative.
Scientist and Author
The Brené Brown of botanical science, Hope Jahren made waves with Lab Girl, a best-selling memoir about her life as geobiologist, including her battles with depression. She has since leveraged her profile to write about sexual harassment in the academic sciences. Though she’s known for her work with fossilised plants, it’s her blog that really digs deep; she writes about Marie Curie, hopelessness and people who “piss off nature”. She has also written three comic books.