By World Economic Forum
March 8 marks International Women’s Day. The campaign theme this year is #EmbraceEquity.
Women still have a long way to go – 132 years to be exact – to reach gender parity with men, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report.
Only a third of senior leadership positions across the public and private sectors are occupied by women, which drops to just 31% for the private sector alone.
Celebrating the achievements of strong women role models and leaders breaking through glass ceilings can help to redress this balance, partly as it shows the next generation of women they can take on these positions.
Researchers at New York University’s Cognitive Development Lab have studied the way seeing women in leadership roles impacts girls’ ambitions. Exposing children to female leaders was found to counter the perception these weren’t roles for girls, and could increase girls’ interest in leadership roles.
From politics to science and entertainment, here are just some of the world’s strong women role models to watch in 2023.
Lorraine Sibanda and Janhavi Dave
Zimbabwean former teacher Sibanda and India-based Dave are the co-leaders of Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). It’s a global network on a mission to empower the working poor, particularly women, by improving their working conditions, rights and economic opportunities in the informal economy.
Along with WIEGO’s International Coordinator, Sally Roever, they were recognized for their work by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship at Davos in January. Sibanda is also the President of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations and StreetNet International, while Dave is the International Coordinator of HomeNet International.
The Iranian-British actress and activist has been using her platform to speak out against the suppression of women’s rights in Iran. And also to support the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement which grew in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022.
Just weeks before the protests began, she dedicated her role as single mother Bronwyn in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power to Iranian women. She spoke at Davos in January and explained what sparked her passion for human rights activism and her hopes for the female-led revolution.
The First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, launched her charity Foundation in September 2022 in New York, which raises funds to help the people of Ukraine. This includes evacuating children from orphanages to safety and children with cancer to hospitals in other countries.
On the eve of the anniversary of the Russian invasion on 23 February, she gave the United Nations (UN) a video tour of human rights violations in Ukraine and called for the intergovernmental organization to establish a special tribunal to prosecute crimes of Russian aggression. She said: “Justice for Ukraine is justice for the entire world.” In January, Zelenska gave a Special Message at Davos, urging people to see how the war is connected to other global crises, from climate to food insecurity.
American physicist Kim Budil heads up a team of 8,000 engineers, physicists, chemists and materials scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. In January 2019, she became the first woman to lead its weapons programme and in December 2022, her team achieved a historic net energy gain in nuclear fusion ignition, meaning the reaction produced more energy than it consumed. She spoke at Davos in January about how fusion could provide a “clean, abundant source of energy for the planet”.
Ukrainian human rights lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk heads the Kyiv-based non-profit organization Centre for Civil Liberties, and was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in 2022.
In an interview with Reuters on 23 February, the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Matviichuk echoed Zelenska by calling for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute leaders in Moscow for the crime of aggression, the invasion of or attempt to gain control over another sovereign state. In January, she spoke at Davos on a panel entitled Democracy: The Way Forward.
Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, producer and author Immy Humes curated an exhibition at Davos of archival photographs from her book The Only Woman in the Room.
Published in 2022 (Phaidon), it features 100 photos throughout modern history from 20 countries, which all have one thing in common: “They’re group portraits of men, big bunches of men, with one single woman amongst them,” Humes told Radio Davos. The images include the physicist Madame Curie with Einstein and other men – “and she’s right there, head in hand in the middle”.
Irish businesswoman and disability activist launched The Valuable 500 at Davos in 2019 and has since signed up 500 global companies – to drive system change and make business more inclusive of people with disabilities, across six pillars: C-suite, culture, customer, reporting, representation and research.
At Davos in January 2022, Casey launched the white paper: ESG and Disability Data: A call for inclusive reporting. In an interview for Radio Davos, she explained how the sudden death of her father spurred her to take action to help the 1.3 billion people globally living with a disability.
Only the second woman to fully head up the New York Stock Exchange, Lynn Martin was appointed President in 2021, succeeding Stacey Cunningham. She said of being approached: “I was honoured, mainly because I understood the gravity of being asked to do this role as a woman.”
Her background is in computer science, another largely male-dominated field, and she worked at IBM as a computer programmer for three years. At Davos, she spoke in the session Financial Institutions: Innovating Under Pressure and also to the World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast.
Deemah Al Yahya
A tech pioneer, Al Yahya was the first Saudi woman to be appointed as a Vice President of Microsoft, in 2010, leading Developer Experience and Digital Innovation. In 2013, she founded WomenSpark, to educate and train female angel investors and entrepreneurs. In 2020, she was appointed Secretary-General of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO), a multilateral organization that represents 13 countries helping each other with digital transformation.
Al Yahya was the first Saudi woman to be appointed as a Vice President of Microsoft Image: World Economic Forum/Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary
At Davos in January, the Forum and the DCO launched the Digital FDI Initiative – to identify the biggest challenges to growing the digital economy and helping policymakers create “digital-friendly” investment climates.