Aussies Shemara Wikramanayake and Elizabeth Gaines make World’s Most Powerful Women list


Macquarie Group chief executive officer Shemara Wikramanayake. Source: Macquarie.

Macquarie Group CEO Shemara Wikramanayake and Fortescue Metals CEO Elizabeth Gaines both feature on Fortune’s annual World’s Most Powerful Women list — the only Australians in a group of 50.

A second list was published earlier this week, featuring women from the United States exclusively.

Below, we share a few things to know about Wikramanayake and Gaines, as well as some of the women in business to make a debut this year.

Shemara Wikramanayake: 9th most powerful woman

UK-born Wikramanayake joined Macquarie Group in 1987 at the age of 25 and was appointed the group head of Macquarie Asset Management before taking over the reigns as CEO in 2018.

She has since established offices in New Zealand, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and pushed the emerging asset management arm of the business to become the bank’s most profitable venture. She is also the first Asian-Australian woman to head an ASX 200 company.

This year is her second year as CEO and she has her eyes set on making a smooth transition to green energy, directing investments toward renewables and climate-resilient solutions.

Her climate and environmental commitments stretch beyond Macquarie Group.

She is a member of the World Bank-led Global Commission on Adaptation and the UN’s Climate Finance Leadership Initiative.

She is also advising the Australian government on green technology investment.

In an interview with CEO Magazine in March this year, Wikramanayake opened up about her personal family life.

“I married late, in my late-30s, and had children then, and my husband elected to be the primary carer in the family,” Wikramanayake said. “That’s made for a lot of interesting role modelling.”

“So our son, when he was little, and we asked him what he wants to do when he grew up, he said, ‘I’m going to be a normal person like my daddy,’ and when I said, ‘what will you do for money?’ he said, ‘my wife will work’.

“Whereas our daughter wanders around with her high-heel shoes and briefcase, saying ‘when I grow up, I’m going to be the boss of everyone’.

“I missed out on the time being primary carer for my children, but they are happy, well-adjusted children.”

Elizabeth Gaines

Fortescue Metals chief executive officer Elizabeth Gaines. Source: Fortescue Metals Group.

Elizabeth Gaines: 17th most powerful woman

Elizabeth Gaines took over the helm of the mining giant Fortescue Metals Group back in November 2017.

The company has more than 11,000 employees, is the world’s fourth-largest iron ore miner, and reported record earnings for its fiscal year ending mid-2020, with $12.8 billion in revenue.

The 108% increase in the company’s share price has been driven by accelerating iron ore prices and enormous demand from China.

Gaines was born in 1963 in Kimberley and is the daughter of a school principal.

Her earliest years were spent living in Halls Creek — a town of roughly 1,500 people on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert in the north-east corner of Western Australia.

After five years working in investment banking in London, Gaines returned to Perth where she became the finance general manager at Heytesbury, a family-owned West Australian company that invests in Australian businesses.

Gaines believes it has been her compassionate leadership style that has navigated her company successfully through the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Fortescue Metals Group has sent more than 1 million text messages, offering words of support or information on COVID-19 management measures, to employees and stakeholders.

Gaines is also an outspoken advocate for calling out sexism in the industry and has in the past called for increasing the representation of women in the mining sector.

In the last week alone, Gaines has called out the presence of “skimpies” (women wearing little clothing while serving drinks in Kalgoorlie bars) at the annual Diggers & Dealers conference, where just three of the 56 speakers were female.


More than nine women made it onto the World’s Most Powerful Women list for the first time this year, including CEOs from Sweden, the UK, France and Germany.

Helena Helmersson and Allison Kirkby were the two new additions from Sweden.

Helmersson became the CEO of clothing giant H&M in January this year, and was elected Sweden’s ‘Most Powerful Woman in Business’ in 2014 by a Swedish business magazine.

Kirkby was appointed CEO of Telia, a Swedish multinational telecommunications company, in May 2020, and has previously been on boards at BT, Reach for Change and 21st Century Fox.

Another notable new addition is Catherine MacGregor, CEO of Engie, who was only appointed earlier this month. She is now the only female boss in France’s CAC 40 benchmark stock index.

Engie is a French multinational electric utility company, established in 2008, which operates in 70 countries across 5 continents.

Nicke Widyawati, CEO of Indonesia’s giant state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina, also made it onto the list for the first time.

Widyawati leads a company that consists of over 30,000 employees, which was ranked 175th in Fortune‘s Global 500 last year.

This is an edited version of an article first published by Women’s Agenda.

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