Announcing the finalists of the 2021 Women's Agenda Leadership Awards

Announcing the brilliant finalists of the 2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards


Don’t forget to secure your tickets to this year’s Leadership Awards dinner at Sydney’s Swissotel.

It’s that time again.

The time that we get to sit back and marvel at the immense talent that Australian women are bringing to the table; leading with courage, creativity, innovation and empathy. And they’re doing it at a time when nothing comes easy. The past 24 months have been some of the most challenging we’ve ever known, but still we’re seeing these leaders show up, and work to build a post-pandemic world we can all be proud to live in.

This year’s awards celebrate how women have defined the year we’ve just had, and how women will take us forward into the critical decade ahead.

Below is this year’s shortlist:

Emerging Leader in the Public & University Sector:

Sera Yilmaz

Sera has been a Fairfield City Councillor since her election in 2016 at the age of 28, and served as Deputy Mayor in 2018. She is the chair of a number of committees, including the Arts and Multicultural Advisory committees.

Sera is currently the Secretary of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA) where she works with the executive to organise forums across NSW to encourage and provide opportunities for women to run for public office and is extremely passionate in increasing female representation in all levels of government. She also works as a Disability Advocate for the Royal Commission at the Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association, assisting people living with disabilities from a CALD background and is completing higher degree research relating to Australia’s temporary skilled migration program.

Jemi Jeng 

Jemi Jeng, is a Principal Advisor at the Department of Customer Service & Founder of Penny LLC. Jemi fearlessly uses her voice and influence to break the silence, fear and inaction around racism in the workplace. In July she published her first article ‘Let’s Talk About Racism at Work’ and presented on the mental health impacts of racism at the Workplace Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit in October. Jemi has been a thought leader within DCS contributing to key recruitment and D&I policies. She is a leader in the CALD ERD and works closely with the NSW Anti-Racism Taskforce to drive change across all levels of government.

Jodie Ward

Associate Professor Jodie Ward is the program Lead – National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons (Australian Federal Police). Jodie’s passion to provide answers to families with missing loved ones has led to the establishment of a new national forensic program dedicated to restoring the names and faces of our unidentified Australians. She is also translating the scientific research she conducts at Australia’s human taphonomic facility into new forensic techniques that are being used by the program to identify missing and deceased persons. Her societal impact extends to her roles as Board Member of the Missing Persons Advocacy Network, advocate for gender equity in the forensic sciences and mentor for rural/regional students aspiring to be forensic scientists.

Susana Ng

Susana has over 20 years of experience in community development, policy and leadership development. She has been nurturing a new generation of activists and community development professionals by supervising over 150 Social Work and Policy students. Susana has also developed and managed the award winning International Student Leaderships and Ambassadors Program (ISLA) since 2013. Angered by rising interpersonal and systemic racism, and the lack of safe spaces for people of colour to have a voice about racism, Susana initiated and convenes the NSW Anti-Racism Working Group which uses a collaborative impact approach to address racism.

Emerging Leader in Climate:

Xiaoqi Feng

Xiaoqi Feng is the Associate Professor in Urban Health and Environment at UNSW with her population health research enabling councils with a public health/social licence to implement urban greening strategies. Feng’s research informed the City of Sydney’s $377M strategy to plant 700 new trees annually for 10 years and reach 40% green cover by 2050. 

She’s enabling new conversations on empowering young and diverse communities of scientists in Australia as the founding director of a network on rapid urbanisation and population health (RUPH). Internationally, she leads a NHMRC/UKRI-funded research collaboration and is an elected council member and education committee chair for the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology Asia-Western Pacific Chapter.

Janet Salisbury 

Janet Salisbury is the founder of the Women’s Climate Congress. In January 2020, with bushfires still raging, she called the women in her networks to two meetings in Canberra to discuss her ideas around amplifying women’s voices for a collaborative national approach for climate action. Forty-five women responded and many others were deeply engaged. Since then, the Congress has become a diverse national network of women with plans for a National Congress of Women later in 2021. Janet has hosted webinars and met countless women, parliamentarians and community leaders, promoting the Congress vision for collaborative action to stabilise the climate.

Joanna Dodds

Joanna Dodds is the president of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, a unique organisation changing the conversation around climate. Her powerful storytelling about the devastating losses of individual Australians, sidelines political brawling and instead creates compassionate engagement.

This has opened the doors and hearts of senior politicians, business people and audiences nationally and internationally, and inspired behavioural and policy change. By growing membership, implementing training and support, and engaging donors, Jo has empowered and raised the voices of survivors, brought them to the tables of decision-makers and encouraged those leaders to put themselves in the ash-covered boots of real Australians.

Emerging Entrepreneur

Samantha Laidlaw

Samantha Laidlaw is the Founder and CEO of the wholly female-owned streaming platform, Femflix. Launched in Australia and New Zealand in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, the company promotes and celebrates female-focused and female-driven storytelling, across a diverse offering of entertainment. With the support of major film distributors, and month-on-month subscriber growth, Samantha’s goal is to create systemic change in the way society views women through the media, with the goal to scale the company internationally and bring women’s voices and stories into the homes of people all around the world.

Priyanka Ashraf

Lawyer turned technologist, Priyanka Ashraf is the Founder and Director of The Creative Co-Operative, Australia’s first 100% migrant Women of Colour owned, led and operated startup dedicated to lifting the economic access barriers faced by migrant WoC as a result of systemic racism.

Structured as a social enterprise and operating as an agency, the CCO employs migrant WoC across creative, marketing and digital services and in the space of roughly 6 months of bootstrapping, has already created over 40 paid work opportunities for migrant WoC. The CCO applies a Pay It Forward model, where its commercial work helps fund community projects to amplify WoC. For instance, the recent Curious About Culture Festival amplifying over 40 WoC creative entrepreneurs and generated over $30,000 for the community.  

Priyanka is also the Entrepreneur in Residence at Tech Ready Women. 

Etta Watts-Russell

Etta is the founder of Lactamo, a corporate lawyer, and Mum of 4 young children. In 2019 Etta recognised that despite the importance of breastfeeding, breastfeeding rates worldwide are needlessly low. Disappointed with the lack of products to help Mums, Etta developed a simple, reusable and affordable solution. Lactamo is a specialised massage ball specifically developed and designed for breast tissue, with the ability to address all of the common breastfeeding problems. 

Lactamo was the winner of the 2019 Australian MedTech Actuator Award (Australia and India), and was announced by St George as Australia’s “Best New Business Idea 2020” (TEDxSydney). Lactamo has recently completed a successful clinical trial with Deakin University and the Western Health Partnership, and will be launching shortly.

Emerging Leader in NFP

Zakia Patel 

Zakia Patel is a community leader with a passion for supporting marginalised communities. As the CEO of Multicultural Hub Canberra, Zakia leads five multicultural centres to support local migrants and refugees across Canberra and regional NSW to thrive in their new homes. Through her empathetic and inclusive approach to leadership, Zakia has ensured that vulnerable people have remained connected to their communities through COVID-19. Zakia has also volunteered for the NSW SES for over a decade, and is the Unit Commander for the Queanbeyan SES Unit. 

Rona Glynn-Mcdonald

24-year old Rona is a proud Kaytete woman and the founding CEO of Common Ground, a First Nations-led not-for-profit working to shape a society that centres First Nations people by amplifying knowledge, cultures and stories. Rona works with high impact organisations to create systems that centre First Nations people, knowledge and solutions. She bring years of professional experience working across First Nations organisations and not for profits.

Antoinette Lattouf 

Antoinette Lattouf is an award-winning Network 10 journalist. She’s the Director and co-founder of Media Diversity Australia. In 2019, Antoinette was named among AFR’s 100 Women of Influence. She’s currently writing a book, ‘How to lose friends and influence white people’ which will be published by Penguin Random House in early 2022. 

While continuing her day job as a television journalist, Antoinette led landmark research into the lack of diversity in the news media which made national and international headlines, introduced paid internships for CALD entry-level journalists, oversaw the launch of a free directory of CALD professionals for journalists to use as talent interviewees. She also leads a team of 30 volunteers who help run MDA and is about to hire full-time staff to help the charity grow.

Remy-Georgette Crick 

Remy Crick is the founder of Nextmove, an Aboriginal run not-for-profit promoting the economic development of First Nations youth. Nextmove is a mobile-designed website that amalgamates education, employment and business opportunities specifically aimed at Indigenous Australian youth; empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their future, and be inspired to see all possibilities available to them.

Molina Asthana

Molina is an experienced commercial lawyer and the first Indian born to be elected the Vice President of the Law Institute of Victoria in 162 years of its history. She sits on various boards including the Graduate House of the University of Melbourne, Good Shepherd ANZ, Gymnastics Victoria and the AFL South East Commission and the Asian Australian lawyers Association. Molina is also a member of the Football Federation of Victoria Tribunal and the founder of the organisation Multicultural Women in Sport.

As Lead Victorian Convenor of the Asian Australian Alliance, she has campaigned against COVID 19 related violence against Asians and the report on racism is being widely used by various organisations worldwide to tackle this issue.

Emerging Leader in Tech

Jill Berry

Jill Berry is the CEO and co-founder of the Open Banking regtech, Adatree. Through one API, Adatree provides turnkey Data Recipient technology SaaS solutions to access and leverage data, and Adatree is the first startup to be accredited as an unrestricted Data Recipient in a greenfield data sharing regime. Jill sits on the Energy Advisory Committee to the Data Standards Body. Her background is in product development in banking, and helped build two new fully licensed Australian banks, Tyro and Volt Bank, together with Adatree’s other team members.

Naureen Alam

Naureen Alam is the Senior Manager, Future Business and Technology at AGL. A change-maker in the clean energy industry, Naureen is passionate about operationalising innovation & tech to realise a sustainable energy future. Recognised as an Engineers Australia’s Young Engineer of the Year finalist and selected for EnergyLab’s Women in Clean Energy Fellowship program, Naureen has also completed a Masters in Sustainability Leadership from Cambridge University, UK.

In the past year, Naureen has delivered $10million value by leading a gender balanced and technically diverse team. These initiatives optimise power station performance and improve environmental/social impact across Australia’s largest power generation portfolio (supplying over 20% of Australia’s electricity needs).

Kayla Panozzo

Kayla Panozzo is the Software Engineering Manager at Wargaming Sydney. Kayla moved to her first leadership role in 2020 and has stepped up as a lead for a critical project at Wargaming, developing the next generation of backend technology necessary to support the creation of AAA video games. She has been key to navigating the project through constant change, from challenging the budget restrictions to staffing the entire team with the diverse talent needed.

Alex Krinks

Alex Krinks leads the Entag Digital Health team, who deliver key technology solution sets within the healthcare industry to enable greater connectivity, improved patient care quality and outcomes and increased care delivery capacity. Alex has led with fore thought and execution that has enabled her and her team to successfully deploy and manage the technology and software supporting Australia’s first virtual hospital, rpavirtual.

Emerging Leader in the Private Sector

Mani Thiru

Mani Thiru is the APAC Business Lead within the Aerospace & Satellite Solutions team at Amazon Web Services.

Mani works to enable the space sector achieve its most ambitious goals by leveraging cloud computing and transformative services like machine learning, artificial intelligence, satellite & data analytics to deliver innovation in a range of areas; from space enabled agriculture & emergency disaster response through to space exploration and earth observation research. 

She’s an advocate for the power of technology as a societal game changer and the significance of STEM to Australia’s prosperity. She thrives on the fundamental belief that a collaborative approach encompassing diversity and inclusion in leadership is  imperative to successful outcomes.

Jenessa O’Connell

Jenessa O’Connell is a manager within KPMG’s Management Consulting service line. She has comprehensive experience within IT Service Management, Project Management and strategic innovation across several government departments. She was the recipient of the first Women in ICT Emerging Leader award 2019 and ARN Women in ICT Rising Star award 2020, highlighting her drive to implement diversity and inclusion practices within the industry. Jenessa is also the Chair of the UN Women Australia Canberra International Women’s Day Committee, leading the largest annual fundraiser for UNWA through effective event management and community engagement. 

Marni Reti

Marni Reti is a proud Palawa and Ngātiwai woman, born and raised on Gadigal land. She has recently completed her Masters of Architecture at UTS with support from the prestigious Droga Indigenous Architecture Scholarship. Marni works for award-winning firm Kaunitz Yeung Architecture, an internationally recognised practice known for their commitment to working with and for Indigenous communities and placing people at the centre of its buildings.

Emerging Leader in Health

Jerusha Mather

Jerusha Mather is a PhD student at Victoria University studying barriers in exercise in adults with cerebral palsy.  She is Australia’s first female PhD student in the medical sciences with a lived experience of cerebral palsy. She also obtained a prestigious research grant from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance to conduct her research. The doctors in her birthplace (Sri – Lanka) said she would never walk or talk. Coming to Australia changed everything for her, she was given therapy which improved her condition.

She was also selected as a mentee in the L’Oréal- UNESCO Women in Science mentoring program 2020 which pairs PhD students with leading researchers in their field. Mather’s leading advocacy efforts for medical students with a disability was recently recognised by the Australian Academy of Sciences as one of the inaugural STEM change makers.

Kate Whyman 

Kate Whyman is General Manager of one of Australia’s largest tertiary hospitals. She has a career spanning 25 years in public health excellence and is recognised as an authentic, empathic and accountable leader with a deep commitment to empowering and enhancing the experience for patients, healthcare providers and researchers. She has a special interest in transformation and implementing new technologies to improve equity and access to care for patients. She has recently led her team through the successful implementation of electronic medical records, the COVID pandemic and is extremely proud of her approach to maintaining her own mental health and those around her during that time.

Esha Oberoi

Esha Oberoi is the Founder CEO of Afea Care Services, a national disability care provider. She is an entrepreneur and self-love advocate who credits much of her success to her transformative ideology that, ‘Mental Health begins in the Heart’. Afea Care Services is a purposeful home care provider with a Mission to Empower People through love and happiness.

Dr Danielle McMullen

Dr Danielle McMullen is the President of The Australian Medical Association (NSW). Over the past 18 months, McMullen has stepped up and shown a new face of health leadership in the midst of the biggest crisis facing her industry in a generation. She has led the medical profession with a calm, reassuring demeanour, while making long lasting improvements within her organisation including using the opportunities COVID provided to open the reach of AMA(NSW) to its rural and remote members via technology. She formed a gender equity group with NSW health leaders to drive change in the culture of medical training, medical practice and the gender pay gap. Dr McMullen continues to work full time as a General Practitioner.

Emerging Leader in STEM

Francine Marques

A/Prof Francine Marques is a National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow, Monash University. A medical researcher, Francine currently leads a team of 13 scientists who are working toward discovering new ways to prevent heart disease through our gut microbes. Francine’s leadership has been key to new programs to support those working in science, particularly women. 

Examples include national and international mentoring programs, a podcast about mentoring with world leaders in heart disease, and a woman in heart research spotlight. She has led a national survey of researchers to determine how to improve their work conditions and retention. This survey identified female researchers are in a more vulnerable position, something she is working to change.  

Madhu Bhaskaran

Madhu Bhaskaran is Professor and Research Leader at RMIT University as well as Equity and Diversity Director at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence.

Madhu believes collaboration and diversity are key for innovation. She has driven change through women only recruitment rounds to enhance diversity in the STEM sector for the ARC Centre of Excellence, introduced and recruited Career Re-Connect fellows within her own team for women who are coming back to a career post interruptions, and also worked across sectors to launch a new technology product to revolutionise aged care monitoring.

Elahe Abdi

Elahe Abdi is an early career Lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, Monash University, the Director of RoMI Lab, the Deputy-Director of Research in the Department, and the General Chair of ACRA 2021. She actively advocates for early career researchers through organising informative workshops, supports diversity and inclusion in the classroom and in her team, and leads future-shaping research in robotics. In the past 15 months, her team frequently published high-quality research and received multiple research grants. She trains the next generation of engineers by teaching some of their core units with outstanding feedback.

Dr Dwan Price

Dr Dwan Price is a Molecular Biologist at Deakin University. She’s a committed advocate for women and low socioeconomic individuals in STEM and is driving change in the aerobiology field by revolutionising the detection of airborne pollen. She has been instrumental in uniting experts in the fields of allergy and electrochemistry to disrupt 60 year old technology. Her vision is to bring faster and more accurate allergen surveillance to hay-fever sufferers to prevent future epidemics of thunderstorm asthma. 

Agenda Setter of the Year

Aminata Conteh-Biger

Aminata Conteh-Biger is an Australian author, speaker, advocate, special representative for Australia UNHCR and performer as well as the founder and CEO of non- profit organisation, the Aminata Maternal Foundation, saving the lives of hundreds of mothers and babies in her home country, Sierra Leone. Determined to “be change” while on earth, Aminata describes this as her vow to her integrity.

In 2020, Aminata’s memoir ‘Rising Heart’ was published by Pan Macmillan; recalling her trauma at being kidnapped from her father’s arms as a teenager and used as a sex slave.

Emma Fulu, PhD

Dr Emma Fulu is the founder and Executive Director of one of the world’s leading feminist organisations – the Equality Institute – working to advance gender equality and end violence against women and girls. She has grown the organisation to work in over 20 countries across every region in the world. Most recently she has been working with over 500 academics and practitioners to establish a global research agenda and accelerate funding for violence prevention by $500 million by 2030. Locally, she is working with the Victorian government to train over 300 entities in support of the new Gender Equality Act.

Licia Heath

 As CEO of the non-partisan NFP, Women for Election Australia, Licia Heath is committed to increasing the number of women, of all backgrounds and lived experience, in public office at local, state and federal levels.

With over 1500 women registering for WFEA events in the last 12 months, Licia’s determination to train 2000 women to run by 2022, combined with WFEAs “stay very, very mad and get elected” campaign launched at Australia’s march4justice rallies, inspires women’s engagement in politics and sets the tone that gender-balanced governments improve quality of life not just for women and girls, but for all of society. 

Fiona Jose

Fiona Jose is the CEO of the Cape York Partnership, empowering Indigenous people of Cape York Peninsula to have capabilities and to choose lives they have reason to value. Fiona oversees 12 entities and businesses under the CY Partnership and most recently launched Mayi Market in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – remote food box delivery services that gives communities access to health and fresh food at affordable prices.

Tickets are still available to the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, taking place on the evening of the 29th of April at Swissotel Sydney. Help us celebrate Australia’s best emerging leaders and enjoy inspiring conversation with an array of female change-makers including Louise Milligan, Yasmin Poole, Senator Larissa Waters and Georgie Dent. Limited spots available!

A special thanks to this year’s generous sponsors, Salesforce & Telstra Health for bringing this important program to life. And to our wonderful judges, led by the formidable Shirley Chowdhary.


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