40 Over 40 – The World's Most Inspiring Women
Fasten your seatbelts – here it is: the first international edition of "40 over 40." Our finalists come from 26 nations and six continents. They are entrepreneurs, managers, artists, researchers, scientists, speakers, activists, and politicians. Experts in IT & tech, finance, sustainability, leadership, psychology, pharmaceuticals, and digital transformation
What a journey! A couple of months ago, we started this bold project together with our presenting partner Capgemini Invent. Our high-profile jury has curated a shortlist of finalists from over 100 names. Extraordinary women who have one thing in common: they change the world for the better. They fight for human rights and peace, for diversity and inclusion in all its facets, for climate and species protection and the conservation of the habitats of indigenous communities. They broaden our horizon and touch us with their unique art, their great books, and their music.
Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia
The Thought Leader
She was more realistic than many other government leaders on the question of how to get a grip on Putin to prevent a war. "You cannot negotiate with someone who points a gun at you.” How right she was! Kaja Kallas has been in office since January 2021 and is the first female prime minister of the Baltic country. Born into politics (her father Siim Kallas is the former Estonian prime minister), the mother of three originally wanted to pursue another path and became a lawyer. When you watch her today, how clearly and knowledgeably she argues, we’re lucky that she changed her mind. From 2014 to 2018, she was a member of the EU Parliament for the Reform Party. And even though she was not a newbie, she was chronically underestimated when she took office. A fate she shares with many other female politicians like Angela Merkel, who was disparagingly referred to as "Kohl's girl." In recent weeks, the world community has been able to witness what an accomplished politician Kaja Kallas is. She defies the Kremlin with excellent relations with her NATO and EU allies. She supports the Ukrainians with arms supplies, and – perhaps the best thing this small country of 1.3 million people has to offer – with digital excellence and IT champions in cybersecurity.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General WTO
Princess, Harvard economist, Nigerian minister of finance and foreign affairs, Twitter star (with 1.7 million followers), World Bank director, mother of four, grandmother of three, and, since early last year, the first woman and first African to head the WTO. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is many women – yet she is always one thing: strong. "I am a fighter," says the now 67-year-old. As a child, she is said to have carried her sister three miles to the nearest hospital, pushing through a rough crowd of 600 and climbing through a window to get the treatment that saved the three-year-old’s life. The task in Geneva is not quite so dramatic, but, as DG of the weakened WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also needs a strong will and assertiveness to push for fair trade in the world (especially for women in developing countries.) The African with US citizenship takes a pragmatic approach: "I believe that when you find problems, you should also find solutions." She makes it sound – and look – so easy.
Michele Ghee, CEO EBONY and JET Magazines
The Cultural Icon
Responsible for shaping the cultural narrative of the iconic African-American media brands, Michele Ghee is many things – a mother, a wife, an author, a visionary. She has generated millions of dollars in revenue for big names like WME, CNN, A&E, The History Channel, and BET Networks. While at BET, Michele created and ran the first and only network for Black women: BETHer. A year into her tenure at EBONY, her impact is already palpable. For the February 2022 commemorative relaunch edition of the magazine, she chose Beauty and Brains as the theme. The first print issue in three years honors and uplifts 10 promising Black women in STEM. She has crafted a career journey for herself that makes her the perfect woman for the job. She leverages more than 25 years of experience with a multitude of brands and her impeccable cultural connectedness to bring a fresh perspective to the media industry. She puts in the work, makes her own way, and uses her voice to inspire and uplift others along the way. The title of her last book is an ode to her conviction: Success on Your Own Terms. She is a cultural icon.
Aniela Unguresan, Co-Founder EDGE
According to the “Global Gender Gap Report” by the World Economic Forum it will take another 267.6 years to close the gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity. One woman who stepped up to challenge this statistic is Aniela Unguresan. The former consultant holds an MBA from the University of Geneva launched EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) in 2011. This global assessment methodology measures where organizations stand in terms of gender balance. 200 companies in 50 countries have been certified by her Zurich based company so far. Aniela wants to make diversity objectifiable with the same discipline, rigor, and structure as any other corporate goal – based on data. A process that she sums up in a crisp formula: “Get data, get better data, and use that better data to inform your decisions.” But it needs action and accountability; Data alone will not change the world. Remember? 267.6 years! Isn't this number frustrating? Aniela Unguresan is surprisingly optimistic. In the last few years, she says, “Things have started to move thanks to the implementation of ESG and accelerate due to the lessons learned from the pandemic.” As Aniela points out, it’s a unique moment in which we must push for positive change.
Kamales Lardi, CEO Lardi & Partner Consulting Digital Business Transformation Expert
The Transformation Guru
Anyone who has witnessed Kamales Lardi in person when she speaks about digital transformation, about courage and the desire to think out of the box, will leave the room as a business rebel. This extraordinary speaker has 22 years of cross-industry experience in the development, execution, and management of international business and digital transformation initiatives. She has soaked up so much first-class knowledge and best case scenarios that she is bubbling over with ideas, innovative concepts, and connect-the-dot moments. Kamales believes in the transformative impact of emerging technologies, and has developed deep knowledge and hands-on experience in its implementation, specifically blockchain, AI, virtual and augmented reality, 3D-printing, IoT and sensor tech, and robotics process automation among others. Kamales, who lives in Zurich with her husband and daughter, has been running her own consulting company for ten years and has given over 150 keynotes worldwide. One of her main (and most passionate) topics to speak about is "Women in Tech." The Malaysia-born superwoman has been awarded countless honors, including "Top 10 Thought Leader in Digital Transformation" (Thinkers 360) and “50 Women In Tech Influencers” (The Awards Magazine). Privately, she is also an influencer and role model. Having learnt from the best, Kamales’s daughter has already launched her own website, slimequeen.ch. The 11-year-old developed the product based on crowdsourcing slime recipes from her online friends and promotes it on Instagram and TikTok for sales. Like mother, like daughter.
Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris
The Green Revolutionary
If you had wanted to declare your love to Paris a decade ago, the city wouldn't have heard it: cars were too big, motorcycles too loud, people too many. Well, that’s a bygone age. Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris since 2014, has changed a lot along the Seine. The 63-year-old is converting eight-lane streets into pedestrian zones, parking lots into terraces, has 170,000 trees planted, 400 kilometers of bike paths created, and plans to transform the square around the Eiffel Tower as well as the Champs-Élysées into a fantastic garden. By 2024, swimming in the river Seine is supposed to be an option. The socialist and mother of three is the face of the city’s green revolution. In 2022, she wants to continue her vision of a sustainable, just, livable community to the Élysée Palace – as the first female president of France. The daughter of Spanish parents, an electrician and dressmaker, is not only getting rid of diesel engines and fossil energy proponents, but also of clichés and conventions: "We women can prove that you don't already have to belong to the powerful to make a difference."
Brandi Carlile, Singer-Songwriter
The Grammy Queen
As a six-time Grammy Award winner, it’s difficult to classify Brandi Carlile into a specific music genre; she makes up her own category. She has spent her lifelong career in the music business crossing over, using her voice as a tool to find her niche. Her poetry, her use of language and words rally communities around her. She unites people by sharing her experience of key moments in relationships and life. Her openness and relatability invites her fans to deeply connect with her and each other. She never ceases to advocate for women, is an icon of the LGBTQ community, a philanthropist, a business owner, a mom, and a wife. She is nominated for five Grammy’s in 2022. Find her on Obama’s Best of 2021 Spotify Playlist. See her live, if you can. It’s magic.
Pinky Liliani CBE DL, Founder and Chairman of 'Women of The Future'
The Beacon of Hope
The charismatic Pinky Liliani came to the UK from Calcutta, India in 1978. Almost 45 years later, she is a champion for women across the world, particularly for those who, like her, come from ethnic minority backgrounds. At a TED talk in 2011, Pinky Liliani shared, “I have two real passions in life: people and food”. Because of these passions, she launched her culinary career cooking Bombay potatoes for anyone and everyone she met. This also led to her first book Spice Magic: An Indian Culinary Adventure, which was published in 2001. To further fuel her passion for people, Pinky holds her annual Asian Women of Achievement Awards, Southeast Asia Awards, and Women of the Future Awards, which celebrate women’s successes with enthusiasm and congratulate inspirational women for their work. As for Pinky, she herself has plenty of her own awards from her incredible career, including an OBE for services to women in business. However, it is her shining character that makes the greatest impression on those around her. Pinky’s key to connecting with people as she has done her whole life? Kindness. These acts of goodwill have made her influential friends and brought her so much joy. She excels at shining the light for others to find their way to greatness.
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Founder of Sacred Earth Solar and Co-founder of Indigenous Climate Action
Hailing from Northern Alberta, Canada and growing up a part of the Lubicon Cree Nation, when it comes to fighting for Indigenous sovereignty, women’s rights, and the climate it is personal for Melina Laboucan-Massimo. Just seven years old when she first went on a blockade with her family and community to protect their homeland, Melina is a community woman who will do everything it takes to protect the people she loves. After the suspicious death of her sister Bella, she became actively involved with working on the issue of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Children. Tired not only of the devaluation of women, but also Indigenous homelands, Melina is hard at work advocating for more sustainable lifestyles at the local, national, and international levels. She proves that change is possible as the host of her new TV documentary series Power to the People, where she profiles renewable energy in Indigenous communities. For her work, the inspirational activist has been named as one of the 26 Climate Champions in Canada by the Climate Law Initiative. Melina’s undying love for her community and for Mother Earth are where she continuously draws her strength from to stand up for environmental rights, climate justice, and Indigenous-led movement building. Her voice will be heard.
Elif Shafak, Turkish-British Novelist
The Poetic Egalitarian
Her poetry is a gift. Haunting, loving, feminine, and feminist, modern and mystical at the same time. Stories for all those who are searching and want to cross borders. "Stories bring us together, untold stories and entrenched silence keep us apart," the writer, the politician, and scientist Elif Shafak implores us. Born in Strasbourg in 1971, daughter of Turkish parents, school years in Madrid, Masters in Gender and Women's Studies and PhD in Political Science in Ankara, stations in Arizona, Boston, Istanbul, exile in London, where she lives with her two children since 2008... She is a nomad between the cultures of the Orient and the Occident and brings them together in a fascinating way. Her 19 books (translated into 50 languages), each of her countless, scholarly articles and lectures worldwide, are a manifesto for equality, tolerance, and liberal values. She is one of the most important authors of our time. In her novel The 40 Secrets of Love (2013), she gets to the heart of what the world needs to hear most these days: Love cannot be explained, and yet it explains everything.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO 20-first
The Globetrotting CEO
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox is a Jill of all trades. As a writer for the Harvard Business Review and Forbes and a celebrated TEDx speaker, you will often find this inspirational CEO leading motivational talks and training sessions on topics from gender to generational balance all over the world. She is a true globetrotter, having spread her wisdom to dozens of corporations in over 40 countries during her career. Fun fact: she has three passports – Canadian, French, and Swiss! Currently, Avivah is living in Cambridge, MA, as a Fellow in Harvard's Advanced Leadership Initiative, for which she conducts research on longevity, gender differences in aging, and navigating later life transitions, or the “Third” and “Fourth Quarters” as she refers to them. She recently wrote a compelling piece titled Late Work: From Recreation to Re-Creation on the topic. Having just celebrated her 60th birthday, Avivah is leading with a purpose and is hard at work helping companies build awareness and manage generational balance to hone in on the benefits of a five-generation workforce.
Isatou Ceesay, Activist and Social Entrepreneur
A proverb says "It takes a village to raise a child." For Isatou Ceesay, it would have to be transformed into "It takes a woman to clean a village – if not a country." In 1997, in her village of N'jau in the center of Gambia, Africa's smallest country, the then 25-year-old began cutting plastic bags that were carelessly discarded, which killed goats and prevented vegetables from growing on the already barren soil, into strips to crochet beautiful bags and purses from the plarn (plastic-yarn) – and sell them. From the simple idea of ‘Trash to Treasure’ grows the Women's Initiative Gambia, which provides women with an income and protects the environment, supported by the United Nations, the US, Peace Corps, and other NGOs. In the meantime, the 50-year-old, who herself earned her way into secretarial school as a half-orphan, has initiated all kinds of actions – from the Briquettes Project made of coconut and peanut shells, community gardens to educational initiatives – and offers thousands of women a perspective. Known as the "Queen of Recycling", Isatou Ceesay does not rule a village, but hearts.
Sonia Syngal, CEO, Gap Inc.
When the going gets tough, women have to step in, they say. Gap Inc., the textile giant from San Francisco, has been stumbling for years. However, since March 2020, they have had a new president and CEO at its helm. Sonia Syngal came in with lots of ideas but a very rough start. After only 48 hours at her new desk, she had to close 2,800 stores in the US alone due to the pandemic, and the jobs of over 100,000 employees were at stake. The 51-year-old, who was born in India and grew up in Montréal, calls this her "Apollo 13 moment": "A situation like that asks us to step into the leadership required," she champions. The mother of two had previously proven she can lead at Gap's Old Navy brand, Sun Microsystems, and Ford. The job at the automobile manufacturer was the toughest of her life, she says. Standing in front of 50-60 year-olds working on the night shift with a pen and clipboard as a 21-year-old Stanford-graduate to evaluate their work and make them more productive – a thankless task. But ultimately groundbreaking. "You realize that connecting with humans at a human level, laughing together is really the source of unlocking value," she reflects. And she's trying to tap into those values now at Gap, focusing on sustainability, the brand’s core, and the people wearing it. Difficult, but possible with an innovative mind like Sonia’s.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Journalist, Activist, and Oscar-Winning Filmmaker
It's not necessarily awards that say something about a person, about courage, character, and humanity. And yet: Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has received 38 awards to date, including two Oscars, four Emmys, and the Inspiring Leadership Award from the British human rights organization The People's Portfolio. The 43-year-old's weapon in the fight for equality and social change: her camera. With it, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy films where others prefer to look away: honor killings in Pakistan, teenage suicide bombers of the Taliban, child abuse, rape, women scarred by acid attacks, transgender people in Muslim countries. Oppression in the world makes the mother of two daughters angry. “Anger is necessary so that people don't just not like what they see,” she explains of her documentaries, which you certainly don't watch while munching on a sandwich. Her strong images and stories have been responsible for changing laws in her home country and helping women live as (more) equals. Strength, the Karachiite native knows, is also a privilege. One that she would like to see for all women everywhere in the world. Until that is achieved, her camera will continue to whir.
Susanna Hasenoehrl, Head of Sustainability SAP Asia Pacific Japan
The Sustainability Speaker
This woman seems to have a very special inner power plant. One that runs on renewable energy, of course. How else could you drive so many topics, projects, and tasks forward in such a positive mood and raise two daughters on top of it? The Finn started her career in the world of mobile technologies in Thailand at Siemens in the early 2000s. Since 2010, she has lived and worked in Singapore. Susanna Hasenoehrl has made a name for herself as a consultant and top keynote speaker on topics related to climate change and sustainability, serves as an advisor, and is a Climate Reality Leader in Al Gore's eponymous NGO. After her last management role in a digital agronomic solutions company, she moved to SAP in January of 2022. As the inaugural Head of Sustainability Asia Pacific Japan, she’s now focusing on driving sustainability outcomes for the customers and partners of SAP. With Asia accounting for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is a huge task. And it is also a “question of intergenerational justice,” Susanna says. “There’s no time to lose. We owe it to our children and their children.”
Kapwani Kiwanga, Artist
The Political Poet
"We don't know what the future holds. But we also don't always know how we got to where we are now." Wiser words have not been spoken. Therefore, the artist Kapwani Kiwanga tries to connect the past and science fiction in her works, to explain the status quo. In this, the Canadian-born artist, who has lived in Paris since 2005, benefits from her anthropology studies. Before she develops her sculptural works and installations, the 44-year-old does thorough research. Her art is political and engages footnotes of history, e.g. she recreates bouquets of flowers that stood on conference tables during negotiations of African countries on their way to independence and allows them to wither. She creates hairy, multi-layered sculptures out of Tanzanian sisal, a symbol of former colonial suppression as well as economic emancipation. Politics and poetry – a combination that is thought-provoking and has been awarded with prestigious prizes such as the Prix Marcel Duchamp, the Frieze Artist Award, and the Canadian Sobey Art Award. Whatever future works she will share, they are sure to be inspirational.
Susan David, Psychologist, Harvard Medical School, TED Speaker
The Emotional Barometer
Susan David is giving the whole world permission to talk about their feelings. Through deep research, years of consulting experience, and overcoming her own obstacles as a young girl after her father’s passing, Dr. David proves that we are all capable of thriving by becoming more emotionally agile. The mother and wife is a psychologist and the leading authority on how our thoughts, emotions, and motives can empower or derail us. Her studies have led her from South Africa to a best selling book, Emotional Agility. She teaches the psychological skills critical to thriving in times of complexity and change: showing up, stepping out, walking your why, and moving on. In a world where transformation is everywhere around us, her messages resonate loudly. Especially as the next wave of leaders prepare to rise and stir the beautiful melting pot that is the other side of The Great Resignation. Susan’s words of courage, core values, and compassion serve as a gateway to tools everyone can use.
Elizabeth Broderick, UN Human Rights Council
The Women’s Savior
True gender equality is closer than ever to becoming a reality, but the key lies not in convincing women to do or be more, but in persuading men to use their existing power. She believes that “If we want to deliver equality for women, we actually have to focus on men.” A consultant by trade and Australia’s longest serving Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick is a Special Rapporteur appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, where she works alongside a group of experts to help nation states and other actors with laws and practices that discriminate against women. In her eight years as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, she grappled with the question: “What does it take to move men from being interested in gender equality to taking action?” She found that when she managed to engage not only men’s heads, but also their hearts in the issue, they helped to improve gender equality. This understanding prompted her foundation of the Male Champions of Change strategy in 2011, which she continues to run today, activating influential men to be an ally for gender equality.
Pamela Hutchinson OBE, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Bloomberg
The Authentic Diversity Leader
The best version of yourself is the one where you embrace your true self as much as you can. This doesn’t have to end when you go to work. As the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Bloomberg, Pamela Hutchinson ensures people from every background feel comfortable to come to work as their true selves. “I spent a long time trying to cover up my blackness”, she said. But once she managed to embrace her whole identity in her job, she progressed quickly through the ranks at the global information and technology company. One of Bloomberg’s primary goals is to foster an environment where diversity and inclusion are essential to their company’s set-up, rather than an after-thought. It is Pamela’s work which has helped achieve this. She is now considered as one of the most vocal thought leaders and advocates for diversity in the private sector and has been instrumental in establishing ethnic diversity in London’s banking sector. This year, she was awarded an OBE for her services to Diversity and Inclusion in the Financial Services sector on the 2022’s New Year’s Honours List.
Linda Zhang, F-150 Chief Nameplate Engineer Ford
For the job of bringing radical change to US highways, byways, parkways, and driveways, The Ford Motor Company put Linda Zhang in charge. She is the leader behind the electrification of the F-150, the quintessential American pickup truck. While she has worked on several Ford vehicles during her 25-year tenure, she always dreamed of an electric project. In 2021, that dream became a reality as Zhang unveiled the successor to the best selling vehicle of all times: the Ford F-150 Lightning. And it is already a huge success, which beyond a commitment to engineering, she attributes to insisting all along on bringing customers unexpected features to experience in and outside the truck. In a land where the mass adoption of electrified personal transportation is aways away, Linda is making this monumental change and appealing to the American consumer. She is an immigrant, an MBA, and an innovator. She was recently recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the people working to accomplish the COP26 agenda.
Ingun Bol, Creator Wize Move Society
“If I find lemons, I make lemonade,” explains Netherlander Ingun Bol. When she left her job in the IT industry, she wanted to support women to start their own businesses and become leaders. She is a firm believer in entrepreneurship, which she calls “the backbone of the economy” and wanted to see other women grabbing entrepreneurial opportunities by the horns – rather than trying to ignore the exponential change in the world around them. She recognized that the best way to achieve this was by helping connect the right people to spark change. Her company Female Wave of Change was born from this belief in 2003. Now, she’s helping another group of people stay connected and reach their potential: the over 50s. Rather than sitting back and relaxing on a sun lounger in Spain – or perhaps as well as – the Wize Move Society encourages the 50+ generation to re-invent themselves and get ready for the next phase in their lives. The online international global community for the over 50s was launched at the beginning of 2021. It's safe to say, the lemonade is tasting pretty sweet for Ingun.
Christiana Figueres, Co-Founder Global Optimism
The Climate Optimist
When it comes to the climate, no one is more hopeful than Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres that we can change our future. Co-founder of Global Optimism, co-author of The Future We Choose, The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis, and co-host of the hit podcast Outrage & Optimism, she is making her voice loud and clear on the importance of rapid action regarding the current climate crisis and empowering those around her with optimism. She lives by the motto, “We cannot ask others to do what we have not done ourselves.” The mother of two certainly has a talent at getting those around her to listen. In fact, she was an instrumental force behind bringing together national and sub-national governments, corporations and activists, women’s groups, scientists and spiritual communities, financial institutions, and NGOs for the groundbreaking 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change – and getting 195 sovereign governments to agree on a plan. The negotiating and peacekeeping wizardess has been rightly recognized with numerous awards for shaping a new brand of collaborative diplomacy. For this 65-year-old, the glass is always half-full.
Guo Jianmei, Founder and Director Beijing Qianqian Law Firm
There’s a reason they call Chinese lawyer and women’s rights activist Guo Jianmei China’s “Patron of the Weak.” In the past 26 years, her institution has provided more than 50,000 free legal consultations, represented more than 1,500 cases, undertaken more than 260 various pieces of training and seminars about women's rights and interests, submitted more than 110 legislative suggestions, printed 17 professional books, and published more than 300 articles. Ms. Guo has made it her life goal to become an excellent first-generation influential public interest lawyer and fight unequal pay gaps, sexual harassment, inequitable work contracts, and champion equal pay for equal work. And successful she has been! As the first full-time public interest lawyer in China, Guo Jianmei is a formidable woman who has no qualms about standing up for what she believes is right and, as a result, has been instrumental in creating greater gender parity within China.
Blanca Treviño, President and CEO Softtek
If you want to build a successful career, you are supposed to change jobs every three to five years. Well, Blanca Treviño has been with Softtek for 30 years – but she’s far from being a preserver, rather she is a developer and, as President and CEO since 2000, has made the company the leading information technology services business in Latin America. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1959, she earned her bachelor in computer systems administration and co-founded Softtek in 1982 together with eight partners. Today, Softtek provides application software development, security, and other IT solutions to more than 300 companies in over 20 countries and employs about 12,000 people. Little wonder that the mother and grandmother of two has been called the Sheryl Sandberg of Latin America and named one of the most powerful women in Mexico by Forbes. Unsurprisingly, her advice to other women is: "Find good partners. It's easier to start a business if you share your dream with someone." Change, Blanca Treviño says, is less necessary for an impressive career than resilience: "Some of the best outcomes in my life have happened amidst the most trying of moments."
Debjani Ghosh, President National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM)
"Technology is not magical. People using tech to create a better world, are!" That's what it says on Debjani Ghosh's social media accounts. She is one of those magical people, in fact maybe the chief magician in India. As President of the National Association of Software & Services Companies, Ghosh is more than passionate about advocating for a digital, innovative India. Being a vast country, technology is key so that every citizen has access to education, healthcare, or governance services, Gosh believes. Her career took off at Intel in 1996. Back then, Gosh, who had a bachelor’s degree in political science and an MBA in marketing, confidently answered the dreaded interview question about her long-term goals. Her answer: head of the company. Initially one of just five employees, she has been able to test out her skills, has passed through various positions in the company, and, after 17 years, actually became the first female Managing Director in 2012. Five years later, Debjani Ghosh moved to the non-profit-organization of Nasscom, again as the first woman among many men. But that’s a position she naturally feels quite comfortable in: she grew up the youngest sibling to 12 brothers after all.
Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chair Mastercard, Global Chair 30% Club
The Equity Advocate
One might think that "being the first women who…" is a good thing. Well, it depends. Because it also means “the only.” Ann Cairns knows this well. She began her career in 1979 as a research scientist in the oil and gas industry. In 1984, she became Head of Engineering Planning and was, here it is again, the first woman qualified to work offshore in Britain. After time in the energy industry, the passionate sailor navigated her career into top banking positions. Today she’s Executive Vice Chair at Mastercard. Been there, done that, seen that – Ann Cairns is committed to ensuring that women are no longer lonely at the top. In 2019, she joined the 30% Club, and, since 2020, serves as its Global Chair. Founded in 2010, the aim of the initiative is to get (at least) 30% women either at board or senior management levels. Explicitly not through a binding quota, but out of insight into the advantages of a more diverse corporate culture. It has been scientifically proven that this changes when a critical mass of 30% is reached. More than 1,000 board chairs and CEOs across over 20 countries have already signed up as members. It seems that the “first women who…” is already history, although there’s still a way to go.
Caroline Farberger, CEO ICA Insurance
Caroline’s inspirational story begins in 1967 when she was born as a boy named Carl. She would spend the first 50 years of her life living as a man. With dual university degrees in electrical engineering and business administration, a distinguished military service ranking as #1 in cadet school, a stellar career, and a beautiful family, some would say Caroline had it all. Then one day in 2018, she simply told her coworkers that the next day she would be changing her name and gender. In Sweden, and most places around the world, undergoing a public gender transition while serving as CEO isn’t something that happens every day. Still happily married to her wife and father to their three children, Caroline has written about her transformational journey in her book Jag, Caroline, yrkeskvinna och familjefar (I, Caroline: Businesswoman and Family Father). “My insights from comparing living as a man and living as a woman is that we still have a very long way to go,” she states. With new perceptions on gender matters and a fresh approach to leadership style, in the spring of 2022, Caroline will join the investment company Wellstreet as Partner and Working Chairwoman.
Amy Webb, Founder The Future Today Institute
She consults Fortune 500 companies, major banks, and the military. The Future Today Institute prepares leaders and their organizations to adapt their businesses by using qualitative and quantitative data to identify emerging signals of change. Amy Webb is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business and a bestselling author of several books. Forbes ranks her as "one of the five women changing the world”. At a glance, her amazing career is a story of detours. As a young girl she studied classical clarinet with a scholarship to a prestigious conservatory, but let it go. After graduating from university, she worked for some years as a freelance journalist in Japan. Music trained her in pattern recognition, she says, and journalism was all about deep research. It all came together. A multi-talented, ambitious hard worker and a restless soul who was still searching for her destiny, finally found it as one of America’s leading futurists. There’s another surprising twist in her biography. Amy Webb was diagnosed OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which she transformed into a power rather than a disability she shares in a podcast with Germany's Handelsblatt. Thinking in worst-case scenarios is crucial, especially when you deal with uncertainty. What a woman!
Abena Osei-Poku, CEO Absa Bank Ghana LTD
The Banking Star
Want to know more about banking? Then Abena Osei-Poku is your go to woman. Throughout her career, Abena has established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the banking world. For the past nine quarters (as of December 31st 2019), this inspiring CEO has made Absa Bank the most profitable in Ghana. And that’s not all she’s done. She was the woman behind the bank’s unique rebranding transformation from Barclays to Absa Bank Ghana. In addition, Abena also sits on several boards in a multiplicity of sectors, including telecommunications, banking, and commerce. She currently serves as Chairperson of the Ghana Stock Exchange Governing Council and as Executive Director of Absa Bank Ghana. She takes immense delight in creating a motivational environment for her employees and customers. At Absa Bank, she has established a diverse and inclusive culture that inspires innovation and creativity, proving that diversity is a driver of success.
Bertha González Nieves, Co-founder and CEO Casa Dragones Tequila Company
The First Lady of Tequila
The agave plant is an inconspicuous, prickly plant that blooms only once in its life. For Bertha González Nieves, however, it represents inspiration, a basis for business, and the soul of Mexico. The 51-year-old was the first female maestra tequilera, a title traditionally reserved for men, and one that took her 12 years to earn. "When I got my title, I told my mentors that I almost had to grow a mustache for them to accept me," she laughs. As CEO and co-founder of Casa Dragones, the native Mexican, who has lived in NYC since 2000, has another title: The First Lady of Tequila, and, according to Forbes, she is also one of the 50 most powerful women in Mexico. Casa Dragones, which she founded with ex-MTV founder Bob Pittmann in 2009, distills only three tequilas, but they are considered extraordinary by connoisseurs (and cost up to 500 euros). She had been dreaming of her own tequila brand ever since she first stood in an agave field as a 22-year-old business administration student from Mexico City. After that she learned everything about the product from scratch, working 10 years for Jose Cuervo International, the largest tequila company in the world. She has been living and breathing tequila ever since, which, by the way, is sipped straight, without salt and lemon. In Mexico, it is drunk on every occasion: "We have meals with our family with tequila. We pray with tequila. We declare our love with tequila," says Bertha González Nieves. Salud!
Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson and CEO Salesforce India
She is at the peak of her career and already a legend. The Calcutta-born top manager has a string of accolades trailing behind her: Forbes’ "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women", Fortune’s “Top 50 Globally Most Powerful Women in Business”, and Fortune’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.” With more than 40 years' experience in India's financial sector, working across varied roles and national and international locations, Arundhati Bhattacharya is a true inspiration for young women. Her greatest lesson: Make the most of it. Originally she wanted to become a doctor, but she was not admitted to medical school. Instead, the daughter of a manager earned a degree in English literature and spontaneously took an entrance exam for civil servants – at the State Bank of India (SBI). She rose quickly, working in investment banking in New York. In 2013, she became the first woman chairperson at the SBI, where she was credited with ushering in the digital transformation era at the company. Under her leadership, SBI went on to be voted as one of India's top 3 Best Places to Work. And she is far from finished. Now at Salesforce, she oversees their growth strategy.
Beatriz Faro, Regional President North America Inflammation and Immunology Pfizer
The Work-life Balance Hero
In the header of her LinkedIn profile you prominently find: #sciencewillwin. This motto is what her career is all about. Beatriz Faro studied pharmacy in Madrid, graduated with a master’s degree, and spent her entire business-life in Big Pharma and Biotech companies (e.g. Rhone Poulenc Rorer, Aventis, Pfizer), each step linked with huge responsibility for budgets and people, for change and development. While she was 8 months pregnant with her eldest child, Beatriz was hard at work putting together the Oncology Business Unit for Pfizer in Spain. Currently, she leads the Inflammation & Immunology Business Unit at Pfizer for North America & Canada, and is also the Chair of the Global Women Network at Pfizer. Due to her passionate commitment to women, diversity, and inclusion, Beatriz is often a requested speaker on Diversity and Work/Life Balance topics and has received a Luminary Award (2019) by the US Healthcare Businesswomen Association (HBA) for her impact for future direction and gender parity goals. The most frequently asked question she receives: “Can women have it all - a joyful balance between job and family?” Beatriz, herself is the answer to this question. Through her example, the mother of three proves it best with a tremendous career. The equivalent hashtag on her side might be: #womenwillwin!
Ann Francke OBE, CEO Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
As a successful businesswoman, leader, and manager, Ann Francke has come across her fair share of gender inequality throughout her career. That is why she has made it her goal to, as her 2019 book title states, Create a Gender-Balanced Workplace. She champions that “gender balance is one of the best levers we can pull to build better managers and leaders at every level, improve team performance and create better cultures where everyone can thrive.” And Ann is proving this belief true in her everyday work as CEO of CMI, where she is on a mission to turn “accidental managers” into “qualified leaders” and promote more inclusion and diversity. Through her reshaping, she has managed to achieve 93% employee engagement, and The Sunday Times has even recognized her work, listing CMI as one of its 100 Best Not for Profit Companies to Work For for four consecutive years (2016-2020). With a proven history of redefining strategy and allowing organizations to grow, Ann’s vision for fixing the continued workplace imbalance is beyond inspiring.
Dr. Alema, Afghan Women's Rights Activist
When the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15, 2021, it was a hostile takeover, a sudden privation of human rights. Within a few days, the women of Afghanistan lost much of their hard-earned freedom. The work of a lifetime for Dr Alema. Born in Kabul in 1964, attaining a PhD in philosophy from a German university, she came back to Afghanistan in 2002, and, since then, she has gained huge recognition in her campaign for women’s literacy and rights. Prominent as an Afghan scholar on the topics of conflict analysis, development, and project management, she often appeared on political roundtables in the media. Not at all soft spoken, but prudent, focused, and brave enough to say out loud in an ancient regime of patriarchy: “My goal is the full recognition of Women's Rights.” From 2020 to 2021, she even was Deputy Minister for Human Rights & Civil Society at the State Ministry for Peace in Kabul. It seems absurd today that her role was to promote, advocate for, and protect human rights values, but she won't give up. It's her life's work.
Rita Knott, Managing Director International Female Board Pool
In discussions about more women on supervisory boards, companies often claim they would love to have more females in these positions, but that there are just not enough suitable candidates. Rita Knott is familiar with all these bogus arguments. “I don’t take no for an answer. I’m a rebel by heart,” she states. That's the spirit to have if you want to challenge the status quo. With the “International Female Board Pool” Rita Knott aims to increase the proportion of competent and dedicated women on the boards of directors of companies to bolster their effectiveness. Founded in Luxembourg in 2011 and active in six European countries, the initiative matches highly qualified, board-ready or board-experienced women with companies who are looking for females with specific profiles. She herself knows the feeling of being the only woman in the management team. Before setting up her own global coaching and consulting for sustainable leadership, she was the vice president of a bank – although she had completely different plans. The German born director came to Luxembourg in 1979. At that time she wanted to become a stewardess. And as Lufthansa didn’t hire back in that year, she wanted to bridge the time to improve her English and French. In the end, Rita Knott still became a highflier, only on a different plane.
Ashton Applewhite, Principal This Chair Rocks
The Ageism Activist
Brooklyn-based author Ashton Applewhite never set out to become a writer. Her first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was catalyzed by the same head-smacking puzzlement as was This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism 20 years later: why is our view of what lies ahead so grim in the face of mounds of evidence to the contrary? The first head-smack turned her into a writer, the second into an activist. In addition to writing and speaking about aging and ageism, Ashton founded the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse. She writes, "Aging is a natural, lifelong, powerful process that unites us all. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead? Because of ageism – the last socially sanctioned prejudice." Now, she is a celebrated TED speaker on the topic and a full-time activist on a mission to destroy the stereotypes and discrimination that surround age – inspiring those around her with her passion and wit.
Sandrine Piret-Gérard, Senior Vice President Gilead Sciences
The Pharmaceutical Top Manager
Her CV reminds you of a pages-long medicine packing-list, which neatly leads us to our next topic. Sandrine Piret-Gérard has pursued a top international career in the pharmaceutical industry, with so many impressive positions, so many accomplishments, and so much excellence. After her MBA at the elite university INSEAD, her springboard into the industry was the Boston Consulting Group. After three years, it was clear that she needed a change. In 2003, the Belgium-born pharma manager started out at Novartis with positions in Belgium, Switzerland, and France, before moving to Sandoz in Germany and, finally, to Novartis Oncology in the US. Since February, she has been with California-based Gilead, where she is leading and overseeing the US business, with P&L responsibility across sales, marketing, market access, insights, and analytics covering virology and oncology. What is the secret behind her super career (besides dedication)? The manager who speaks fluent German, English, and French was ahead of her time and understood the concept of humble leadership. While others were still micromanaging, she told a business magazine in 2013: "My employees know they're the experts, and I'm just the conductor of the orchestra." A round of applause, please!
Kate Grussing CBE, Managing Director Sapphire Partners
The Equal Opportunity Headhunter
Equality in leadership positions – how long have we been talking about this topic? How often do women still experience the frustration of not being seen or boosted? “Well, actually I can do something about it”, states Kate Grussing, who ordered herself to walk the talk. After tremendously successful years as an MBA (at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JP Morgan), she founded Sapphire Partners in 2005, a London-based recruitment firm. Her intention: finding great executive talent outside the usual suspects. Her vast expertise on human capital and strategic insights led to Sapphire Partners’ recognition by the UK Government’s Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills for promoting women non-executives to high-profile appointments. What is more, when the Bank of England sought to improve the diversity of applicants for the renowned Governor post at The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in 2019, Kate Grussing, an American, was assigned to the job. And thus was recognized on the 2022 New Year’s Honours List, as she was awarded a CBE (Commander of the order of the British Empire). It's all placed under the sign of her firm's name: a Sapphire has 23 different colors.
Sylvia Earle, Chief Scientist US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Pure quantity theory: If 71 percent of the earth is water, protecting the oceans is essential for the future. Oceanographer Sylvia Earle never tires of emphasizing, "No blue, no green. No sea, no life." This is what the phycologist with a doctorate in algae science has been preaching for 53 years, drawing her knowledge from more than 7,000 hours underwater. Anyone who listens to the 86-year-old's Ted Talks and lectures, watches her Netflix documentaries Mission Blue and Seaspiracy or reads one of her 14 books senses how much the oceans and their inhabitants are close to her heart. During one of her first expeditions in the Indian Ocean in the late 1960s, Sylvia discovered that fish have faces, with no two alike. Unique creatures whose habitat is all the more worthy of protection because it provides 97 percent of the Earth's water and over half of our oxygen. Therefore, in 2009, "Her Deepness" launched the organization Mission Blue with the goal of establishing Hope Spots everywhere, marine zones protected from civilization. There are 140 of these spots today, which make up about six percent of the water’s surface. The goal is to make that 30 percent by 2030. Sylvia Earle has the energy and the will to implement this vision: "We can do this – in fact, we must do this," she champions.
Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Founder of Umlambo Foundation and Gender Activist
Since she began her career as a teacher, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has always had women’s rights at the forefront of her mind: while she was a Member of Parliament in South Africa’s first democratic government, where she was actively part of the fight to end apartheid, while she was Deputy President of South Africa, where she oversaw programs to fight poverty and reduce inequality, and during her two terms at the UN as Executive Director, where she was a global advocate for women and girls. Phumzile is allied with a number of organizations dedicated to education, women’s empowerment, and gender equality such as the initiative HeForShe, a program aimed at educating men and boys to the inequalities females face, and as the founder and leader of the Umlambo Foundation, which is dedicated to improving education and digital literacy. Having made it her life mission to empower young girls and women around the world, Phumzile has raised a remarkable US$40 billion to support the cause.
Jane Goodall, Ethologist
Ten lines are not enough to describe Jane Goodall. Or maybe a single sentence might fully characterize her: "The greatest danger to our future is our apathy." The conservationist and ethologist, known for her study into the lives of wild chimpanzees, has been committed throughout her life for more than 60 years to the chimpanzees in Tanzania and the conservation of nature. But perhaps her efforts began even earlier, when she was 23 years old and wanted to fulfill her childhood dream of observing animals in Africa, living with and writing books about them. When a school friend invites her to Kenya in 1956, she quits her secretarial job to work as a waitress and earn money for the boat passage more quickly. She meets anthropologist and paleontologist Dr. Louis SB Leakey, who is impressed by her knowledge of the continent and its wildlife and hires this young woman with no college degree or experience as an assistant. Against all odds it takes until 1961 for Jane Goodall to observe chimpanzees in the jungle and publish her discoveries. Groundbreaking insights that will change research and the way we view primates forever. And they are due solely to her energy and motivation. The now 87-year-old has retained this drive to this day. Until the COVID-19 lockdown, she was traveling more than 300 days a year and talks about the threats facing chimpanzees, other environmental crises, and her reasons for hope that we will ultimately solve the problems that we have imposed on the earth.
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