The FT’s 25 most influential women of 2023
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Influence — the power to persuade, advocate for change and imagine better ways of doing things — takes many forms. Nowhere is this more clear than in the magazine’s annual Women of the Year issue, a list of the world’s most influential women written about by other powerful women on the international stage.
This special project was assembled, over several months, in consultation with hundreds of FT journalists across dozens of bureaux, our readers and industry leaders. The end result is a list filled with women who have received prestigious accolades, but even Nobel Prizes, Pulitzers, Grammys and World Cups fail to fully capture the multi-faceted nature of their work.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes Lola Shoneyin’s work as a labour of love, noting that she “tirelessly splices present and future, nurturing what is, while making room for what will be”. It’s an apt description for the contributions made by all the exceptional women featured in this issue.
Roula Khalaf, editor of the Financial Times
This is an unranked list.
Margot Robbie by Emerald Fennell | Beyoncé by Oprah Winfrey | Barbara Kingsolver by Ann Patchett | Phoebe Philo by Gabrielle Boucinha | Lola Shoneyin by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | Alia Bhatt by Shubhra Gupta | aespa by Yoojin Choi | Mira Murati by Marissa Mayer | Makiko Ono by Sakie T Fukushima | Fran Drescher by Lisa Ann Walter | Lisa Dyson by Alondra Nelson | Carol Tomé by Lynn Martin | Karin Keller-Sutter by Elisabeth Svantesson | Marie-Claire Daveu by Anya Hindmarch | Marina Silva by Michelle Bachelet | Ursula von der Leyen by Janet Yellen | Mary Barra by Rana Foroohar | Janet Truncale by Brooke Masters | Narges Mohammadi by Marjane Satrapi | Coco Gauff by Naomi Osaka | Jenni Hermoso by Leah Williamson | Elizabeth Maruma Mrema by Caroline Lucas | Chen Chien-Jou by Chien Li-ying | Katalin Karikó by Karen S Lynch | Olena Zelenska by Kaja Kallas
by Emerald Fennell
There is no one like Margot. She’s one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, an Oscar-nominated actress and a producer who runs a production company, LuckyChap, that is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest. She and her partners are proving that there is a world where smart, transgressive and original movies can make money. Serious money. Barbie — a project many insisted was “unmakeable” — passed the $1bn mark in a matter of weeks. Nothing is unmakeable for Margot. She saw the whole thing through, from taking the project to Greta [Gerwig] and Noah [Baumbach] to walking the red carpet as its star. I have been lucky enough to work with her (she produced both Saltburn and Promising Young Woman), and her knowledge, insight, support and dedication made these films possible. She wears her formidable power so lightly and uses so much of it to empower others: having Margot standing behind you is like having a whole army at your back. I can’t wait to see what her brilliant mind produces next.
Emerald Fennell is an English actress, filmmaker and Oscar-winning writer. Her latest film is “Saltburn”
by Oprah Winfrey
No matter what you’ve heard or read about the phenomenon that is Beyoncé, no description can capture the true essence of experiencing the velocity of her talent in person. Every moment of her Renaissance World Tour I was in jaw-dropping awe. Days after, I found myself asking, “What was that?” and tearing up trying to explain the concert to others. It was a truly transcendent experience, all brought into being through her elevated creativity and leadership. It was a marvel to witness someone fully embodying their power and glory. I danced out of the stadium, filled with even more admiration and respect for what it takes to be Beyoncé, inspired by her artistry to turn up the volume in my own life.
Oprah Winfrey is a global media leader, producer and philanthropist
by Ann Patchett
Barbara Kingsolver has been reminding readers to open our eyes for a long time: open our eyes to the crisis of the planet, to poverty, to the miracles of food and farms. She is not only one of our greatest writers, she is one of our greatest teachers, and nowhere is her skill more evident than in Demon Copperhead, a retelling of David Copperfield set in modern-day Appalachia. The hardship and degradation of poverty follows Dickens’ example, as does the longing for love and protection: a broken foster-care system replaces a broken school, a meth lab in the back of a gas station replaces the workhouse. The story may be subverted and expanded but, like Dickens, Kingsolver means to shine a floodlight on the suffering of the poor, especially children. Small wonder she won the Pulitzer. This is her masterpiece.
Ann Patchett’s most recent novel is “Tom Lake”, published by Bloomsbury
by Gabrielle Boucinha
Phoebe Philo’s impact on fashion is more of a feeling than anything that can be fully described in words.
The contemporary minimalist aesthetic she established while creative director at Celine came to define the brand, and its influence is still felt. It was articulated through the clothes she designed, but also the interiors, the campaigns and most importantly the cult following she acquired both within the fashion industry and outside it, which is a testament to her work. It is truly evergreen and irreplaceable all these years later. She mastered clothes for the female gaze, which encompasses so much more than just what someone is wearing.
By prioritising what women wanted from their clothes and how they made them feel, she transformed womenswear. With her much-anticipated eponymous label, which launched in October, Phoebe has seemingly picked up right where she left off: inciting a frenzy among Philophiles, sparking a dozen fashion think pieces and selling out within hours.
Gabrielle Boucinha is a creative consultant and the creator of @oldceline
by Shubhra Gupta
When I saw Alia Bhatt in her 2012 debut, Student of the Year, a popcorn high-school drama, she appeared no different from the cookie-cutter singing-dancing actors favoured by Bollywood. But with a conscious course correction, Bhatt started to carve out a distinctive path. In her last few outings, all blockbusters, she has become a critics’ favourite for tackling challenging roles with acuity. In Gangubai Kathiawadi, she starred as a sex worker turned activist. RRR became the third highest-grossing film in Indian history with its portrayal of two revolutionaries fighting British Raj rule. She’s also used her star-power to greenlight difficult-to-fund projects such as the 2022 Netflix film Darlings, which explored domestic abuse. At 30, she has turned producer, starred as the villain in a Hollywood actioner, and onboarded the mighty Yash Raj Films’ spy universe as a super-agent, becoming the first female actor to join this powerful all-boys club. When Bhatt is on screen, she holds your attention.
Shubhra Gupta is a film critic and author of “50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995-2015”
by Yoojin Choi
Growing up in the late 1990s in South Korea, I would spend hours listening to SES, part of the first generation of Korean pop music. When I moved to the UK, my classmates barely knew Korea existed. Little did I expect that by 2023, K-pop would have blazed into the mainstream, becoming one of the most popular musical genres in the world. While the top tiers of the Korean charts have been dominated by boy bands, a new wave of girl groups has been climbing the ranks. In the two years since they released their first album, aespa have set and then broken a series of records for K-pop girl groups, becoming the first to pass one million first-week sales with three consecutive albums, as well as playing Coachella and launching a world tour. With their experimentally layered instrumentation and fiery vocals accompanied by their sci-fi punk AI avatar counterparts (the “ae” in aespa refers to “avatar” and “experience”), aespa have pushed the boundaries of K-pop.
Yoojin Choi was co-curator of “Hallyu! The Korean Wave” exhibition at the V&A
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Lola Shoneyin’s subversion is deliciously sly, her humour mordant, her eyes pitiless and her worldview always humane. In her quiet poems that probe the surface of family life, children are ubiquitous, both as character and metaphor (in one poem, sea waves thrash about “like insolent children”). Her widely loved novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, is a trenchant study of a polygamous Nigerian family; it has been adapted for the stage and deserves a screen. Perhaps her best-known achievement is the literary festival she founded in 2013, Aké Arts and Book Festival, which every year gathers writers from across the continent for conversations and workshops on the art and business of writing. A labour of love if ever there was one, Lola tirelessly splices present and future, nurturing what is, while making room for what will be. The festival is the first of its kind in Nigeria, and feels more hard-worn, more vital, for being genuinely homegrown.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a novelist
by Marissa Mayer
Mira Murati, the chief technology officer of OpenAI, is at the helm of this moment’s profound digital transformation. Born in Albania, Mira now lives at the white-hot epicentre of artificial intelligence’s rapid evolution. OpenAI’s groundbreaking products, ChatGPT and Dall-E, have captured the world’s imagination and will fundamentally change how we work, learn and express ourselves creatively. Mira’s visionary leadership extends well beyond the science and research of large language models into designing how to incorporate AI into our daily lives, as well as how to develop AI responsibly with regard to safety and regulation.
Incredibly thoughtful in envisioning human-AI interactions, Mira actively advocates for open, public testing — encouraging us to seize this unique moment in time, where we have agency over how the technology will reshape us and we shape it. As a notable rarity — a woman helming a tech company — Mira’s story and leadership are every bit as inspiring as the future-defining technology she oversees.
Marissa Mayer is the co-founder and chief executive officer of AI start-up Sunshine
by Lisa Ann Walter
Fran has been an icon for as long as I’ve been in the business. As an actor, she updated the well-worn Hollywood shopgirl-turned-lady archetype — and overcame adversity to build a personal brand that makes her beloved internationally. As president of our union, SAG-AFTRA, she led members in a 118-day-long strike this year to achieve an acceptable deal with the studios. Going into those negotiations, the same CEOs that Fran had done business with for decades believed she was just an adorable, smart-mouthed girl from Queens. And while she is that, she is also the only performer I know who could bring our union (and ultimately the industry) together.
We were at a difficult moment at SAG-AFTRA, with a lot of distrust among us. Fran helped our members unite, and took our concerns directly to the CEOs. She made them see us as people — not just numbers on a profit-and-loss sheet. What we were able to achieve with Fran at the helm is simply remarkable. And she did it all with heart, humour, resolve, fierce protectiveness — and love. She leads with love. And I am beyond proud to work with her.
Lisa Ann Walter is an actor and member of SAG-AFTRA
by Rana Foroohar
When you are navigating the biggest labour action in the automotive industry in decades, it helps to actually respect workers. General Motors chief executive Mary Barra, the daughter of a union machinist, comes from a family that has collectively spent more than 80 years working at the company. She’s comfortable on a factory floor and is known for smooth, no-nonsense competency, which helped her respond to the ignition-switch scandal that broke early in her tenure at GM.
During the United Auto Workers’ strikes, Barra eschewed the publicity and emotional appeals made by others in the industry and did her negotiating in a low-profile way, with workers at the bargaining table. GM became the first company to allow battery plants to be part of a master UAW contract, which has earned her kudos from both labour leaders and the public.
Rana Foroohar is the FT’s global business columnist and author of “Homecoming: The Path to Prosperity in a Post-Global World”
by Janet Yellen
Ursula von der Leyen has navigated the day-to-day demands of leading the European Commission with remarkable skill and grace and has broken barriers as its first female president. And she has done so during a period of unprecedented global challenges. I’ve seen first-hand how she brought member states together to take novel and innovative measures to counter the economic impact of Covid-19 and help drive Europe’s recovery. She has been instrumental in our collective response to Russia’s unjust war on Ukraine, from powerful sanctions on Russia to robust European economic and security assistance for Ukraine, including her proposal for a new €50bn Ukraine Facility. She has been a trusted partner to the US and to me, personally, as the US and Europe pursue priorities from diversifying our critical supply chains to responsibly managing our respective economic relationships with the People’s Republic of China. At a time when decisive, principled action is sorely needed, Europe, the US and the world are fortunate to have in President von der Leyen a leader whose clarity of vision is exceeded only by her strength of will in advancing it.
Janet Yellen is the US Treasury Secretary
by Brooke Masters
Janet Truncale thinks of herself as a trust builder. An advocate of being down to earth, she was bringing her whole self to work before it became fashionable. She made partner at the global accounting firm EY despite being open with clients and colleagues about the fact that she worked part-time around three children. The 53-year-old this year busted through another barrier to become the first woman to head a Big Four firm. Her success is the culmination of a decades-long evolution in professional services: 48 per cent of EY’s nearly 400,000 employees are women. But the New Jersey native has her work cut out for her. EY is recovering from tensions revealed when senior US audit partners scuppered a plan to spin off its consulting arm. Still, Truncale is well positioned to bind the wounds. A US auditor by training, she had been running a division that included voices from both sides of the debate.
Brooke Masters is the FT’s US financial editor, and an associate editor
by Elisabeth Svantesson
Knowledge, courage and determination are perhaps the most important qualities in a politician — and, for me, Karin embodies all of these. I met Karin for the first time in February this year when she visited me in Stockholm, on one of her first trips as Switzerland’s finance minister. I enjoyed and benefited from our talks. As minister of finance, you have a lot of expertise around you. But when it comes down to it, it is you who has to make that crucial decision that will affect a lot of people, often under pressure. Karin’s decisive actions in dealing with the Credit Suisse banking crisis earlier this year rescued the Swiss economy. We all owe her a debt of gratitude. That became clear at this year’s IMF meeting in Washington when she received well-deserved appreciation for her actions from around the world.
Elisabeth Svantesson is Sweden’s finance minister
by Alondra Nelson
Lisa Dyson, the visionary scientist and biotech entrepreneur, should top any list of iconoclastic innovators. What is more innovative than literally creating new possibilities out of thin air? With her businesses Kiverdi and Air Protein, Dyson — only the fourth African-American woman in history to earn a PhD in theoretical physics — amplifies space-age Nasa research to build a virtuous circle of carbon capture from the atmosphere, ingeniously repurposing biomass as a hope for the future of people and the planet. Her businesses offer solutions to two of the greatest challenges of our time: the climate crisis and food scarcity, showing how orthogonal approaches to research and development can serve the common good. Doing well and doing good need not be a zero-sum proposition. True innovation does both but requires brave and imaginative leaders who see the world from a distinct vantage, and in as many dimensions as Dyson does.
Alondra Nelson is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. Under US President Joe Biden, she was the first woman of colour to lead US science and tech policy
by Lynn Martin
Taking on one of the most important corporate leadership roles during one of the world’s most uncertain moments, Carol Tomé has put her unique stamp on UPS. She is the company’s first outsider and first female CEO, one of only 52 women leading Fortune 500 companies. With integrity and efficiency, Carol leads a global team of more than half a million employees, “delivering what matters” for customers, working to add value for shareholders and, most importantly, always putting her people first. Not only do I admire Carol for her steadfast, consistent leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also her commitment to creating an inclusive, values-based culture that celebrates freedom of expression and self. A trailblazer, innovator and an inspiration to those fortunate enough to know her, it’s an honour to have a leader like Carol in our New York Stock Exchange community.
Lynn Martin is president of the New York Stock Exchange
by Sakie T Fukushima
Japan is a G7 country with one of the most sophisticated economies in the world, yet still it has one of the highest gender pay gaps among high-income countries, and the biggest in the G7. Only 16 out of 1,802 companies listed on the Tokyo Prime Market are headed by women, according to Tokyo Shoko Research — less than 1 per cent. But there are some glimmers of hope. The recent promotion of Makiko Ono to CEO of Suntory Beverage and Food, the soft drinks company under the Suntory Group, known for its Jim Beam and Yamazaki whiskies, marked the arrival of the first woman to head a Japanese company with a market cap of ¥1tn (£5.3bn). Ono’s promotion is based in part on her overseas business achievements for Suntory. With Japan’s demographic decline and increasing dependence on foreign markets, Japanese women’s agility, resilience and effectiveness in crossing cultural divides may pave the way for more women executives to follow. Ono has set an example by attaining the coveted and, until recently, elusive position of the CEO of an established Japanese company.
Sakie T Fukushima is the former CEO of Korn/Ferry Japan. She served as the first woman on the boards of Sony, Bridgestone and Mitsubishi Corporation
by Michelle Bachelet
The world is facing a triple crisis of climate change, pollution and the loss of biodiversity. As Brazil’s minister of environment and climate change, Marina Silva is at the heart of that crisis. Growing up close to the rainforest in a small village community of rubber tappers, she witnessed the devastation of deforestation first-hand and has dedicated her life to fighting it. Marina became the first person from her community ever elected to the federal senate and built support for sustainable development in the Amazon region. She was appointed environment minister for the first time in 2003 by President Lula da Silva and returned to the role this year. She has taken drastic measures to protect the Amazon forest, creating a forest service, a biodiversity institute and the Amazon Fund, the largest international effort for rainforest conservation. Under her leadership, deforestation decreased by 59 per cent between 2004 and 2007. Marina continues to lead the charge to build climate resilience and restore the ecosystem known as “the lungs of the planet”.
Michelle Bachelet is the former president of Chile and served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2018 to 2022
by Anya Hindmarch
The work that Marie-Claire Daveu is doing at the Kering group is vital. She is a vocal advocate for sustainability in the luxury industry and is paving the way for real change. The next decade will be critical: the fashion industry ranks among the world’s top polluters and responsible change is the only option. We must accelerate innovation and find new industry-wide models that do not rely on making more and wasting more.
Daveu has put sustainability at the heart of the Kering growth strategy and is sharing her ambitious targets, as well as progress against them and learnings so far. Her work reminds us that this must be a collective mission — about progress not perfection, sharing best practices and supporting others to create a virtuous circle across businesses of all sizes. Her impact in helping to ignite change is incredibly valuable at this critical time.
Anya Hindmarch is a British designer and founder of the eponymous luxury accessories brand
by Marjane Satrapi
Narges is the personification of courage — the clear choice to win the Nobel Prize for Peace. She fights for human rights, for the right of women to control their own bodies and against what she calls “white torture” — the punishment of solitary confinement and extreme isolation perpetuated by the Islamic republic. She is the second Iranian woman, after the lawyer and writer Shirin Ebadi, to win the Nobel Prize. It is a strong message to the world. She represents us all. We reject submission! We disobey! We should be respected as human beings and not merely as females, whose only duty is to seduce men and give birth. There is only one thing more beautiful than freedom: the fight for freedom. And this is what makes her, to me, the most inspiring person on earth.
Marjane Satrapi is a French-Iranian novelist. Her graphic novel “Persepolis” tells the story of her childhood in Tehran. Her new book “Woman, Life, Freedom” will be published by Seven Stories Press in 2024
by Kaja Kallas
What I admire most about Olena Zelenska is her honesty. A screenwriter by profession, she knows how not to mince her words while remaining disarmingly human. Four months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelenska told a journalist: “None of us are OK.” She knows what it is like to wake up to see your homeland invaded by an imperialist neighbour; not to know when, or if, you will next see your loved ones; how to find the strength to fight for freedom, despite it all.
Like her husband, Zelenska has become a global symbol of resilience. Her leadership in addressing mental health for Ukrainians during war is vital. Her work shining a light on the suffering and deportations of Ukrainian children by Russia brings back memories of my own family history; Russians deported my mother to Siberia when she was a baby. Estonia has partnered with Zelenska’s foundation to build family homes for children whom Russian bombs have turned into orphans. She is remarkable in her attention to detail and her ability to listen. The world should now listen to Zelenska and give Ukraine what it needs to defeat Russia and end the suffering.
Kaja Kallas is the prime minister of Estonia
by Naomi Osaka
I remember watching Coco practise at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in Florida when she was nine or 10 years old. She was already a great athlete and going about her business like a top‑10-ranked pro.
What has always stood out to me is her amazing personality and big smile. She is an incredible competitor, but also a sweet soul.
She has done a great job of using her voice at important moments, speaking up for the Black Lives Matter movement and opposing anti-LGBT+ laws in her home state of Florida.
She is one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen. It was a privilege to be in the stands this year to see her on her path to US Open glory. I hope to watch her grow on and off the court for many years to come.
Naomi Osaka is a Japanese tennis player. A four-time Grand Slam winner, she was the first Asian player to be ranked world number 1
by Caroline Lucas
As Biodiversity COP15, the most important nature summit in a generation, drew to a close last December, it’s not just people who will have been grateful to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. The plants, animals, wildlife and enormous wealth of biodiversity that inhabit this earth owe her an immense debt too. The COP15 agreement, delicately and deftly shepherded by Mrema, agreed to halt and reverse wildlife destruction and protect 30 per cent of the planet for nature by 2030. As a professional lawyer and while working at the UN Environment Programme for two decades, Mrema has pursued collaborative but persuasive diplomacy, working with youth groups, business leaders and representatives from across the global south to make change happen. Her glass-ceiling-shattering feat as the first African woman to spearhead the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and subsequent efforts on the landmark COP15 agreement, mark the crowning achievement in an illustrious career dedicated to environmental protection and nature restoration.
Caroline Lucas is the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion
by Karen S Lynch
Weeks of fear and uncertainty turned into months of isolation for many during the Covid‑19 pandemic. However, within a year, a vaccine developed at unprecedented speed helped us envision a hopeful future thanks to the groundbreaking work of Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian-born biochemist. Karikó’s transformative research into mRNA laid the foundation for the development of lifesaving vaccines.
Well before “mRNA” became a household term, Karikó was researching how it could be used. She always believed in the power of science, despite the unrelenting challenges she faced in defending the significance of her work to secure funding.
Karikó is now a 2023 Nobel Prize winner and we are forever grateful for her perseverance. A true hero and visionary in healthcare, Karikó’s vital work saved millions of lives and helped bring us all back together after the most challenging public health crisis of our lifetimes.
Karen S Lynch is president and CEO of CVS Health
by Chien Li-Ying
“Let’s not just let this go, OK? We can’t let things go this easily. Otherwise, we’ll slowly wither away and die.” That’s what a senior political party member tells a junior staffer who’s been sexually harassed by a colleague in Wave Makers, the political drama I wrote for Netflix. This summer, those words became something much greater than I ever imagined: the opening line of the Facebook post by Chen Chien-jou that sparked Taiwan’s #MeToo movement.
Chen, a former Democratic Progressive party staffer, spoke out about being sexually harassed at work by a filmmaker hired by her party. With her brave words, she broke down the divide between the fantasy depicted in the TV series and reality: a society where sexual harassment wasn’t acknowledged. Before her post, nobody came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. It simply wasn’t discussed.
Taiwan is an intensely politicised place, where women and other marginalised groups have been neglected to sustain a social order that often doesn’t serve them. Chen’s bravery challenged that and inspired countless others to share their stories, ushering in much-needed change: stronger legislation against workplace harassment but also a deeper societal reckoning.
Chien Li-Ying is head of development at DaMou Entertainment. Translation by Gloria Li
by Leah Williamson
Playing against Jenni is a test you look forward to as a professional footballer. She can do whatever she wants with the ball, as she demonstrated this summer at the Women’s World Cup. She started every game, scored three goals over the tournament and was central to Spain’s success as they won the Cup for the first time.
Following that victory, when the team should have been basking in their success, Luis Rubiales, then Spanish FA president, kissed Jenni on the lips. He has since been charged with sexual assault.
What I admire most is how Jenni handled the situation. She could have stopped, played down the incident and dropped the case to protect herself. Instead, despite the intensifying media attention, she continued to do what she knew was right. In her pursuit of justice, she is serving women around the world so that this and similar behaviour does not happen again. A leader not only on the pitch, but one of courage off the pitch too.
Leah Williamson is the captain of the England women’s football team
This special issue was led by Cherish Rufus, with assistance from Cordelia Jenkins and Baya Simons. It was designed by Shannon Gibson, with photography direction by Josh Lustig, Emma Bowkett and Naoise O’Keefe, and digital production by Kari-Ruth Pedersen
This article has been amended to clarify that Suntory Beverage and Food’s parent company is behind Jim Beam and Yamazaki whiskies
Who else should have made our list? Share your thoughts in the comments below and see a selection of FT readers’ choices here.
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