In honor of International Women’s Day, WWD and Berns Communications Group are proud to celebrate 2023’s Most Inspirational Women Leaders. We compiled this year’s list by asking last year’s honorees to nominate a woman whose leadership and mentorship consistently inspire those around them.
When we look at the careers of these extraordinary women, one clear theme emerges: these are leaders who leverage their personal passions to drive the growth of their businesses. They are also highly invested in their personal brand equity – which makes their leadership not only authentic, but effective.
Other common qualities of their leadership and management styles include the ability to actively listen and a penchant for taking risks and trying the untried. This is a group of true innovators who embrace challenges – fully knowing that it is the only way to grow and learn.
While these leaders represent some of the most respected names in global retail, Stacy Berns, President of Berns Communications Group, said that “each of these women is motivated by a larger sense of purpose and passion that extends well beyond the boundaries of a particular company. We’re honored to celebrate these amazing women who continually inspire us by channeling their personal passions into greater business success.”
“Whether it is making diversity and inclusion a top priority at their company or engaging with customers one on one to truly understand their needs, these are leaders who also take ‘leading by example’ to a new level,” said Arthur Zaczkiewicz, Executive Editor of Strategic Content Development at WWD. “These are also leaders who embrace change and have learned that it’s okay not to be perfect.”
For example, when Winnie Park, CEO of Forever 21 and Board Director at Dollar Tree Stores, Sound Point Acquisition Corp. and Monica + Andy, was asked what career advice she would give her 20-year-old self if she could go back in time, she said she would stress “progress over perfection.”
“Putting up the ‘perfection façade’ is isolating and it only hurts you in the long run – plus it can suck the fun out of work,” Park said. “By freeing yourself and embracing your imperfections, you get to work alongside other perfectly imperfect people. That’s where success is made, through learning and collaboration.”
When asked the same question, Christiane Pendarvis, Co-President and Chief Merchandising and Design Officer at Savage X Fenty, said she’d tell her younger self to be bolder “and less of a rule follower. The worst response someone can give you is no and if they do, you are no worse off than before you asked. So, ask questions and challenge the rules.”
Welcoming input from colleagues, customers and business partners is also a key leadership trait. When asked what leadership skills young women need to succeed today, Jennifer Foyle, President, Executive Creative Director of AE & Aerie, said the ability to actively listen while practicing empathy is key.
“Being open to feedback and ideas from everyone around you – and I mean everyone – is what keeps you grounded and motivated,” Foyle said. “We all carry our own unique experiences and perspectives. You can learn a lot from each other when you take a genuine interest in the differences that have brought you together.”
Most Inspirational Women Leaders of 2023
Liz Bacelar Executive Director, Global Tech Innovation, The Estée Lauder Companies
Gina Boswell Chief Executive Officer, Bath & Body Works, Inc.
Emma Butler CEO & Founder, Liberare
Mary Dillon President and CEO, Foot Locker, Inc.
Nata Dvir Chief Merchandising Officer, Macy’s
Shai Eisenman Founder & CEO, Bubble Skincare
Jennifer Ford Owner and Founder, PremiumGoods. Houston
Jennifer Foyle President, Executive Creative Director, AE & Aerie
Emily Gittins Co-Founder and CEO, Archive
Jill Granoff Managing Partner, Eurazeo; CEO, Eurazeo Brands
Emma Grede CEO & Co-Founder, Good American; Founding Partner, SKIMS; Co-Founder, Safely
Bahja Johnson Head of Equality
& Belonging, Gap Inc.
Angela Lean Senior Business Program Lead, Accessible Employee Experience, Microsoft
Sharon Leite Chief Executive Officer, Ideal Image
Kory Marchisotto Chief Marketing Officer, e.l.f. Beauty; President, Keys Soulcare
Jane Hamilton Nielsen COO & CFO, Ralph Lauren Corporation
Cristina Nuñez Co-Founder & General Partner, True Beauty Ventures
Winnie Park CEO, Forever 21; Board Director, Dollar Tree Stores, Sound Point Acquisition Corp., Monica + Andy
Christiane Pendarvis Co-President and Chief Merchandising and Design Officer, Savage X Fenty
Babba Rivera Founder & CEO, Ceremonia
Kim Seymour Chief Human Resources Officer, Etsy
Sally Susman Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Executive Vice President, Pfizer
Paige Thomas Former President and CEO, Saks OFF 5TH
Janet Wang GM of Tmall Luxury Pavilion and Vice President of B2C Retail, Alibaba Group
Theresa Watts Senior Vice President Human Resources, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, True Religion Brand Jeans
Janey Whiteside Partner & CEO, Consello Growth and Business Development