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From Top Gun to world number one

11 February 2014

Women are popping up in some eye-catching leadership roles around the globe. Often it’s the first time a woman has held the role – a heart-warming phenomenon in itself. No matter if they’re in charge of the world’s best ranked company for sustainability (Westpac CEO Gail Kelly, pictured below,) or the first female chief of a village in Ghana, such as Madame Koko, these are women who provide us with strong role models and diversity around what leadership can look like.

gail kelly WOI

One of our members and one of our great Ruby women of influence, Prof Shirley Randell AO, Managing Director, SRIA Rwanda Ltd, works around the world in female leadership. She is especially knowledgeable about Africa and Vanuatu, and loves to record the achievements of women. This is a story she recently brought to my attention:

Nana Gyetuah, also known as Madame Koko, is the first female chief of her village in Ghana. As chief, she has fought for the rights of the villagers whose cocoa trees were being destroyed by the timber industry. When loggers demolished and refused to repair a bridge, she mobilized her fellow villagers to create a roadblock. Her superior, the “stool chief” had her arrested when she exposed the corrupt relationship he had with the timber industry. After her release, she returned to seek restitution for her community’s ruined farmland. Madame Koko’s strength as chief makes her a strong role model for the young women in her village, and she has successfully stopped the logging in her territory.

It inspired me, and with a little time over the Festive Season break to have a look at what women are doing in the world, here are just a few things I ran across.

In America General Motors promoted insider Mary Barra (below left) as its CEO, making her the first female head of a major US automaker. Christine Fox (below centre), the most senior-ranking woman in Pentagon history, has been appointed second-in-command making her the most powerful woman in the US military. (Christine was actually the inspiration behind the character played by Kelly McGillis in the movie Top Gun.) She joins the likes of Lisa Monaco (below right), chief counterterrorism adviser to the President.

mary barra  christine fox  lisa monaco  

The first female Moderator of The World Council of Churches has been appointed - Agnes Abuom (below) of the Anglican Church of Kenya. She is also the first African in the position in the 65-year history of the WCC.

Agnes Abuom

The film director Jane Campion (below) will be the jury president of the 67th Cannes Film Festival, running in May 2014. She is the only female director ever to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, for The Piano.

jane campion

The first woman has been appointed to the top position of Managing editor at TIME - Nancy Gibbs. Featured on one of her recent TIME covers is Janet Yellen (below), the new chairman of the Federal Reserve. Yellen is the first woman to take over the top spot in the 100-year history of the US central bank and has one of the most important policy-making jobs in the world.

janet yellen

Back in November Westpac Group CEO Gail Kelly was made a member of the Liberal government’s newly formed Indigenous Advisory Council and following that she was confirmed chairman of The Australian Bankers’ Association.

The post with the ABA, she says, has “a real opportunity to ensure Australia has the best possible banking system capable of supporting our nation's future prosperity.”

This appointment was quickly followed up with her appointment to the Group of 30, G30. Gail is the only woman to be on the board of this international group of the world’s most powerful bankers.

And most recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Westpac was ranked #1 in the 'Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World', up from #10 in 2013.

In her acceptance of this accolade, Gail said: “We have a long history of embracing new ways of doing business to address emerging issues we believe will affect the sustainability of our communities and our operations.

“For example, back in 1817 we launched the first disaster relief fund in Australia to help victims of the Hawkesbury River flood in NSW, one of our earliest acts to support a community in need. Much more recently, we established a natural disaster recovery community fund, to help rebuild local communities like those affected by the recent bushfires in NSW and WA. 

“These types of initiatives, and many more across every area of our business, are what contribute to the sustainability of our organisation," she said, calling for everyone across the group to consider: “what will be our next initiative to help our customers, community and people to prosper and grow - today, tomorrow and in future years to come?  It's these initiatives that will ensure Westpac is here for another 200 years and beyond.”

These are inspiring thoughts and goals to return to after a little R&R on the beach with my daughters. The R&R was tinged with sadness, however. We lost Percy, our Cavalier spaniel, after 12 years of loyal friendship. We knew he was sick and that his cancer was not curable but when his time came both my daughters and I were much less prepared than we thought.

Having mourned our Percy, it seemed like a good idea to find a way forward from this sadness. This has come in the shape of two Cavalier puppies – a Blenheim and a Ruby in colour, a boy and a girl respectively. The puppies will be named Fletcher after the character Chevy Chase plays in Fletch, and Beverly after Beverly D’Angelo who plays Chevy Chase’s wife in National Lampoon’s Vacation films.

What the two new additions to our family mean for me is I have unwittingly joined the club – the puppies as surrogate grandchildren club. I found myself just the other day swapping stories and shots with a friend of mine of the same vintage as me about the puppies in our lives. Both of us acknowledged that they were our surrogate grandchildren.

Women today have more options and choices than before and when it comes to the sorts of lives they choose to lead and the decisions they make around their lifestyle, they have more role models on which to base their choices. Grandpuppies are just another way in which we express ourselves in this rich and diverse world and I love it.