7 Super Women Pushing For Change in 2021 & Beyond

To celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March, 2021, and to coincide with this year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge, writer, editor and former Content Director of The CEO Magazine, Susan Armstrong, shines a spotlight on seven super women changing the world, and challenging the status quo, one courageous move at a time.

Image credit: Salty Dingo

Grace Tame

Who will ever forget Grace Tame’s gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, awe-inspiring acceptance speech when she was named 2021’s Australian of the Year in January? The passion, power and conviction of the 26-year-old activist and advocate for survivors of sexual assault was utterly mesmerising. Grace is now on a mission to dismantle the system of grooming used by predators and hopes to raise awareness of the structural issues that allow abuse to continue. She will do this by using her newfound voice that she fought so hard to make heard during the 2018 #LetHerSpeak campaign, of which she was the face. “When you are able to find your voice and then use it for the greater good, I mean, that’s the ultimate,” she told RN Breakfast radio earlier this year. We finally see you and we hear you, Grace, and not a moment too soon.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

History was made on the 1st of March this year when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director General of the World Trade Organisation. The former Nigerian finance minister was unanimously selected by the WTO’s 164 members to serve a four-year term, becoming one of the few female heads of a major multilateral body. A self-declared “doer”, Dr Ngozi (as she likes to be known) studied development economics at Harvard after experiencing war in Nigeria. She went on to become a 25-year veteran of the World Bank, where she oversaw a US$104 billion ($134 billion) portfolio, and late last year she co-wrote the book Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard (also featured on this list). Dr Ngozi believes the WTO can change the world and now, with this super woman at the helm, we would have to agree.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Powerful, eloquent, courageous, whip-smart and resilient are just a handful of words to describe the remarkable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is more commonly referred to these days. She’s also said to be a villain to the right and a hero to the left, a political phenomenon; part activist and part legislator who, at age 29 (she’s now 31), became the youngest woman ever to serve in the United State Congress. Alexandria consistently threatens the status quo with her thoroughly modern approach to governing, seeming much less concerned with winning seats and votes than she is with winning hearts and minds. From sharing her terrifying experience during the Capitol insurrection to her stunning and viscerally candid moment on Instagram Live last month when she revealed to her three million viewers that she was a survivor of sexual assault, AOC isn’t just a political leader the world needs, she’s a shining example of how sharing your own story is a powerful vehicle for feminist change.    

Whitney Wolfe Herd

You may never have downloaded the dating app Bumble (or maybe you have – no judgement here), but you would have to be living under a rock to have not heard of its founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd. Why? On the 11th February, she made global headlines when she became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire after her company went public in a hugely successful IPO, valuing the business at around US$13 billion ($16.8 billion). The 31-year-old tweeted “Today, @Bumble becomes a public company. This is only made possible thanks to the more than 1.7 billion first moves made by brave women on our app – and the pioneering women who paved the way for us in the business world. To everyone who made today possible: Thank you. #BumbleIPO.” Whitney founded the women-first brand and platform in 2014 and it has grown to be the second most downloaded app in the US. It empowers women to make the first move, but as Whitney wrote in her letter attached to the IPO: “The importance of women making the first move is not exclusive to the world of dating, romance or love. It’s a power shift, giving women confidence and control. We are committed to the major opportunity ahead of us to make dating healthier and more equitable around the world.” Something tells us this ground-breaking entrepreneur is only getting started.

Image credit: @naomiosaka on Instagram

Naomi Osaka

While her first grand-slam victory at the 2018 US Open might have been overshadowed by a row between the umpire and her opponent Serena Williams, nothing can dull the bright light emanating from Naomi Osaka these days. She recently cemented her status as the one to beat in women’s tennis when she won her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. She’s also the highest earning female athlete in history, with her reported US$8.5 million ($11 million) deal with Nike the brand’s most lucrative contract ever with a sportswoman. But the legacy Naomi wants to build has little to do with how she wins or what she earns. The Japanese player – who is also half Tahitian ­– has become a champion of difference for the country’s often marginalised multiracial citizens, and during her second US Open competition, she advocated for the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing the names of seven Black Americans, who had been unjustly killed by police, on her face masks. She also wants to inspire a generation of female tennis players who she might, one day, meet on the court. “I feel the biggest thing I want to achieve … Hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said I was once her favourite player,” she told her post-match media conference in Melbourne Park. “For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me.”

Image credit: Peter Brew-Bevan

Julia Gillard

Her most notable role might be as Australia’s first female prime minister, but that’s not where Julia Gillard’s list of achievements end – not by a long shot. Despite the fact that her three years and three days in power were marred by a ceaseless tirade of sexism and misogyny, both from the opposition and the mainstream media, she has fostered a legacy that extends well beyond parliamentary politics with a focus on mental health, women’s rights and education. She currently serves as the Chair of Beyond Blue, one of the country’s leading mental health awareness bodies; is Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, a funding body for education in developing countries; and is the inaugural Chair of the global Institute for Women’s Leadership at Kings College London, which through advocacy, practice and research, is addressing women’s under-presentation in leadership. She also recently released her second book Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons, co-authored by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, which contains interviews with every powerful woman in politics, from Jacinda Ardern to Hillary Clinton. She’s on a mission to change the way that women and politics are talked about, and if her legendary 15-minute ‘misogyny speech’ is anything to go by (if you haven’t watch it in a while, do yourself a favour and take another look), we can’t wait to hear what she has to say next.

Image credit: Greg Hernandez (CC BY 2.0)

Shonda Rhimes

Oh, Shonda Rhimes, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. One; she’s the creator and executive producer behind the smash hits Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. Two; she made history as one of the first showrunners to sign an exclusive deal with Netflix – to the tune of US$150 million ($193 million), if you don’t mind. Three; she declared in 2018 that she was the highest-paid showrunner in history because she noticed that men didn’t have a problem with revealing their successes. She followed the announcement with: “On behalf of women everywhere, I will brag.” Bravo. Oh, and four; did we mention she’s the producing powerhouse behind Bridgerton, Netflix’s most-watched series ever? If that wasn’t enough, Shonda has sealed her place in history by trailblazing the idea of the antiheroine – she changed everything we know about women in television – and by creating inclusive content that normalises diversity. From the strong, complex character, Olivia Pope in Scandal, who was as articulate and smart as she was unethical and flawed, to the refreshingly diverse cast in Bridgerton, created using an ‘inclusion lens’, everything feels innovative and exciting. Pushing boundaries might not have been what Shona set out to do when she embarked upon her career in television, but there’s no denying her shows are revolutionary. Long may she reign.

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About the author

Susan Armstrong is an award-winning editor, writer and content consultant with more than 25 years’ experience in magazines, newspapers, digital media, television and radio. The former Global Content Director of The CEO Magazine and Founding Editor of STELLAR and KISS, she has a proven track record for launching magazines and rebuilding commercially successful brands. 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/susan-armstrong

Twitter: @susanarmstrong_

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