50 Women Who Are Changing The World Today
Meet the women who have helped create a thriving society where equality duly prevails. The inspirational women of today, the women who are going further, doing more, breaking through barriers and giving people courage. We have assembled a list of great women from a wide range of industries, who have each experienced hardship in different forms. Many of these women are also established and impactful public speakers, who tour the world to share their important message of female empowerment.
In no particular order, here are 50 of the most inspirational women of the 21st century who are changing the world today.
1. Malala Yousafzai
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls.”
Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate the world has ever seen. This incredible woman overcame an assassination attempt by the Taliban in occupied Pakistan at the age of fifteen, to campaign for women’s rights and children’s rights to an education. To advocate in an area where the Taliban pose a serious threat makes her a contemporary heroine. Malala has fought life and limb for what she believes in.
2. Karren Brady
“As long as you like yourself, as long as your family like you, as long as you are good at what you do, your staff respect you, and your board have trust in you, that's what is important.”
Known as the first lady of football, Karren Brady has worked in the beautiful game for over 20 years. Joining Birmingham City as their Managing Director in 1993, she encountered a devastating amount of sexism during her time in the role, something she often discusses at her speaking events. A strong campaigner for women in business, Karren can discuss this topic which is close to her heart, encouraging women to pursue a business career.
3. Greta Thunberg
“We are striking because we have done our homework, and they have not.”
At just 15 years of age, climate change activist Greta Thunberg founded the Youth Strike for Climate Change movement. Encouraging young people to voice their views and contribute towards the ongoing battle against climate change, Greta has proven to be the inspiration for hundreds of thousands of young people. In celebration of her role in spreading 'school strikes', Greta was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. With much talk of young people being the leaders of tomorrow, Greta is certainly not waiting for tomorrow to lead the fight against climate change.
4. Michelle Obama
“Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses... swapped back and forth and over again.”
American lawyer and writer, Michelle Obama, became a source of inspiration to millions in the US when she became the first African American First Lady of the United States in 2009, during Barack Obama’s eight-year presidential reign. Her impact was felt so strongly that she has become a role model for women across the globe, and a leading advocate for health, wellbeing and education.
5. Indra Nooyi
“If you don’t give people a chance to fail, you won’t innovate. If you want to be an innovative company allow people to make mistakes.”
The Board Director of Amazon and a regular keynote speaker at World Economic Forums, Indra Nooyi has earned a spot on the Forbes list of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women. Knowledgeable, experienced and a top-level Director, she is a must-have authority at international conventions.
6. Melinda Gates
“All women, everywhere, have the same hopes: we want to be self-sufficient and create better lives for ourselves and our loved ones.”
American philanthropist and wife of Microsoft owner, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates has become one of the most powerful women in the world, due to her efforts to support areas of society in desperate need of help or remodelling. Together with Bill Gates, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for their extraordinary efforts.
“I am because we are. We all bleed the same color. We all want to love and be loved.”
Madonna is known as the Queen of Pop. She has broken records in the music industry on her way to becoming one of the most powerful women on the planet. Her sheer drive and unprecedented success have seen her lauded as “America’s smartest businesswoman” and one of the biggest influences on contemporary pop music. As a result, Madonna is a true tour-de-force of the entertainment industry. Not only that, but Madonna is also an international ambassador for feminism, freedom and equality.
8. Angela Merkel
“When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises.”
The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel remains one of the foremost figureheads in global politics. An expert in a range of fields, Merkel is often described as the 'most powerful woman in the world'. The longest-serving leader in the European Union and one of the most inspirational female speakers in the world, Merkel's influence is indisputable.
9. Joanna Lumley
“I've looked forward to being older because you will have that many more miles covered. We mustn't be led into thinking getting old is bad. Growing old is good.”
Joanna Lumley's role as Patsy Stone in hit British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous endeared her to television viewers across the country. Her true-to-life, rebellious yet charming attitude may have made her a television star, but it is her work as a human rights activist, not least during the Gurkha Justice Campaign- that has earned her a place on this list, and more importantly a charming status as the 'Daughter of Nepal'.
10. Emma Gonzalez
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
When her school was invaded by a gunman who killed many of her friends, she stood up to let the world know that she and her classmates demanded change. She brought the world to tears with one of the most courageous speeches of our time. Still leading the fight, with her dedicated team, against gun laws, Emma Gonzalez will not be going away anytime soon.
11. Queen Elizabeth II
“The upward course of a nation's history is due in the long run to the soundness of heart of its average men and women.”
HRM was the youngest monarch in history when she took to the throne and is now the longest-reigning monarch of all time. Having seen 13 Prime Ministers come and go since her 1952 coronation, Queen Elizabeth II is highly respected due in some part to her astonishing status as the world’s oldest ruling monarch. Queen Elizabeth II has become a mainstay of British culture and will remain a hallmark of history.
12. Linda Cruse
“It is time to flip our traditional model of social change right on its head.”
Sir Richard Branson once stated: “Linda Cruse makes the impossible, possible”. There a few testimonials with as much weight as one from the multi-billionaire philanthropist but Linda Cruse deserves it. She has been changing lives with programmes designed to support communities and businesses. This modern-day Mother Theresa is no doubt one of the finest humanitarians in the world today.
13. Fiona Bruce
“If I were to say anything to my 18-year-old self, it would be, ‘Loosen up. Chill out.’”
You may know her name from her presentation of the BBC News at Six, Crimewatch or the Antiques Roadshow but there is more behind the scenes to Fiona Bruce. She has become an outspoken feminist, has worked with many charities like Women's Aid and NSPCC. The latter even inducted the newsreader into their Hall of Fame thanks to her hard work for the charity. In 2019 she made her debut as the new presenter of Question Time, drawing praise from critics for her expert handling of the show, after taking charge of the prestigious current affairs show when David Dimbleby retired.
14. Jane Goodall
“We can move toward a world where we live in harmony with nature. Where we live in harmony with each other. No matter what nation we come from. No matter what our religion. No matter what our culture. This is where we’re moving towards.”
British national treasure and the world's first chimpanzee expert, Jane Goodall is a force of nature. Her conservation and environmental work, as well as her work as one of the leading primatologists, brought her a long string of awards including a UN Messenger in Peace award and a Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science.
15. Randi Zuckerberg
“This is a new world we live in, and it should be possible for a woman to be taken seriously and still do what she loves.”
When your brother is the creator of the biggest social media platform of our time, Facebook – it would be easy to fade into obscurity. Not Randi Zuckerberg. After becoming one of the powerhouses of the marketing team at Facebook, she founded Zuckerberg Media, working with Fortune 500 companies like Paypal and Conde Naste. She still found time to become a New York Times best-selling author and feature on television coverage of the US midterm elections which earned her an Emmy Award in 2011.
16. Ann Daniels
“You are good enough. Don’t let anybody else take away your self-worth. You are good enough.”
Ann Daniels has led men and women into the most dangerous terrain on the planet. A world record holder, she is considered to be among the top British adventurers of all time. Along with her teammate Caroline Hamilton, she was the first woman to reach the North Pole and the South Pole in an all-female team.
17. Oprah Winfrey
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”
What superlatives haven’t been used to describe Oprah Winfrey? America’s sweetheart overcame a background shrouded in poverty and abuse to become the biggest name in entertainment. A tireless activist, campaigner and television host, the superstar became the richest African American of the 20th Century. She was also the youngest female billionaire in history. Today she is a respected philanthropist and recently received worldwide acclaim for her passionate, inspirational #MeToo speech. Oprah is undisputedly one of the most inspirational women of the 21st century.
18. Emma Watson
“If you truly pour your heart into what you believe in, even if it makes you vulnerable, amazing things can and will happen.”
It was always going to take some doing to come out of the spotlight of her fame as Hermione Granger in the hit film adaptation of the Harry Potter series. Emma Watson showed the resilience and talent to do so, making herself an icon through her work as an actress, model and activist. The star has had no end of successes in film and fashion as well as being chosen as the Woman of the Year by British GQ in 2013. She was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill ambassador in 2014, reflecting her assiduous campaigning.
19. Pussy Riot
“It's not a question of courage, it's a question of your development. Everything interesting begins with conflict.”
Russian feminist pop-punk protest band, Pussy Riot have been campaigning for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and other concerns since 2011. They were famously tried and sentenced for their artful protests which were construed as hooliganism. Their latest high-profile protest held at the FIFA World Cup Final in 2018 was aimed at demanding the state to free political prisoners and allow political competition in Russia. They are contemporary activists who dare to stand up for what they and others believe.
20. Christine Lagarde
“To me, leadership is about encouraging people. It’s about stimulating them. It’s about enabling them to achieve what they can achieve - and to do that with a purpose.”
Chairwoman of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde is one of the world's most powerful women. A former lawyer and politician, Lagarde has earned the respect of international peers, establishing herself as an intellectual authority and thought-leader.
21. Kathryn Bigelow
“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.”
The first and only female Academy Award-Winning Director in Hollywood to date, Bigelow has made history. Her Academy Award-winning film, The Hurtlocker is one of many of her successes. She is a leading luminary in showbiz and one of the most influential women today.
22. Sheryl Sandberg
“Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.”
A key player in the technology sector, Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook. The first woman to serve on the board for the social platform’s team, she was inducted into a list of Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine in 2012 and has gone on to be worth well over a billion.
“The most alluring thing a woman can have is confidence.”
A symbol of power and independence among women, Beyoncé is a true icon. The American singer-songwriter has a belting voice and a songbook that has inspired generations. She has used her fanfare to become a superpower influence on young people today. She has shown her support for the LGBTQ community on many occasions, as well as tackling matters such as feminism. When Beyoncé talks, people listen.
24. Zaha Hadid
“I don't think that architecture is only about shelter, is only about a very simple enclosure. It should be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.”
One of the world's most innovative architects, Zaha Hadid has conceptualized and realized the process, from planning through to execution, of some of the most enticing buildings worldwide. She is an award-winning titan of the industry and a truly inspiring woman.
25. Jessica Ennis-Hill
“There is a need to be the best you can be. You can't panic; you concentrate. When I run up to the hurdles, I'm very nervous, but I'll tend to think about technical things to keep my mind focused.”
The London 2012 Olympic Games broke records in every area. An already incredible triathlete and heptathlete, Jessica Ennis-Hill was one of the big hopes for the games. She defied all expectation and became the face of the 2012 Olympic Games and one of the most decorated athletes in the country’s history. Now a national treasure and an inspiration to many up-and-coming athletes, she is an incredible motivational speaker.
26. Bonita Norris
“What I've learned from climbing mountains is that we can push ourselves far beyond what we think we are capable of, and it's outside of our comfort zones that the most amazing things happen.”
Summiting Everest is the challenge of a lifetime and one you would expect to take many years to prepare for. Bonita Norris, however, gained adulation for having gone from novice climber to the top of the world in just two tough years. This amazing achievement made her the youngest woman in history to reach the summit, at just 22 years of age.
27. Leanna Shuttleworth
“I love trying to inspire, especially younger women, as climbing is so male-dominated.”
From the youngest woman ever to have climbed the great heights of Everest, to her successor for the title. Leanna Shuttleworth climbed to the summit of Everest at just 19 years of age in 2012, two years after Bonita, before becoming the youngest British female to have completed the ‘Seven Summits’. She is now dedicated to helping young girls chase their dreams.
28. Maria Shriver
“Perfectionism doesn't make you feel perfect. It makes you feel inadequate.”
One of the leaders in the fight against Alzheimer’s, Shriver has used her influence as a journalist and author for the greater good. She won an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Award for The Alzheimer’s Project and a Pathfinders to Peace Award for her continued commitment to peace and compassion.
29. Claire Brumby
“If you want it – really want it – nothing or no one can stand in your way. Turn your power up.”
Finding a gap in the market to launch a business is always a difficult thing to do, this is also something that entrepreneur Claire Brumby knows all about. The founder of award-winning Scrubbys Vegetable Crisps, Claire is one of the most renowned retail speakers in the industry. Founded in 2007 as a healthy alternative to normal crisps, the company has gone on to be commonplace on the shelves of some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets. The company now has over 40 different products in its range and at all of her events, Claire can discuss how she took her product from just a concept to a market leader.
30. Hillary Clinton
“The worst thing that can happen in a democracy–as well as in an individual's life–is to become cynical about the future and lose hope: that is the end, and we cannot let that happen.”
Former US Senator, First Lady and the 67th US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is another politician who is shrouded in controversy. But her commitment to making a better world for women and children especially, with her work for the Too Small to Fail initiative and No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project shows that she is a torch holder for women everywhere.
31. Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin
“We want girls to be creators of tech, not mere users. Watching them write code is beautiful. Many of them never touched a computer before they got here. It's mind-blowing. The joy on their faces, that's more than money. I can't buy it.”
Named the most inspirational woman in the world in BBC's 2018 list, young teacher Abisoye has changed the face of communities in Nigeria. Founding NGO, GirlsCoding she has taught young women coding, design and web development - vital to the future endeavours of the women in her community.
32. Judy Murray
“As soon as it's watchable, it's marketable, it's sponsorable, it's televisable and that generates bigger numbers who are inspired by watching it.”
Judy Murray is perhaps most famous for being the mother and original coach of Britain’s most successful tennis players, Wimbledon winners Andy Murray and Jamie Murray. The foremost was the British men’s singles No.1 and for some time the world No.1 and Jamie is a former doubles world No.1. Judy balanced motherhood with coaching to ensure her two boys reached the absolute top of the game and was awarded an OBE for services to tennis, women in sport and charity.
33. Judi Dench
“I think you should take your job seriously, but not yourself - that is the best combination.”
One of the most naturally gifted actresses in British history, it is no surprise that Judi Dench has become one of the most decorated stars of the screen in our country. The seven-time Oscar nominee was a popular theatre performer before she became a megastar as M in the James Bond film GoldenEye. Her success in the role saw her cement her place in the franchise for 20 years. She was made Judi Dench in 1998 and has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to arts.
34. Amal Clooney
“As women, we may not be a minority, but there is a bond that we all share. It is not a bond of geography. Or religion. Or culture. It is a bond of shared experience - experiences that only women go through and struggles that only women face.”
A leader in international law and human rights, British-Lebanese barrister Amal Clooney is one of the most high-profile names in law. She is currently representing Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder engaged in a legal battle against extradition. She has also represented Prime Ministers and famous journalists and happens to be married to Hollywood megastar George Clooney.
35. Meghan Markle
“Make a choice: continue living your life feeling muddled in this abyss of self-misunderstanding, or you find your identity independent of it. I think that having the courage to step out of the norm is the most important thing.”
The newest addition to the immediate royal family, Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in a ceremony which had the world watching in awe. One of the first Black Royals, she represents a new chapter for the monarchy. Now the Duchess of Sussex is one of the most influential women in the world and has the potential to inspire those watching on. With many years’ experience as a campaigner for women’s rights and human rights behind her- balanced alongside her former acting role- there is little doubt among spectators that she will fulfil her potential as one of the most inspirational royals the country has ever seen.
36. Joanna Shields
“Our lives are being transformed by technology and the pace of change is unprecedented. And you, the great women here tonight, are at the centre of that creative disruption.”
One of the leading names in the technology and security sectors, Joanna Shields acts as the UK Prime Minister's Special Representative on Internet Safety, after serving as Minister of Internet Safety and Security under David Cameron. She has been lauded as an inspirational leader and top tech personality.
37. Elizabeth Blackburn
“Challenges in medicine are moving from 'Treat the symptoms after the house is on fire' to 'Can we preserve the house intact?”
A biological researcher who became the recipient of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine when she co-discovered telomerase, an enzyme able to repair and protect the telomeres of a chromosome. Sound complicated? Not for this modern-day science sensation.
38. Kate Middleton
“Together with open conversations and greater understanding, we can ensure that attitudes for mental health change and children receive the support they deserve.”
Kate Middleton is married to the likely future king of England, making her the future king’s consort and one of the most important names in British society. Her charity work, especially as an advocate for mental health, has made the Duchess of Cambridge a much-appreciated member of the royal family and a great motivational figure for many.
39. Jennifer Lawrence
“In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress. I eat like a caveman. I’ll be the only actress that doesn’t have anorexia rumours! I’m never going to starve myself for a part. I’m invincible. I don’t want little girls to be like ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner’.”
The modern-day Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Lawrence beats off competition from the likes of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus for a place on this list as a person with a defining influence on young people and women today. Fearless and brave like her character from the hit film, The Hunger Games, Jennifer is relatable to modern men and women and is not afraid to speak out for others.
40. Deborah Meaden
“The most important characteristics you need to succeed in business are resilience, determination and persistence.”
Best known for her role as one of the dragons on the popular Dragons’ Den, Deborah Meaden is an entrepreneur who ran her own multimillion-pound holiday business. After leaving school at 16 with minimal qualifications, she studied business at university before working for a glass and ceramics company in Italy. At all of her speaking events, she can highlight these experiences and discuss how she managed to overcome them.
“I've always loved life, and I've never known what's ahead. I love not knowing what might be round the corner. I love serendipity.”
British model and symbol of the swinging sixties, nobody quite summed up the era's fashion and musical evolution quite like Twiggy. She was named ‘The Face of 1966’ by the Daily Express and voted Woman of the Year that same year. Ask your parents or grandparents about her - they’ll tell you she was the Kate Moss of the sixties.
42. Serena Williams
“Think of all the girls who could become top athletes but quit sports because they’re afraid of having too many defined muscles and being made fun of or called unattractive.”
23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams is an American tennis player who has broken records to be considered by many as the greatest female tennis player of all time. In addition to her great feats on the court, she has inspired many with her support for the LGBTQ community and the Black Lives Matter campaign.
43. Martina Navratilova
“I think the key is for women not to set any limits.”
Right there beside the last tennis great is Martina Navratilova, another tennis star who can claim to be one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. Like her contender for the title of the biggest name in tennis, Martina is a committed activist. She has worked with charities on animal rights, LGBTQ rights and for underprivileged children. She won a National Equality Award in 2000 for her commitment to these causes. She is a star and an inspiration to generations.
44. Paula Stone Williams
“The more you’re treated as if you don’t know what you’re talking about, the more you begin to question whether or not you do, in fact, know what you’re talking about. I understand a woman’s tendency to doubt herself.”
An LGBT ambassador, pastor and equality speaker, Paula Stone Williams has become a leading speaker. As a transgender woman, she can discuss the difference between living as a male and living as a female in America. Her insight has served universities, government agencies, religious groups, publications and blue-chip companies for many years. Alongside the likes of Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney, her role in the LGBT and especially transgender community has proven pivotal.
45. Kelly Holmes
“I was 12 when I started and 34 before I achieved my dream, that should give people hope.”
A story that was so nearly one of disappointment and failure to deliver on potential became one that summed up the power of never giving up. Bouncing back from injury at the age of 34, after a career where Olympic gold had eluded her Kelly Holmes managed to win a double gold medal in her final Olympic appearance in Athens in 2004. Remarkable!
46. Rita Clifton
“It’s a drive, you know, go with it and use it... you worry that you’re not going to be good enough, and you stretch yourself. That’s when you grow most.”
Former Chair of Interbrand UK, Rita Clifton is a thought-leader in all things brand-related. Helping to revolutionise the future of British and worldwide brands, Rita has been quite the revelation. Referred to as the 'Doyenne of Branding' and 'a brand guru' - she is one of the most engaging female keynote speakers in marketing.
47. Marissa Mayer
“Really in technology, it's about the people, getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment and helping to find a way to innovate.”
Former President and CEO of multinational search engine and news hub, Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer was the youngest woman ever to be listed in Fortune Magazine’s annual list of America’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business at just 33 years old. She followed this up with a place in that ranking for the following eight years. One of the most influential businesswomen in the world, Marissa Mayer helped to smash the glass ceiling for women in business.
48. Tanni Grey-Thompson
“Anything is possible. Part of it is how much you want to do it. Some people achieve success very easily, but that's a tiny percentage of people. For the majority of people, it's about working hard. I train twice a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year.”
Tanni Grey-Thompson won 11 gold medals, four silver medals and a bronze medal over five Paralympic Games to become one of the UK’s most successful Paralympians of all time. Competing in short distance events to wheelchair marathons, this superstar has become a popular figure on television and as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords.
49. Laura Kenny
“Nothing is too big an achievement.”
The most successful female Olympian in British history as well as the most successful female track cyclist in the sport's history - Laura Kenny is an inspirational female Olympic speaker and athlete who is seemingly unbreakable.
50. Holly Tucker
“I’m passionate about shining a light and championing women in business, in what continues to be a male-dominated landscape.”
Responsible for co-creating popular online marketplace, Not On The High Street, Holly Tucker displayed her entrepreneurial talent from a young age. Running a school tuck shop in her youth, it wasn’t long until she was making waves in the real world of business. As well as helping co-found Not on the High Street, Holly also runs a business consultancy and advice platform where she shares her tips on how to succeed in the demanding industry, something she can also share at her speaking events.
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