In commemoration of International Women’s Day, we’d like to share the success stories of seven female leaders whom we admire (in no particular order). Hailing from various fields, both within STEM and beyond, I'm sure you’ll agree that these women’s achievements are extraordinary - and not merely for their undisputed success, but also for their resilience in pursuing their dreams and fighting biases to show us what real-life Wonder Women look like. From leaders who blazed the trail to prominent innovators of our generation, let’s take a peek into the lives of these outstanding role models.
1. BONNIE ROSS
Whether or not you’re a gamer, you’ve probably heard of Halo. Because that’s just how big the Xbox video game franchise run by 343 industries has become. Now the CEO of 343, Bonnie Ross was integral to the sci-fi franchise’s success. When the original developers (Bunige) left Microsoft in 2007, Ross saw potential in the game through its tie-in novel’s rich back story. The rest, as they say, is history. HALO is now one of the biggest video game franchises with a total revenue of over 5 billion dollars. Ross believes that games can be an avenue to get youth interested in careers in STEM. She is also an advocate for diversifying both the gaming and STEM field in general, and campaigned with Ad Council for #SheCanSTEM. We admire Bonnie for overcoming the odds and making her mark in a male-dominated industry, showing the world that we, too, can STEM! Her presence as a leader in tech is a motivation for young women who aspire to take on these career paths themselves. Female STEM role models for the win!
2. MELANIE PERKINS
If you, like me, have found Canva to be a lifesaver when it comes to designing your graphic materials, you have Melanie Perkins to thank. This once start-up is now a booming, successful tech company thanks to three co-founders including Perkins, who overcame numerous pitch rejections to get here. Since its launch in 2013, Canva has revolutionised the graphic design industry, and made the field accessible to the community at large. It has helped both amateurs and professionals worldwide produce posters, marketing materials, presentation slides, and more in a simplified manner. As one of the few female CEOs in tech, Perkins has championed the implementation of policies aimed at eliminating hiring-bias at Canva, earning the company a 41% female workforce, markedly above Australia’s industry average of 28%. Loving that Women Supporting Women energy!
3. ROSE MARCARIO
Under her leadership, Patagonia set the bar for other apparel and consumer-based companies. As former CEO of the clothing brand, Rose Marcario directed Patagonia towards sustainability, with positions in the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and 1% For The Planet. Patagonia’s branding is closely knitted to its environmental advocacy, with a bold mission that proclaims ‘We're in business to save our home planet’. Marcario has since left Patagonia, but her legacy continues. The company is the epitome of an environmentally ethical business, with their sustainable production methods, efforts in raising awareness of environmental issues, and encouraging their customers to be conscious consumers. Since her departure, Marcario’s efforts to help save the planet are far from over - she sits on the board for Meati and Rivian (producing sustainable-friendly plant-based meats and electrical cars respectively). Despite being offered CEO positions in other apparel companies, Marcario has stayed true to her commendable environmental ethos and most recently, she joined ReGen Ventures as a partner, where she will continue to advise and invest in entrepreneurs as they endeavour to tackle the climate crisis. What an icon!
4. GITA GOPINATH
Here’s a legend who proved her talents in an industry with a 1:4 female to male ratio. Indian-American Gita Gopinath was named the Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2011, and Time Magazine crowned her one of the ‘Women who Broke Major Barriers to Become Firsts’ for being the first woman to be appointed the International Monetary Fund’s Chief Economist in 2018. She played an integral role in the forecasts of the global economic impact COVID-19, and helped to set up a climate change team in the IMF. And as of January this year, Gita Gopinath has broken yet another barrier - she is now the face of IMF as First Deputy Managing Director. Gopinath’s remarkable path from being a young achiever, to a professor at Harvard, to the important work she did as IMF’s Chief Economist, is definitely a cause for admiration.
5/6. JENNIFER DOUDNA and EMMANUELLE CHARPENTIER
You’ll have to forgive me for fangirling a little as a biology major, because I’m about to introduce two women who transformed the world of molecular biology and genomics. Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, a microbiologist, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2020 for their discovery of the ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’(CRISPR)-Cas9 gene editing tool. I know it sounds like a mouthful, but put simply, they discovered a defense mechanism used by bacteria which disables invasive viruses by cutting up their DNA. They then innovatively repurposed this to produce a molecular tool that could precisely alter any type of DNA. Their discovery has allowed scientists all over the world perform experiments that were impossible before, evolving the world of biology. CRISPR/Cas9 changed the way we approach the agricultural and medical fields: it has the potential to greatly advance genetic disease research, produce better crop yields, and even help create new therapeutics against cancer. In fact, novel CRISPR-based cancer treatments are already at the clinical trial stage! This pioneering duo and the impact they’ve made as women in STEM are nothing short of phenomenal, and young girls in STEM will undoubtedly strive and look up to them for generations to come.
7. JACKIE YI-RU YING
Elected into the United States National Academy of Engineering in 2021 and the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014, Jackie Ying needs no introduction among industry members on our sunny little island. At age 35, Ying was one of the youngest professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Two years later she returned to Singapore, where she had spent some formative years of her childhood, to start the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Ying now heads A*STAR’s NanoBio Lab, overseeing many projects with the united goal of improving lives, including the production of batteries for sustainable energy storage. Most prominently, her team was one of the earliest to develop a rapid point-of-care test for COVID in 2020. On top of her remarkable work as a scientist, Ying she mentors Muslim youths interested in science and technology, and hopes to inspire them just as she was inspired by her teachers.
As an Indian-Muslim woman in science myself, faces like Ying’s and Gopinath’s are both a reassurance and proof that we women can make it in whatever industry we choose, as diverse and unique as our backgrounds may be. It is so important for young women to have role models whom they can relate to as it gives them hope and surety in their aptitudes to reach their dreams.
From gunning for a more sustainable future to giving back to the community and fighting biases to be where they are today, these stellar women have laid the groundwork for many more women like them to come. They’ve shown us the importance of having heart while striving for greatness, and what a great impact it can make for generations to come. Cheers to these leaders who showed us how it’s done, and all of you amazing women making a name for yourselves. It is a tough journey, and it is one I am proud to be on with you.
Keep taking the world by storm, gals!