From our Black Summer to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent floods, the 2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards fittingly celebrated the female leaders who led us through these crises.

Among the few hundred guests gathered last night at the Swissotel Sydney, there were 34 finalists across nine different categories, with women sharing experiences over a diversity of industries, ethnicities and ages.

“For many young people, particularly women of colour, they can’t be what they can’t see. I hope I can encourage them to take their place in the spotlight,” said Susana Ng, winner of the Emerging Leader in the Public & University Sector.

Soon after, Indian Australian woman Mani Thiru took to the stage to accept her victory for leading the Aerospace & Satellite Solutions team at Amazon Web Services.

“I didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared, but I’ll act like a man and wing it,” Ms Thiru told the audience.

“They always stand there like ‘I deserve it,’ and I deserve it!”

Intertwined with the celebration was the continuing strive for progress.

“When you walk into a newsroom, you’d think you walked into a Ku Klux Klan meeting,” said journalist Antoinette Lattouf, a leading advocate for diversity in the media.

Lattouf, who won the NFP category for her work as the director and co-founder of Media Diversity Australia, is currently writing a similarly quick-witted title, ‘How to Lose Friends and Influence White People’.

“Having women in positions of power has contributed to this reckoning. I want that reckoning to extend to people of colour in the media,” she added.

The evening made clear the journey to achieving progress could not be a lonely one. Winner of the climate category, Joanna Dodds, is president of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action.

“Climate action, like so many other missions women are on, is not something we can do alone,” she said.

2021 Women's Agenda Leadership Awards at the Swissotel Sydney.

2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards at the Swissotel Sydney. Photo: Eve Cogan


The awards are presented by Women’s Agenda, a completely female owned and run media outlet, and are designed to honour and promote leadership needed for the decade ahead. Winners were chosen by the 2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards judging panel.

The ceremony also featured a guest panel, including ABC’s Louise Milligan, who has led the coverage of workplace culture inside Parliament House and the child sex abuse allegations faced by Cardinal George Pell.

“Being a female, you come up against a lot of things, but mostly, you come up against men,” she said.

Capturing the night’s sentiment, she added: “As someone who has been wading through misery, this has been so heart-warming.”

Four of the Women's Agenda Leadership Awards panellists.

The panellists. Photo: Supplied by @WomensAgenda


Full list of awards

Emerging Leader in the Public & University Sector: Susana Ng (Instigator and convener of the International Student Leadership and Ambassadors Program and the NSW Anti-Racism Working Group)

Emerging Leader in Climate: Joanna Dodds (President of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action)

Emerging Entrepreneur: Priyanka Ashraf (Founder and Director of The Creative Co-Operative, dedicated to lifting the economic access barriers faced by migrant women of colour)

Emerging Leader in NFP: Antoinette Lattouf (Network 10 journalist and the Director and co-founder of Media Diversity Australia)

Emerging Leader in Tech: Naureen Alam (Senior Manager of Future Business and Technology at AGL, change-makering in the clean energy industry)

Emerging Leader in the Private Sector: Mani Thiru (APAC Business Lead within the Aerospace & Satellite Solutions team at Amazon Web Services)

Emerging Leader in Health: Esha Oberoi (Founder CEO of Afea Care Services, a national disability care provider)

Emerging Leader in STEM: Francine Marques (A National Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow at Monash University)

Agenda Setter of the Year: Aminata Conteh-Biger (The representative for Australia UNHCR and founder of the Aminata Maternal Foundation working in Sierra Leone)

Main picture: Susana Ng. Photo: supplied by @WomensAgenda