“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” — Ayn Rand
For every global predicament, there are outstanding women out there working to fix it, devoting serious effort and energy to building a better world. As Shawn Johnson puts it -“It’s about putting in the hours and going through the paces.“
As we look to the new year, here are some of the most powerful, creative, talented, and impactful women who are making an indomitable impression around the world and whose work we should categorically watch for and support in 2023. They are all incredible!
- Ursula Von der Leyen
Politics and Policy
Ursula is a German politician– a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its EU counterpart, the European People’s Party (EPP). She was the first woman to serve as Germany’s minister of defense from 2013 to 2019. She became the first woman to be elected president of the European Commission in 2019.
Born to German parents, Ursula was raised in Brussels. Her father, Ernst Albrecht, was one of the first European civil servants. She studied economics (1977–80) but never graduated. She later changed her field to medicine and graduated in 1987. She was awarded a doctorate in medicine in 1991. In addition, she earned a master’s degree (2001) in public health.
She served as minister of family affairs, senior citizens, women, and youth in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first cabinet in 2005. To address Germany’s low birth rate, she implemented paid parental leave from work after childbirth and a massive expansion of childcare facilities. As president of the European Commission, she has been focusing on turning the fight against climate change into an opportunity for jobs and growth and reaping the benefits of technology thereby making it work for common people.
2. Mary Barra
Mary Barra is an American Businesswoman who has been the Chair and Chief Executive Officer at General Motors since Jan 15, 2014. She is the first female CEO of ‘Big Three’ automakers (General Motors, Stellantis (formerly Chrysler), and Ford Motor Company).
Barra was born in Michigan to parents of Finnish descent in 1961. She studied Electrical Engineering and graduated from Kettering University in 1985. She then studied at Stanford Graduate School of Business on a GM fellowship and received a Master of Business Administration degree in 1990. Barra started working for General Motors at the age of 18, in 1980 as a co-op student and rose to become CEO of the same company in 2014.
Barra has invested billions in electric vehicles, self-driving cars, and a ride-share service called Maven. In 2020, she shifted GM’s production lines to help Ventec Life Systems make critically needed ventilators.
She envisions a world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion, so the next generation and after can inherit a healthier planet.
3. Abigail Johnson
Abigail Johnson is an American billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist. She has been serving as CEO of Fidelity Investments since 2014, after taking over the role for her father, and has been chairman since 2016.
Johnson is the product of an old Massachusetts family. Her grandfather, Edward Johnson II, founded Fidelity in 1946 with just one employee. Her father, Edward Johnson III, grew the family firm before passing the reins to Abigail.
Johnson has embraced cryptocurrencies. In 2018, Fidelity under her launched a platform that allows institutional investors to trade Bitcoin and Ether. She and her family are regular donors to nonprofits in the Boston area. She has given money to Harvard, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and Historic New England.
4. Melinda French Gates
Cochair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Melinda Gates is an American philanthropist, businesswoman, and global advocate for women and girls. She is also a former multimedia product developer and manager at Microsoft.
Born as Melinda Ann French in 1964, Gates grew up in Dallas, Texas with her family. Her father Raymond Joseph French Jr. was an aerospace engineer that worked on the Apollo space program, and her mother Elaine Agnes Amerland was a stay-at-home mom. She earned her bachelor’s degree in computer science and her master’s in business. Gates turned down the offer from IBM and took up work at a smaller software company called Microsoft! Melinda met Bill Gates at a PC Expo trade show and married him seven years later. They are parents to three children.
Melinda has been working towards enhancing healthcare and reducing extreme poverty across the world and expanding educational opportunities and access to information technology in the U.S. through her work at Melinda and Bill Gates foundation for over two decades.
5. Jane Fraser
Jane Fraser is a British-American banking executive and the chief executive of Citigroup since March 2021.
Jane is the first-ever woman to run a major Wall Street bank.
Jane Fraser was born in 1967 in Scotland. After gaining some work experience at Goldman Sachs, and then at Asesores Bursátiles, she went on to study at Harvard Business school and earned her MBA in 1994.
She was a partner at McKinsey & Company for 10 years before joining Citigroup in 2004.
She has co-authored a book- Race for the World: Strategies to Build a Great Global Firm. She traveled to China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, and India to interview McKinsey clients as part of her research for the book. Citigroup executive Michael Klein heard her speak about the book and spent years convincing Fraser to join Citigroup. She eventually joined in 2004.
She is the Co-Chairman of the Citi Women Affinity Group and works to obtain the healthcare and pregnancy assistance required for women employees and strongly advocates working from home. She also helped revitalize a community housing project in Florida. Under her, Citi’s Global Community Day has initiated various volunteering programs.
6. Mackenzie Scott
MacKenzie Scott is an American novelist, philanthropist, and ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott met in 1992, while working at the New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw, and got married a year later. Together they started Amazon in 1994, after quitting their jobs and moving to Seattle from the garage of their new home. MacKenzie negotiated Amazon’s first freight contracts while sitting at a Starbucks café in a local Barnes & Noble.
She has been a philanthropist and has given away more than $14 billion to hundreds of organizations, since 2019. Scott has become known for her surprise multibillion-dollar donations to charities. These include large gifts to historically black colleges, groups run by LGBTQ activists, and old-school charities like Easter Seals, United Ways, and Good Wills across the country.
7. Ruth Porat
Ruth Porat is a British-American business executive serving as Chief Financial Officer of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, since 2015.
Porat was born in 1958 to Dr. Dan a research engineer and Frieda, a psychologist in England. They later relocated to Palo Alto, California. She studied economics and international relations at Stanford University, Industrial Relations at the London School of Economics, and earned an M.B.A. from Wharton School. She then joined Morgan Stanley and made a name in mergers and acquisitions. She joined Google as senior vice president and chief financial officer in May 2015.
Porat is married to Anthony Paduano and is a breast cancer survivor twice.
Porat encourages employees to find a worthwhile “mix” of family and work. The mix, she says, will reposition depending on needs in both places, but the two should never be isolated from each other.
During the devastating financial crisis of 2008, she helped Morgan Stanley weather it and advised the United States Department of the Treasury on steering Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. She gave lectures on financial reforms and trust levels following the financial crisis, to the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum.
8. Oprah Winfrey
Media and Entertainment
Oprah Gail Winfrey is an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist whose daily talk show was among the most popular of the genre. She became one of the richest and most influential and notable women in the United States.
Winfrey was born in 1954 to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey, who were together for a short time but never married. She was raised by her grandmother in rural Mississippi. Despite having a modest childhood, she rose to become the first Black American woman to own her own production company.
Winfrey’s opinions and endorsement are much valued by her fans the world over. Her power to influence public opinion, especially consumer purchasing choices, has been termed “the Oprah Effect”. For example, whenever Winfrey introduced a new book as her book-club selection, on her show, it instantly became a best-seller. If Winfrey recognized and endorsed a book, that often meant a million additional book sales for an author. Such is her impact on public choices.
9. Phebe Novakovic
Phebe Novakovic is an American businesswoman and former Central Intelligence Agency operative. She now serves as the Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of General Dynamics.
She is one of the few women executives in the military-industrial space.
Born in 1957, Novakovic is Siberian in origin as her father was a Siberia migrant and an Airforce officer. She was raised in between the cold wars. She received an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. She worked for the CIA from 1997 to 2001.
She joined General Dynamics in 2001 and rose to become president and Chief Operation Officer in 2012. She has served as the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer since January 2013.
She serves on the board of several organizations including the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and the National Military Family Association. She serves as chairman of the Association of the United States Army and the board of trustees of Ford’s Theatre. In 2018, Novakovic led General Dynamics in its $9.8 billion acquisition of IT firm CSRA.
She is known to embody the trait approach to leadership.
10. Shari Redstone
Shari Ellin Redstone is an American media executive with a background in the entertainment industry and associated ventures.
Redstone was born into a Jewish family in 1954 to Phyllis Gloria Raphael and Sumner Redstone. Her grandfather was Michael Redstone, who was the original founder of National Amusements, the parent company that now owns most of the Redstone media empire. She received her LL.M. degree in 1980 from the Boston University School of Law. She practiced corporate law, estate planning, and criminal law in the Boston area before joining National Amusements.
Redstone married and divorced Rabbi Ira A. Korff and they have three children together.
She has been doing her bit for society by being a member of the board of directors at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, and the board of trustees at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She is also on the board and executive committee of “Our Time” which works for the economic interests and political inclusion of young Americans aged 18-30. To drive low-income youth through high school and into college through entrepreneurship, she is actively involved with BUILD, a non-profit organization.
11. Mary Callahan Erdoes
Mary Callahan Erdoes is the Chief Executive Officer of J.P. Morgan Asset & Wealth Management. She is also one of the longest-standing members of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Operating Committee. As head of Asset & Wealth Management, she oversees $4 trillion in client assets.
Mary was born in 1967 to Patricia and Patrick Callahan. Callahan Erdoes was raised in a suburb of Chicago in a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent. Erdoes completed her bachelor’s degree majoring in Mathematics. She was the only woman to complete a mathematics major at Georgetown at that time. She earned her MBA at Harvard Business School.
Erdoes and her husband, Philip, reside in New York City and have three daughters.
Mary is an open advocate for diversity combined with talent and merit. She believes diversity is not the end game. Diversity of people leads to a diversity of thought, which leads to better performance.
Erdoes serves on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation of New York City. She is also a board member of UNICEF USA and serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Investor Advisory Committee on Financial Markets.
12. Mary Meeker
Mary Meeker is an American venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst. She predominantly worked on the Internet and new technologies. She is the founder and general partner at BOND and centers her attention on investments in high-growth technology companies. She serves on the boards of Genies, Nextdoor, Plaid, and Square. She has supported BOND’s investments in Material Bank, Hipcamp, Ironclad, BYJU’S, On Running, CLEAR, Checkr, Nextdoor, and Canva.
Meeker was born in 1959 in Portland, Indiana, to Gordon and Mary. She attributes her “intense and competitive” father to her type-A personality.
She received a B.A. (Psychology) and Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from DePauw University and an M.B.A. from Cornell University.
Meeker’s Internet Trends Report is one of the most countable annual reports for tech investors. She has published it every year since 1995 when she was a tech analyst at Morgan Stanley.
The Report includes data and analysis on the major trends shaping the Internet, consumer behavior, and cultural shifts.
Meeker also co-authored ‘USA Inc.: A Basic Summary of America’s Financial Statements.’
13. Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is an American producer, author, and screenwriter. She is known for her work in Crossroads, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
Rhimes is the youngest of six children of a Ph.D. teacher mother and father who worked at the University of Southern California. After graduating, she read a news article that claimed that getting into USC’s film school was harder than getting into Harvard Law School. She chose the more competitive path.
She has a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.
Her shows mostly have strong, pragmatic women as leads.
In 2017, Rhimes joined the national board of Planned Parenthood. Rhimes, in the wake of the Me-too movement, also co-founded Time’s Up, which supported victims of sexual harassment.
In 2019 Shonda Rhimes joined the organization ‘When We All Vote as a co-chair’. This organization was founded to get out the vote prior to the 2020 general election.
14. Dolly Parton
Dolly Rebecca Parton is an American singer-songwriter, actress, philanthropist, and businesswoman, best known for pioneering the interface between country and pop music styles.
Parton was born in 1946 into a poor farming family, in Tennessee. She was the fourth of 12 children. She displayed a bent and love for music at an early age. As a child, she featured as a singer and guitarist on local radio and television shows in her town. In 1964, immediately following her high-school graduation, she set out for Nashville to pursue a career in music.
Parton’s contributions to the arts and culture of the United States earned her numerous awards from organizations beyond the music and film industry. She was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2004 for enriching the American cultural heritage. In 2005 she received the U.S. government’s National Medal of Arts, and in 2006 she was recognized at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for her lifetime artistic achievement.
Parton today is a successful businesswoman and a philanthropist.
15. Harmanpreet Kaur
Harmanpreet Kaur is an Indian cricketer who serves as the captain of the India Women’s National Cricket Team in all formats. She plays as an all-rounder for the Indian cricket team.
Kaur was born in 1989 in Punjab, to Harmandar Singh Bhullar, a Volleyball and Basketball player, and Satwinder Kaur. She took to cricket after joining the Gian Jyoti School Academy, 19 miles away from her home. She trained under Kamaldeesh Singh Sodhi. Harman used to play with men in the formative days of her career. She moved to Mumbai in 2014 where she began working for the Indian Railways. Harmanpreet was inspired by the legendary cricketer Virender Sehwag.
She made her One Day International debut at 20 against arch-rivals Pakistan in March 2009 Cricket world cup.
Harmanpreet is an inspiration for the women folk in a conservative society like that in India where generally Sports is not a popular career option for women.
She was bestowed with the prestigious Arjuna Award for her contribution to the sport of Cricket in the year 2017 by the Indian Government.
16. Mary V. Mason
Dr. Mary Mason M.D., MBA, FACP, is the founder and CEO of Little Medical School, an educational franchise that develops hands-on interactive programs for children with a focus on healthcare.
Mason has worked for over 20 years as a senior executive for a Fortune 25 company designing clinical and educational programs that improve health outcomes and learning. Dr. Mason studied Bioengineering at the University of Illinois and earned her M.D. and MBA from Washington University. She completed her clinical training at the Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where she was Chief Resident for the Department of Medicine. She is board-certified in internal medicine, is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, and is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honorary Society.
Mason through her venture Little Medical School has inspired over 1 million young minds worldwide since its creation in 1999, by sharing the passion for learning, health, and careers in medicine. Through hands-on activities, role-play, and interactive demonstrations, children get to explore the exciting world of healthcare.
17. Dr. Sasikala Devi
Dr. Sasikala Devi is a researcher and academician at SASTRA Deemed to be University. She has developed LungXpert, an affordable AI-based prognostic tool for the early detection of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease including COVID-19.
Dr. N. Sasikaladevi received Ph. D. Degree in Computer Science in 2012. She has published more than 42 papers in reputed international journals and conferences including publications in SCI-Indexed Journals. She is a reviewer of more than a dozen reputed journals including IEEE transactions on Services Computing and IEEE Journal of Internet of Things. She published several books and chapters in reputed publishers including Prentice Hall of India, Lambert Academic Publisher, IGI Global, Springer, and Science Direct. She has received a young scientist award from the Department of Science & Technology, India.
As was the case in many countries, India was caught off-guard by the Covid 19 outbreak and needed to import equipment like diagnostic tool kits. Deep learning and AI expert Sasikala studied 500,000 X-ray images from Stanford University and came up with an initial prototype for what is now known as LungXpert—an affordable, 90% accurate AI-based prognostic tool that enables early detection of cardiovascular and pulmonary illnesses, including the novel coronavirus.
Sasikala acted quickly and leveraged her expertise, giving healthcare professionals the tools to help save lives.
18. Anu Aga
Anu Aga is an Indian billionaire businesswoman and social worker who led Thermax, an energy and environment engineering business, as its chairperson from 1996 to 2004. She was among the eight richest Indian women, and in 2007 was part of the 40 richest Indians by net worth according to Forbes magazine.
Aga was born into an upper-middle-class Parsi family in 1942.
She graduated with a B.A. in Economics and with a post-graduation in medical and psychiatric social work from the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Her daughter, Meher Pudumjee is the current Chairperson of Thermax, taking over from her mother in 2004.
Philanthropy and public service ran in her family. She would volunteer to help the underprivileged through the Social Service League of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College.
She sat on the board of Akansha Foundation, an NGO which provides free education to underprivileged children. Since its inception in 1991, it grew from an organization of student volunteers to a professional concern with over 700 staff, with thousands of students under its wing.
At Teach for India, she was part of the team that formulated a curriculum for teachers.
19. Olena Zelenska
Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska is a Ukrainian architect and screenwriter who is the current First Lady of Ukraine and the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Olena Kiyashko was born in 1978. Her mother was the head engineer of a factory and her father taught construction at a technical university.
Zelenska studied architecture; however, she chose to become a scriptwriter, working as part of a team drafting comedy sketches that her future husband would perform.
They dated for eight years before getting married in 2003, and now are parents to two children.
Zelenska became the First Lady of Ukraine in 2019.
In an interview with Vogue magazine, she spoke about her initiative- nutrition reform in Ukrainian schools.
The reform of the school nutrition system started with a new school menu that aimed to improve the nutritional quality of food, and the provision of resources to schools. The updated school menu includes both traditional Ukrainian and popular dishes from different cuisines of the world.
Zelenska signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Office in Ukraine, to protect children’s rights, improve education, and provide mental health support for those affected by war.
20. Golnar KhosrowShahi
Golnar Khosrowshahi is an Iranian Canadian businesswoman and the CEO and Founder of Reservoir Media Management. The entrepreneur is the first female founder and CEO of a publicly traded, independent music company and leads Billboard’s 2022 Women in Music list of the industry’s high-achieving executives.
Khosrowshahi was born in 1971 in Iran to Hassan Khosrowshahi and Nezhat Khosrowshahi.
During the Iranian Revolution, her family was targeted for its wealth. The family fled the country and settled in Vancouver in 1981. Her passion for music began as a child and she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She received MBA from Columbia University.
Khosrowshahi founded Reservoir in 2007 as a Music Publishing company. The company has since expanded to a full-service music company.
She is a director emeritus of the Hospital for Sick Children Foundation in Toronto. In addition to many other socially impactful roles, she also sits on National Music Publishers’ Association, (NMPA)’s SONGS Foundation Board of Directors, working alongside musical talent to raise funds to support career songwriters. As director of the board, Khosrowshahi represents the interests of music publishers and songwriters.
21. Iga Swiatek
Iga Natalia Świątek is a Polish professional tennis player. She is currently ranked world No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association. Świątek is a three-time major singles champion, having won the French Open in 2020 and 2022 and the US Open in Social 2022.
Iga was born in Warsaw in 2001 to her mother Dorota (an orthodontist) and father, Tomasz (retired Olympic rower). She has an elder sister Agata.
Świątek’s father wanted his daughters to become competitive athletes. Agata chose to become a swimmer but quit and redirected her energies to playing tennis. Iga, followed the path for the reason because she wanted to beat her sister in the game.
Since 2021 Świątek has been engaged in charitable activities with The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity and has been raising money by putting up her winning rackets. The money helps to fund new equipment for pediatric ENT, otolaryngology, and head diagnostics. She has also been actively involved in campaigns and raising funds for many other causes like Gender-based Violence, mental health awareness, and supporting children and teenagers impacted by the war in Ukraine.
22. Misty Danielle Copeland
Misty is an American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre, one of the leading classical ballet companies in the United States. On June 30, 2015, Copeland became the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history.
Copeland was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in the San Pedro community of LA, California. She is the daughter of Sylvia DelaCerna and Doug Copeland. Her father is of German and African American descent, while her mother is of Italian and African American ancestry. Copeland was considered a prodigy who rose to stardom despite not starting ballet until the age of 13.
Apart from being a ballet dancer, Copeland also engages in public speaking and is a celebrity spokesperson and stage performer. She has written two autobiographical books and narrated a documentary about her career challenges, A Ballerina’s Tale. In 2015, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, appearing on its cover.
23 Mari Copeny
Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny (born July 6, 2007), also known as Little Miss Flint, is an African American youth activist from Flint, Michigan. She is best known for raising awareness about the Flint water crisis and for fundraising to support underprivileged children in her community and across the country.
Copeny rose to fame when she, at the young age of 8, wrote to President Barack Obama in 2016, about the crisis of water in her town. This prompted the then President to visit the city and ultimately approve $100 million in relief funds for its residents.
Copeny, who wants to run for President of the United States in 2044, was awarded the Shorty for Best in Activism in 2019 and the 2022 Billboard Music Changemaker Award for her activism.
At age 10, she raised more than $10,000 in two weeks online to provide backpacks for over 1,000 Flint students.
She became the youngest Women’s March Youth Ambassador and founded the Dear Flint Kids Project. Her achievements have earned her over 150,000 followers on Instagram.
She started #WednesdaysForWater where every Wednesday she would share a place that needed clean water and ways on how others could help.
Copeny and Pack Your Back teamed up for The Little Miss Flint & PYB Water Drive, a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort to raise money for bottled water for Flint residents. Her month-long campaign raised close to $50,000, enough for over 200,000 bottles of water. Her other campaigns include the Little Miss Flint Clean Water Fund, to eliminate the single-use plastic waste associated with bottled water, GoFundMe campaign in 2018 as part of the #BlackPantherChallenge, raising more than $16,000 to provide the opportunity for hundreds of low-income children to see Black Panther, with the hope of providing the Black audience with a positive self-image, and one supporting local school systems to provide anti-bullying programming.