9 Women at the Wheel: The Female Leaders in the Drivers’ Seat Who Inspire Us

Women make up just 5% of chief executives of S&P 500 companies, showing how difficult it still is for women to reach the highest leadership positions, even today. This International Women’s Day, Team Centaur is sharing the female leaders who defied the odds and are steering their organizations toward the finish line. These 9 performance drivers, ranging from fashion CEOs to visionary social entrepreneurs, inspire each of us in some way, here is who they are.

1- Adam: Mary Barra - CEO of General Motors

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, epitomizes the essence of transformative leadership, and her journey is profoundly inspiring. Prior to assuming the helm of one of the world’s largest automakers, Mary spent her entire career at GM, starting as an intern and gradually ascending through the ranks to become the first female CEO in the automotive industry.

Mary’s leadership style is characterized by a keen focus on innovation and a deep commitment to driving performance. Under her guidance, General Motors has undergone a remarkable transformation, embracing electric and autonomous vehicle technologies to shape the future of transportation.

What draws me most to her story is the fact that she worked her way up the ranks from starting off as an intern in one of the most competitive industries globally. She led GM through turbulent times, including the 2008 financial crisis and the ignition switch recall crisis, with transparency, accountability, and a steadfast dedication to the company’s mission.

2- Hadeel: Roisin Tapponi - Founder of Shasha Movies

As an advocate of inclusive cultural representation and decolonization especially in the media, I’m drawn to the work of Iraqi-Irish, film curator and writer, Roisin Tapponi. She is the founder of the first independent film streaming platform, showcasing art from Southwest Asia and North Africa. Through strategic initiatives and bold programming choices, Tapponi is at the forefront of reshaping the modern cinema landscape. 

What inspires me the most about Tapponi’s leadership is her focus on community building, global perspective, and fearless determination to develop a more inclusive film industry. Roisin’s Shasha initiative extends to on-ground communities through film clubs and global film screenings. Tapponi is also present in prestigious film institutions as a speaker, curator, and jury member. Some of these features were in BAFTA, The Academy, MoMA, Venice Film Festival, and Arab Critics Awards. 

Her determination to reshape the future of cinema and inspire future generations of filmmakers is evident in her scholarly contributions. Tapponi has guest lectured on film at leading universities including Oxford, Columbia, UC Berkeley, and University College London (UCL). Her ability to bridge the gaps between art, business, and academia resonates deeply with me. 

3- Lama: Jacqueline Novogratz - CEO of Acumen

Jacqueline Novogratz is CEO of Acumen, a pioneering nonprofit venture capital fund investing in companies that deliver affordable services to millions across the developing world. Back in 2022 during COP27, I was researching global poverty and came across her work. One thing that particularly stands out to me is her “patient capital” model and how she approaches global poverty through sustainable social entrepreneurship.Novogratz inspires me with her belief in human potential and her radical thinking. She was able to challenge the aid models that are commonly used and prove that businesses can create both social impact and financial returns. This resonates with me because I think that opportunities for entrepreneurship and skills and training, rather than just fund and aid, training unlocked a sense of motivation to improve lives.At the end of 2022, Acumen surpassed 500 million lives impacted through the Patient Capital investments, which I think proves a leader with radical thinking and solutions that are both creative and sustainable can truly create an impact.

4- Lydia: Nathalie Hamamji Jarjour - Founder & CEO of e Impact

Leveraging her extensive 20+ years of experience in driving business growth in the banking sector, Nathalie founded e Impact Consulting. In taking on the challenge of managing her own consulting firm while simultaneously being a partner at another, she demonstrates strong leadership and a determination to succeed.

As our manager at e Impact, Nathalie was known for her unique leadership style—mentoring, empowering, and maintaining a positive attitude. Creating an environment that fosters growth and innovation beyond typical workplace norms, she has a knack for recognizing potential and actively works to nurture and develop it. Nathalie personally invests in her team members, regardless of their initial experience, showcasing her dedication to bringing out the best in everyone.

Nathalie’s leadership style also emphasized mental health considerations and leading by example, prioritizing the well-being of the team. As a working mom handling two important roles, she not only taught us the value of balancing work and personal life but also demonstrated that, as women, we can navigate multiple challenges successfully, thriving in both our careers and personal lives. Her positivity and motivation served as a significant inspiration for me and the entire team.

5- Marilyn: Leena Nair - CEO of Chanel

Leena Nair, the current CEO of Chanel, embodies the power of bold leadership, and I find myself deeply inspired by her unique journey and vision.

Before leading the iconic French fashion house (with no prior experience in the industry), Leena spent three decades at Unilever, where she broke through glass ceilings by becoming the company’s first female Chief Human Resources Officer. 

Leena’s strength lies in her unique leadership style, one that prioritizes understanding people and fostering collaboration. In her first year at Chanel, she embarked on a whirlwind tour, visiting over 100 company locations. This journey allowed her to connect with employees, gain deep insights into the brand’s DNA, and demonstrate her commitment to leading with empathy and purpose.

Leena Nair’s story is also a testament to the power of diverse perspectives and embracing challenges. As a woman of Indian origin leading a prestigious French fashion house, she shatters stereotypes and embodies the strength of exceptional talent and leadership. 

6- Maya: Dr Tamara Elzein - Secretary General of the National Council for Scientific Research of Lebanon (CNRS-L)

Dr Tamara Elzein is the first woman to head the CNRS-L. She is also the first Lebanese figure, and the first woman to preside over the Sciences Commission of UNESCO, ever since the establishment of UNESCO. 

With her leadership spirit and mastery of science, she strives to redefine the vision of the CNRS-L and save research in Lebanon. Her strong will and steely determination are evident in her scientific achievements, including winning the “L’Oréal-Unesco for Women in Science” award twice, both regionally and internationally. A prominent activist and advocate for women’s rights in research, Dr Elzein founded the National Observatory for the Leadership and Empowerment of Women in Research “Dawrek’n” (دوركنَّ – Your Turn). She asserts that:

"It is time for the economic sector to benefit from researchers and Lebanon's expertise in this field", and that "researchers must get used to being more present in society, showing the interest of their research outside the walls of campuses".

Dr Elzein’s assertive and wise personality is truly inspiring. Her dedication and perseverance make her a role model for women researchers. A leading figure like her is valuable to the field of science and research, particularly in Lebanon and the Arab world. 

7- Tala: Céline Semaan - Co-Founder of Slow Factory

If you happen to be on the right side of history and follow Slow Factory on Instagram, you will have undoubtedly been captivated by their incredible content advocating for systemic change. At the helm of the Slow Factory Group is Founder Céline Semaan, a Lebanese-Canadian designer, writer, speaker, and advocate. Across her work, Céline harnesses the power of design, sociology, material science, and accessibility to confront pressing global challenges, from climate change to social injustices. She demonstrates what it means to be a purpose-driven leader in its purest form. 

Céline’s unwavering commitment to driving systemic change for justice and liberation permeates every aspect of her leadership. Each venture under the Slow Factory 501c3 nonprofit is aligned with the mission; From Slow Factory Studio offering web3 & production, to Slow Factory Labs for new materials research,  and Slowhide which produces lab-grown plastic-free leather, her innovative and experimental growth strategies all exist in alignment to the organization’s intersectional approach to climate justice and human rights. Her tools across each remain the same: data, learning platforms, representation, diversity and as someone who is personally very passionate about the issues Céline’s career is shaped by her will to drive systemic change. She is not someone who wants to merely address symptoms but to fundamentally transform systems, making them regenerative and reciprocal. Given our innate nature to resist change, you could argue that her goal is a goliath and one that few leaders are willing to take on. But that is what makes her worth celebrating on International Women’s Day, this year, and every other year to come. 

8- Zeinab: Manar Al Moneef -Chief Investment Officer of NEOM

Dr. Manar AlMoneef shines in the world of sustainable investments as the Chief Investment Officer of NEOM. Dr. Manar saw the global opportunity to redefine livability, business, and sustainability. She shares our Purpose at Cosmic Centaurs to make work better, in one of her interviews, she highlights the objective of “How do you create an environment that focuses on people first.” She believes in providing an exceptional quality of life through technology and harmony with nature, with an emphasis on the objective to “make sure you create the right environment that focuses on allowing people to be more happy and develop more things that make sense to them.” 

With twenty years of experience and a strong passion for positive change, she has transformed organizations and opened up new paths for growth. 

Dr. AlMoneef’s leadership extends beyond profit-making; it’s about creating a cleaner, better future for everyone. Her journey from key roles at GE to leading sustainable investments in Saudi Arabia shows her dedication to making a real difference. Her commitment to supporting other women is both inspiring and important. 

Dr. AlMoneef’s story reminds women everywhere with that vision, hard work, and including everyone, we can make a brighter tomorrow.

9- Haneen: Yusur Al Dabbagh - Principle & Co-Founder of Rouya Consultancy

Yusur Al Dabbagh’s journey stands as a testament to the impact of compassionate leadership in the media. Her dedication to authenticity, empathy, and kindness has not only led Rouya to remarkable success but also serves as a beacon for leaders everywhere. As Rouya’s co-founder and managing director, Yusur brings over a decade of PR expertise, leading with authenticity and compassion. Since its establishment in 2016, Rouya has flourished under her guidance, becoming a thriving family business with a workforce comprising both her own family and dedicated individuals. Her commitment to fostering a culture of kindness and inclusion is evident in initiatives like the 4-day workweek and monthly menstrual leave for all female employees, ensuring everyone feels valued. Despite rapid expansion, Yusur remains steadfast in her authenticity and kindness, setting an inspiring example for others. She embodies intelligence, vision, resilience, and unwavering humanity, proving that authenticity is key to driving limitless success while staying true to one’s values.

Happy International Women’s Day!

As we celebrate, these exceptional women leaders leave us inspired. Whether steering major corporations or driving social change through entrepreneurship, they have shifted gears to break through barriers and challenge industry norms.


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