Iconic Women
The CEO Magazine India|April/May 2020
FROM CEOS AND POLITICIANS TO HUMANITARIANS AND ATHLETES, WE PROFILE 27 EXTRAORDINARY TRAILBLAZERS CREATING MAJOR CHANGE IN 2020.

The Producer Priyanka Chopra

Bollywood-turned-Hollywood actor and producer Priyanka Chopra is a role model for young women all over the globe. Named Miss World 2000, she proved she was much more than a beauty queen in her breakout role as FBI agent-in-training Alex Parrish on the hit series Quantico. Here, she was the first Indian actor to ever lead a drama series on American television. In 2017, she made her big-screen debut in the US as the devious Victoria Leeds in the Baywatch remake alongside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Zac Efron.

Chopra has won an array of awards in recognition of her talent throughout her career, including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Debut and Best Villain. She has even been named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Forbes’ World’s Most Powerful Women in 2018.

However, her success hasn’t come easy. This go-getter has worked tirelessly and sacrificed much while trailblazing her own path to superstardom. “There’s no free lunch in the world,” she told Press Trust of India. “It takes dedication, hard work and perseverance. And I’ve never been afraid of that.”

In fact, that grit was a motivator behind founding Purple Pebble Pictures (PPP). Chopra created this Mumbai-based production house with her mother to help emerging Indian filmmakers and talent realise their dreams. Her recent production called Firebrand, about a woman with PTSD, premiered on Netflix last year. It was a victory for both Netflix, for promoting diversity on its global platform, and for PPP, for launching its first ever digital venture.

Showbiz aside, Chopra regularly inspires millions with her humanitarian efforts as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. This do-gooder has collaborated with the organisation on projects around the world, including showing support for children’s rights NGOs in her homeland. Here, Chopra established The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, which covers educational and medical expenses for India’s youth. In recognition of her charitable endeavours, she was awarded the 2019 Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Adding to the number of reasons to adore her, Chopra is also proud to call herself a feminist and regularly uses her platform to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. To her, feminism is simply an equal opportunity for women. And, faced with what she calls the “double whammy” of being both a female actor and an actor of colour, she’s passionate about speaking out against this injustice. During a fireside chat at the recent World Economic Forum she told the audience of global leaders, “I want to live in a place where a woman’s ability to succeed should be a basic human right, not based on geography or chance.”

And that’s exactly the kind of world she’s committed to carving out day after day for future generations.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

REESE WITHERSPOON

The actor founded production company Hello Sunshine as a way to promote female-driven stories. As Hollywood award ceremonies continue to draw flak for poor diversity, with few female filmmakers recognised, its success is an important step forward for sharing women’s stories.

LENA WAITHE

Waithe, creator of Showtime hit series The Chi, has lent her influential voice to movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up. And she doesn’t sugar-coat her opinions, speaking candidly about the need for greater gender and ethnic diversity on TV and beyond.

The activist Greta Thunberg

The 17-year-old Swede rose to prominence when she began publicly voicing her passionate opinions on climate change inaction. It all began in 2018 when Thunberg instigated a school strike. Sitting in front of Sweden’s parliament with a homemade banner, she posted to Twitter: “We children usually don’t do as you tell us to do, we do as you do. And if you adults don’t care about my future, neither do I. I will school strike for the climate until election day.”

Although she was the only participant in the strike on that day, the media took a keen interest in the cause and it didn’t take long for her influence to grow. Other students followed suit in their own areas, striking for the climate in a movement that became known as Fridays For Future. Within 12 months, momentum had picked up considerably with millions of young people participating in coordinated protests around the world.

Addressing the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York, her words hit hard as she accused global governments of ignoring the science behind climate change. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she stated. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear.”

While Thunberg’s passionate pleas have galvanised an army, her efforts have also drawn criticism from social media trolls, news outlets and public figures, including President Trump. Despite this, she has brought climate change to the fore and kicked off what will undoubtedly be the movement that shapes the decade. Thunberg was named 2019’s TIME Person of the Year – the youngest person to ever hold the title – and she was also nominated for last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

MANAL AL-SHARIF

A vocal activist for women’s rights in the Arab world, al-Sharif rose to prominence when she dared to video herself driving in Saudi Arabia – a committable offence for women at the time. She went on to found the Women2Drive movement.

SAMPAT PAL DEVI

After witnessing a man beating his wife in her Northern Indian village, Pal Devi wanted justice and this led to the foundation of the Gulabi Gang. It’s a vigilante group that fights against domestic violence and child marriage – traditions that Indian women were previously powerless against.

The CEO Gillian Tans

As former CEO and now Chairwoman of one of the world’s largest travel search engines for accommodation, Booking.com, Tans is a well-known Dutch businesswoman in the travel and tech space. She is also instrumental in bringing more women into technical roles and promoting women’s voices in the travel technology sector. “I’m unbelievably proud that at Booking.com we have over 17,500 employees across the globe, representing over 140 nationalities,” she tells The CEO Magazine.

“Our global workforce is comprised of more than 50 per cent women, and within our leadership team, women hold one-third of the positions. That type of diversity brings a unique perspective to the decisions we make every day.”

Tans describes the tech sector as being overwhelmingly white and dominated by men at the beginning of her career. “Many women had to work twice as hard to prove themselves and felt compelled to adopt attitudes and behaviours traditionally held by men to be seen as competent leaders.”

She says her first time encountering workplace gender disparity was when she was eight months pregnant. In a studio apartment in Spain, together with 12 other employees, Tans was working to get the website off the ground. Booking.com at the time was a tiny startup with hardly any resources, but a big vision. This was her make-or-break moment. “It was difficult because I sensed [the team] wondering what would happen when I was on maternity leave. Or if I was even going to come back after the baby,” she says. “It wasn’t something men had to think about.”

Her creativity, risk-taking mindset and commitment are undeniable – all of which Tans says she learned from her mother. “Her influence extended to all parts of my life, and I carry her values and life lessons with me.”

Tans notes that the conversation around women in tech has taken a long time to evolve. But it’s fair to say that today many companies are taking steps to recruit and hire with gender diversity in mind. “We must continue to encourage additional diversity. Not only because it is the right thing to do but because businesses and society benefit from a more diverse workforce,” she stresses. “If women continue to be under-represented, it may create a larger social divide and give rise to the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, instead of helping to overturn them.”

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

ZHANG XIN

Dubbed the real estate tycoon of Beijing, the CEO and Co-Founder of SOHO China started her career as a factory worker. Listed by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in the world, the now billionaire businesswoman has founded the philanthropic SOHO China Foundation, which is focused on education.

JESSICA O MATTHEWS

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