Whether they’re breaking barriers in their field, building mega-successful businesses, battling discrimination or standing up for what they believe in, the game changers in our Power List have made major moves this year—and are inspiring us to do the same.
Actor, Producer and Businesswoman
Fifteen years ago, a 17-year-old from Queensland hassled the casting director of Neighbours to give her an opportunity. Fortunately, they were looking for a teenage girl and Margot Robbie scored a role on the long-running soap opera.
Fast-forward to 2023 and that aspiring actor has conquered the world to become not only the biggest female actor in Hollywood, but the star and co-producer of the most successful film of the year. She may have played stereotypical Barbie in the movie, but in real life she’d be psychic Barbie, as she predicted its unbelievable success.
“I think my pitch in the green-light meeting was that studios have prospered so much when they’re brave enough to pair a big idea with a visionary director,” Robbie told Collider earlier this year.
“And I was like, ‘And now you’ve got Barbie and Greta Gerwig.’ And I think I told them that it’d make a billion dollars, which maybe I was overselling, but we had a movie to make, OK!”
Three weeks into the release of Barbie, Robbie’s predictions came true and the Gerwig-directed film hit $US1 billion at the box office.
Governor of the Reserve Bank
After last year becoming the first woman to take on the role of deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Michele Bullock has now become the first woman governor in the bank’s 63-year history. Treasurer Jim Chalmers appointed Bullock in July this year, with the role officially beginning on September 18 for a seven-year term.
Bullock, who was born in Melbourne but raised in Armidale, New South Wales, credits her country upbringing with launching her exceptional career. In an interview with the University of New England, where she earned a Bachelor of Economics with honours in 1984, she said, “Growing up in the country and going to the University of New England was a real leveller for me … It wasn’t about where you came from, it was about what you were contributing. I want to be inclusive and make a level playing field upon which everyone can contribute.”
Acknowledging the pressure associated with becoming the ninth governor, Bullock said upon her appointment, “I am deeply honoured to have been appointed to this important position. It is a challenging time to be coming into this role, but I will be supported by a strong executive team and boards. I am committed to ensuring that the Reserve Bank delivers on its policy and opera- tional objectives for the benefit of the Australian people.”
Singer, Songwriter and Businesswoman
Once upon a time (OK, in the early 1990s), a group of young girls stepped onto a stage in Houston, Texas, and captured the audience with their powerful vocals. Destiny’s Child went on to become one of the biggest names in pop, topping the charts and selling out tours worldwide.
Despite mainstream success, for much of a decade the group fell under record labels’ urban/Black music divisions, where budgets for Black artists fell short of those in mainstream categories.
Three decades on, one of those three young artists would be clearing a reported $US2 billion from her latest world tour, becoming the highest-grossing tour for a Black woman. That woman is Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. No stranger to breaking records, Beyoncé now has the most Grammy wins ever—32—after collecting four in February with her seventh solo album, Renaissance. A fusion of R&B, gospel, house, techno, hip-hop and vogue, the album celebrates music born from the Black gay and queer community.
Beyoncé is passionate about amplifying Black artists on the global stage, and Renaissance saw her collaborate with a slew of talented Africans, including Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems.
If historically the renaissance that began in the 1400s can be defined as a period of cultural rebirth, then Beyoncé’s renaissance no longer forces artists to sit within the parameters of a division defined by record labels, as was the case in her youth, instead blurring these boundaries to let creative possibilities take shape.
Ukraine’s First Lady
Ukraine First Lady Olena Zelenska rose to global prominence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Alongside her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, she has refused to leave Ukraine and is in hiding with their two children. She has become a powerful voice against the invasion, meeting with world leaders and senior figures to bring aid to her country.
While the president’s attention is on war strategy, Zelenska has focused on aid, setting up projects to help the elderly, orphans and families.
Addressing the US Congress last year, Zelenska said, “We want every father and every mother to be able to tell their child, ‘Go to sleep peacefully. There will be no more airstrikes, no more missile strikes.’ Is this too much to wish for?”
Human Rights Lawyer
Ukrainian lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk is the head of human-rights organisation Centre for Civil Liberties, based in Kyiv, and has dedicated herself to documenting Russia’s war crimes. She appears on news programs around the world to talk about human rights violations and how Russia should be held to account for war crimes.
Last year, she was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of her organisation, the first Nobel Prize for a Ukrainian citizen or group. “We have to change our vision. We live in a new century and we must go further,” Matviichuk told The Washington Post. “Justice cannot be dependent on the magnitude of the Putin regime’s power.”
Both Matviichuk and Zelenska were named in Time’s “100 Most Influential People” this year.
Singer and Songwriter
In 2014, Taylor Swift released her fifth studio album, 1989, which was then her most commercially successful album and attracted widespread critical acclaim. Bloomberg Businessweek ran a cover with a close up of the pop star’s face and the coverline shouted, “Taylor Swift is the music industry.”
Were there any doubts that statement was true, then Swift’s meteoric ascent in the years that followed have silenced even the loudest of naysayers.
If 2023 belonged to one person, that would undoubtedly be Swift. The 33-year-old singer and songwriter has redefined what it means to be the most successful artist in the world.
Swifties gathered in masses, not only inside but also outside the stadiums of each and every one of the singer’s shows across the United States, Mexico and South America, with some cities attracting more than 20,000 people to listen from the car parks outside the venues. The show itself is a remarkable feat, with Swift performing for three-and-a-half hours and changing into more than 10 costumes.
The Eras Tour is predicted to be the highest-grossing tour of all time, and has been credited with helping to balance the US economy in 2023.
Ticketing websites buckled with the demand as millions of fans attempted to score tickets to Swift’s tour, including in Australia, where four million clamoured for seats.
Swift also smashed the charts and last year became the first and only artist in history to occupy the entire top 10 spots in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. As she’s set to re-release 1989 in October and continues her world tour, it’s clear that Taylor Swift still has plenty of records to break in 2023.
Sara Mardini and Yusra Mardini
Competitive Swimmers and Refugee Advocates
In 2015, sisters Sara and Yusra Mardini fled their homeland of Syria and its escalating civil war. They crossed into Lebanon and then Türkiye, before hopping into a small rubber boat in the hopes of reaching Greece. The boat was built for seven people, but 18 other refugees piled aboard with the sisters.
Somewhere in the Aegean Sea, the motor gave out and the sisters jumped into the ocean, along with two other refugees. For more than three hours, they pushed and pulled the boat through the water, literally swimming for their lives—and the lives of the other 18 people. Once they safely reached the Greek island of Lesbos, the sisters travelled through Greece, Hungary and Austria to Germany, where they were granted asylum.
Their incredible swimming skills helped them create new opportunities, with Yusra selected for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team. She is now a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, sharing her survival story with people all around the world.
Her sister Sara went on to volunteer with a search and rescue NGO in Greece, where she was subsequently arrested alongside 23 other aid workers for human trafficking and money laundering. She spent three months in jail before the charges were dismissed earlier this year, but an appeal has been lodged. The charges against the rescuers have been widely criticised by human rights groups.
In 2022, the sisters’ story of escape and triumph over adversity was turned into a Netflix film, The Swimmers. And this year both Sara and Yusra were listed in Time magazine’s annual “100 Most Influential People”.
Screenwriter, Director and Actor
Greta Gerwig is redirecting Hollywood. Just four weeks into the release of the esteemed director’s hotly anticipated Barbie, the movie broke 16 box office records, including highest-grossing opening weekend for a film directed by a woman.
Bringing to life a doll with as complex a history as Barbie was never going to be easy, but underneath the sparkly costumes and candy-coloured dream houses, Gerwig cleverly unpacks sexism, self-worth and what
it means to be human. Navigating the experience of girlhood through an authentic female lens is always at the heart of Gerwig’s work, namely her beloved first solo directorial project, 2017’s Lady Bird (starring Saoirse Ronan), and her reimagining of the 1868 coming-of-age novel Little Women, starring Emma Watson and Florence Pugh, in 2019.
Now, as the first female director in history with a billion-dollar film, Gerwig is at the peak of her powers and plans to return to what she does best. After penning the new live-action remake of Snow White, her next project will be tackling The Chronicles of Narnia. It seems that the queen of nostalgia isn’t yet done with unravelling all our childhood memories.
Actor and Activist
When Selma Blair walked the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscars party in 2019, she made headlines—and history. It was her first public appearance after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) the year before. Wearing a dramatic cape and carrying a cane customised with a pink diamond, she wiped away tears. “It took a lot to come out here,” she said. The crowd cheered her on.
In public, Blair was a Hollywood star with iconic roles in Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde and The Sweetest Thing. In private, she lived with symptoms of MS for 40 years before being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease at age 46.
The condition attacks the central nervous system—brain, spinal cord and optic nerves—and causes fatigue, vision problems, muscle and mobility issues, and pain. At age seven, Blair was unknowingly experiencing symptoms of MS including losing use of her right eye, left leg and bladder. She was dismissed by doctors as an attention- seeker. “If you’re a boy with those symptoms, you get an MRI. If you’re a girl, you’re called ‘crazy’,” she has said.
In 2021 she released the documentary Introducing, Selma Blair, giving a deeply personal look into her life with MS and her fight to slow its progress, including with a bone-marrow transplant. That year Blair’s MS went into remission, and she has become an advocate for people with disabilities, and a beacon of hope.
In an essay to her younger self written this year, Blair shared her hard-earned wisdom: “That thing you couldn’t put your finger on? It’s hope. Trade your fear for hope. Keep reading. Write every day. Please trust yourself. Tell the truth. Observe. Good things will happen. And horrible things. And it will all be part of finding your footing and carrying on. You are worth loving.
Image-Based Sexual-Abuse Campaigner
Noelle Martin was 18 when she first watched herself performing hardcore porn. Except it wasn’t her. Martin is one of the hundreds of thousands of women who have been targeted by non-consensual sexual deepfakes, a form of image-based sexual abuse where an image of a person’s face has been digitally mapped onto someone else’s body using AI.
Fuelled with fear and rage, Martin contacted police, but was dismayed to discover there were no specific criminal laws on the non-consensual sharing of intimate images or videos across the states.
Martin, now 28, began campaigning for change, petitioning the federal government and speaking out. As a result, updates were made to the 2015 Australian Online Safety Act, so that people who distribute intimate images can face fines or jail.
But Martin says the laws around image-based abuse are generally the same as a decade ago. She singles out the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, criticising the regulator for what she says is a reluctance to issue fines.
Earlier this year, the former WA Young Australian of the Year and lawyer took part in a documentary for SBS, Asking for It, where she explored issues of consent, especially online. Today, as technology becomes more sophisticated and deepfakes increase (up to 97 per cent of them are non-consensual porn), Martin continues to fight for change.
Comedian and Actor
She shot to fame by posting hilarious copycat photos and videos parodying celebrities and influencers, but this year Celeste Barber proved she is just as funny being herself. After a whirlwind tour across the US, the comedian had the ultimate homecoming: two sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House last year.
These shows, of her critically acclaimed production Fine, Thanks, were filmed and became Barber’s first Netflix comedy special. Not long after this, Barber was once again on screen, staring in Netflix’s comedy-drama Wellmania, based on the book by Brigid Delaney.
The secret to Barber’s success is knowing her audience. She told marie claire, “I found my audience and I think they’re kind of sick of stepping aside. These women, they go through a lot. And I am really happy that I get to scream and cheer for them.”
Lawyer, Storyteller and Advocate
Teela Reid walks with the strength of her ancestors and the knowledge of 60,000 years of culture. As a staunch Indigenous rights activist, she stands on the shoulders of giants.
The proud Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, born and raised in Gilgandra, NSW, comes from a family of advocates in the NSW land rights movement. In 2010, Reid was chosen as Australia’s Indigenous Female Youth Delegate to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues in New York.
The experience was a catalyst for her transition from education to law, and in 2016 she was admitted as a solicitor. Today, she works in land-rights litigation, is the co-creator of Blackfulla Bookclub and an organiser of the inaugural Rebellious Lawyering Conference in 2021. And if that isn’t enough, last year she became the first Indigenous practitioner in residence at Australia’s oldest law school, at the University of Sydney.
This year has been a momentous one with the upcoming Voice referendum, and as she has done throughout her life, Reid is leading the conversation and championing the Yes vote. Having been a working-group leader in the process that culminated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Reid says she believes the Voice will be a new era of reckoning.
“There’s this amazing quote that [late Aboriginal activist] Rob Riley delivered at a dinner years ago … where he said, ‘You can never be wrong when you’re right,’ and to keep fighting,” she told the Law Society of NSW Journal.
“That idea has really gotten me through a lot of hard times with the advocacy … It’s those people that trailblazed the way. We have witnessed so many elders put their heart and souls on the line to redefine our nation. We now have a cultural obligation to step up to the plate.” Teela Reid walks in the footsteps of her elders – and her strides pave the way for the next generations.
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will forever be etched into the hearts and minds of Australians. Not only did Australia co-host the tournament, but the Matildas reached the semi-final in the most nail-biting of penalty shootouts.
No other Australian football team had progressed so far at a World Cup, making it a historic moment not only for Australia and the team but for women’s sport in general. And no other player was under more pressure than captain Sam Kerr, who bore the weight of a nation’s expectations.
Kerr, now 30 and one of the most talented forwards of her generation, has led the team since 2019 and was a driving force in getting the Tillys to where they are today.
Despite an injury-plagued World Cup, Kerr had an exceptional year, taking out the coveted Football Writers’ Association Women’s Footballer of the Year award for the second consecutive season and named runner-up to Spain’s Aitana Bonmati as UEFA’s Women’s Player of the Year. Women’s sport has long taken a back seat to male-dominated codes, and the gender pay gap and funding are particularly sore issues.
After seeing the entire country get behind the Matildas, Kerr called for more funding. “I can only speak for the Matildas. We need funding in our development. We need funding in our grassroots. We need funding everywhere,” she said after the 3-1 semi-final loss to England. “The comparison to other sports isn’t really good enough.
And hopefully, this tournament changes that because that’s the legacy you leave—not what you do on the pitch—the legacy is what you do off the pitch. It’s hard to talk about now, but hopefully this is the start of something new.”
During her decade at the helm of French fashion house Céline, British designer Phoebe Philo was the epitome of style. She redefined chic with her minimalist approach, sleek lines and restrained colour palette.
She put Céline back on the fashion map, and gained a cult following (affectionately known as Philophiles). Then, in 2018, she walked away from it all. Her exit shocked the style set and left us with a Philo-shaped hole in our wardrobes.
Universally, there was a deep longing for the effortless elegance of Phoebe’s work—so much so, the resale prices of some Céline pieces rose by 30 per cent following her departure, according to the Business of Fashion. For the past five years, we’ve been waiting to see what Philo would do next. At last, we know!
In July, it was confirmed that the Phoebe Philo brand would launch its inaugural collection towards the end of 2023. The news has been met with grand enthusiasm and the clinking of champagne flutes. Phoebe Philo is back, baby, but her legacy never left.
Philo, who was given a sewing machine for her 14th birthday, has always been a trailblazer. Her first campaign for Céline famously cropped out the models’ heads to focus entirely on the clothes and bags. Her vision has never wavered. “I’m driven by real style and beauty,” she has said. “My aim is to reveal and
not to display women.”
Creator of Recipetin Eats and Cookbook Author
With a food blog that gets more than 14 million visits each week, a social media fan base of more than 4.5 million and a debut cookbook, Dinner, that has just won Book of the Year and Illustrated Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards, it’s fair to say that Nagi Maehashi is having a very good year indeed. Born in Japan and raised in Sydney, Maehashi worked in corporate finance for 16 years before taking the leap into her true passion: food.
She set up her RecipeTin Eats food blog in 2014, drawing on her childhood to show others how to create simple, quick and delicious food with little money. “Growing up, the budget was tight and even though my mother worked full time, we dined like royalty because she was so creative in the kitchen,” she explains on her website.
Her recipes are also influenced by her travels through Europe, the Middle East, Asia and America and have proven a hit, with more than 300 million visits to her website in the past 12 months.
Many of Maehashi’s fans praise her for the no-fuss and no-frills nature of her food, and the cookbook author has confessed that although it is “really daggy” she doesn’t do “trendy food”. In 2021, Maehashi set up not-for-profit food bank RecipeTin Meals, which cooks and distributes about 400 meals every day for vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Sydney.
Nicky and Simone Zimmermann
Fashion Designers and Business Women
The Australian label founded by sisters Nicky and Simone in 1991 has cemented its place alongside international fashion dynasties. It started with a sewing machine in a Sydney garage and a market stall in Paddington.
After Nicky graduated from the fashion-design course at East Sydney Tech in 1989, she brought her sister on board as the clothing line started to take off. Since then, the brand’s trademark prints have been seen on the runway at Paris Fashion Week, on celeb fans including Catherine, the Princess of Wales, and Lana Del Rey.
In August, Zimmermann became Australia’s first billion-dollar fashion label, after a majority acquisition by private equity firm Advent International.
With more than 900 staff and 58 boutiques around the globe including 22 shops in Australia and a new European head office on Paris’ Rue Saint-Honoré – Zimmermann’s Advent investment is set to speed up world domination, with a focus on Asia and the Middle East.
The sisters, who have kept a minority shareholding, will continue to run their billion-dollar business and share their visionary collections.
Actor, Writer and Unionist
Many people who did not know Fran Drescher was president of the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG- AFTRA) were surprised to see the actor give a fiery speech when talks between the union and studios failed in July.
“We are being victimised by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us,” Drescher fumed in the now-viral speech at a press conference in LA.
“I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”
Despite appearing in a number of television shows and films over the years, Drescher is likely most recognised as her iconic character Fran Fine from sitcom The Nanny, which aired from 1993 to 1999.
In 2021, Drescher went up against fellow actor Matthew Modine for the SAG-AFTRA presidency, ultimately winning the top spot. She has railed against corporate greed for a number of years and has championed LGBTQI rights following her former husband, The Nanny showrunner Peter Marc Jacobson, coming out as gay after they divorced. In her 1996 autobiography, Enter Whining, she wrote about being raped at gunpoint in 1985, a traumatic event that she did not speak about for years and which she says caused her to have uterine cancer 10 years later.
Although it’s 24 years since she played Nanny Fine, Drescher has proven that the sharp tongue she bore on screen is the same off screen. When Disney CEO Bob Iger said the actors’ demands were not realistic, Drescher fired back.
“There he is, sitting in his designer clothes and just got on his private jet at the billionaires’ camp, telling us we’re unrealistic when he’s making $78,000 a day,” she excoriated him. “How do you deal with someone like that, who’s so tone-deaf? Are you an ignoramus? I don’t understand.” Ouch
Model and UNHCR Supporter
As rising stars go, Adut Akech’s ascent has been meteoric—and this year has been her biggest yet. In May, she honoured the late Karl Lagerfeld (who cast her as the bride in the 2018 Chanel Haute Couture show, making her the second Black model in history to fill the coveted role) at the Met Gala in a showstopping Carolina Herrera gown (pictured right).
In July she starred alongside Gigi Hadid in the Versace autumn/winter 2023 campaign and was named as the face of Valentino Beauty. Having reached supermodel status with her haute couture work, magazine covers and endless editorials, Akech still describes herself as a refugee and is proud to work with the UN’s Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
“I am a refugee, I will always be a refugee,” she has said. “I don’t want to be known as ‘Adut the model’, I want to be known as some- one who made a positive impact.”
And so she has: Adut Akech—refugee, changemaker and sartorial superstar.
This story originally appeared in the October issue of marie claire Australia.