Leslie joins PM Julia Gillard on list of Melbourne's Most Influential Women

As the world acknowledges the triumphs and tribulations of women on International Women’s Day 2013 this Friday, Alana Schetzer shines the spotlight on Melbourne’s most influential females

Australian women have made huge strides since an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910 came up with the idea of a day to honour the achievements of women around the world and recognise the struggle for equality. Australia has a female prime minister, a female governor- general, a female attorney-general and a smattering of women on the boards of our largest companies.

But on the eve of the 2013 International Women’s Day, on March 8, it’s clear the battle for equality between the sexes is far from won. According to the latest figures Australian women earned 17 per cent less than men in 2012 and just 10 per cent of managerial positions and about 25 per cent of new board positions were held by women. Seven out of 10 federal and state parliamentarians are men – a ratio that hasn’t changed in 10 years. Men receive twice the number of awards and nominations than women for an Order of Australia, and female chief executives in the top 200 ASX listed companies remain below 5 per cent.

What those statistics don’t show, however, is that Melbourne is teeming with fabulous, accomplished women, achieving great things in fields as diverse as arts, politics, fashion and social justice.

Here are some of our city’s most inspiring examples.


Whether you’re a fan or not, Julia Gillard’s mantle as one of the most powerful women in Australia is irrefutable. Australia’s first female prime minister has weathered more storms in her first term than any other PM in recent memory. Her unmarried and childless status has made her a target for those who want to paint her as uncaring or unable to understand family life. But she has managed to do what Kevin Rudd couldn’t – successfully push through reforms on the mining and carbon taxes and introduce a national disability insurance scheme that will improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people.

Why she’s influential: For getting on with the job while those around her try to tear her down.


As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, the Honourable Marilyn Warren AC, QC, is a study in firsts – the first female Chief Justice of any state or territory in Australia and the first female articled clerk in public service in Victoria. Her achievements are numerous, among them being Lieutenant Governor of Victoria and chairwoman of the Judicial College of Victoria. In December she spoke out ins support of the legal aid system, arguing that the right to a fair trial was in jeopardy because of increaseing demand and insufficient funding.

Why she’s influential: She didn’t just break through the glass ceiling, she smashed it.


Born and raised in the US, Leslie Cannold is recognised as one of Australia’s leading thinkers, feminists and ethicists. A vocal supporter of the pro-choice movement, Cannold offers considered, thought-provoking insights into seemingly complicated issues and has won applause for her work on gender discrimination and challenging the work/life balance. In 2011, Cannold was named the Australian Humanist of the Year, and continues her work to fight for women’s right to control their own bodies.

Why she’s influential: For providing smart, considered ideas about society.


Born into influence, the daughter of former Liberal leader Andrew Peacock and socialite Lady Susan Renouf, has become a leader of Melbourne’s society set in her own right. As manager of public relations at Crown Casino, Peacock has a little black address booked filled with the names and numbers of the most powerful people across all fields – politics, arts and entertainment, sports and business. She uses her power for good as a charity fund-raiser, and is the driving force behind the Million Dollar Lunch, an annual event that raises money for children with cancer.

Why she’s influential: Because anyone will answer her phone call.


Although she has kept a low profile since the Coalition came to power in 2010, Asher is a powerful behind-the-scenes player in state politics and is considered by many to be a grounding force in the Liberal Party. One of the few women selected for the male-dominated frontbench, Asher is deputy leader of the Liberal Party and the minister for the major portfolios of innovation, services and small business, and tourism and major events, the latter being something most Victorians have an interest in.

Why she’s influential: For advocating for more women to get into politics.


A controversial thought-provoker, the ever quotable Catherine Deveny gets people talking, whether it’s about feminism, cycling, love or social equality. A writer, comedian and social commentator, Deveny rejects the idea that women need to behave a certain way. In the process, she has influenced a whole generation of women not content to play along with traditional roles society maps out for them.

Why she’s influential: She gets people thinking about challenging the status quo.


The notoriously media-shy Naomi Milgrom is a stand-out success story in business and the arts. As chief executive and chairwoman of the Sussan Group, which owns Sportsgirl, Sussan and Suzanne Grae, Milgrom has been credited with developing a business in an industry known for its fickleness and vulnerability to economic cycles. As head of Australia’s biggest privately held specialty fashion retailer, Milgrom has been lauded as one of the top 25 business leaders in the country. Her success isn’t confined to one field: Milgrom is president of the National Gallery of Victoria and in 2010 was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for her contribution to business and the arts.

Why she’s influential: She’s played the game by her own rules and won, convincingly.


One of the stand-out stars at the ABC, Josie Taylor is an award-winning journalist with current affairs program 7.30. She’s behind some of the biggest Victorian scoops of the past five years, including the Windsor Hotel scandal and underworld crime stories. Before joining the rejuvenated 7.30, Taylor held other senior ABC positions including state political reporter for ABC TV, working on AM, PM and The World Today, and as associate producer on Insiders.

Why she’s influential: Proving that female reporters can cover stories that don’t involve fluffy animals or celebrities.


At just 26, Samah Hadid has lived a full life, much of it spent helping the world’s most disadvantaged and misunderstood people. Samah speaks out on Muslim stereotypes, publicly supports gay rights and advocates for women’s rights. The social justice campaigner is also the Australian director of the Global Poverty Project and advises governments and organisations on ending extreme poverty and improving human rights. In her spare time she’s a performer and playwright, because saving the world isn’t enough work.

Why she’s influential: For wanting to make a difference and actually doing it.

Publication history

Hear Me Roar: Melbourne's Wonder Women  The Melbourne Times