17 Nov 2020

 Renowned microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, a trusted advisor during New Zealand’s fight against COVID-19, has been named the Supreme Winner of the 2020 Women of Influence Awards.

The associate professor at Auckland University was chosen from a wealth of inspirational women who are excelling on the local and international stage, at the eighth annual Awards at Auckland’s Aotea Centre this evening.

The scientist’s accessible and evidence-led commentary about staying safe during the pandemic helped ease the nation’s anxiety and became the basis for World Health Organisation communications tools.

“I want to thank all of you, because you all did what we asked you to do, and we’re really, really grateful you listened,” Dr Wiles said upon accepting the award.

“I’m so privileged I’m in a position to have the skills and the knowledge to help us get to where we are, because February and March were pretty scary times.  But I want to remind you that it’s not over yet, so please keep scanning that app and hopefully next year is going to be a better year for all of us.”

The Women of Influence Awards, jointly presented by Westpac NZ and Stuff, attracted 339 nominations across 10 categories this year.

Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher said the judges were impressed not just by the leadership Dr Wiles has shown this year, but her strong advocacy for other women in science.

"What I admire about Siouxsie, as well as her undoubted expertise in her field, is how she has persevered through all sorts of personal attacks and trolling to ensure the incredibly important facts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we need to do, are communicated clearly and articulately,” Ms Boucher said.

“In a year where dangerous conspiracies and false information about COVID-19 were rife, where people had high levels of anxiety and fear, Siouxsie has rightly become one of our most trusted and respected voices. She has had an incredible influence on how we have all understood and responded to one of the greatest challenges of our era.”

Westpac NZ Chief Executive David McLean said the quality and diversity of nominations were improving every year.

“We’re faced with a raft of social, environmental and economic challenges right now, and Kiwi women are at the forefront of the response. With that in mind, I can’t think of a more deserving winner than Siouxsie,” Mr McLean said.

“Whether it’s confronting our domestic violence problem, mobilising the climate change movement or helping young people get more engaged in their financial future, all our category winners deserve to be celebrated for their amazing work.”

In addition to the category winners, New Zealand’s first female MP of Pacific Island descent, Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, was presented with a lifetime achievement award for her decades of service to the Pasifika community.

Full list of 2020 Women of Influence Award winners

Supreme winner and Innovation, Science & Health: Siouxsie Wiles, microbiologist and leader during COVID-19 pandemic with accessible and evidence-led commentary.

Arts & Culture: Parris Goebel, award-winning musical director and choreographer who’s worked with some of the music industry’s biggest stars.

Board & Management: Dame Alison Paterson, trailblazing businesswoman, company director and “Grande Dame of Governance” with almost half a century of experience on boards.

Business Enterprise: Brooke Roberts and Sonya Williams, co-founders of micro-investing company Sharesies, credited with making investing more accessible to tens of thousands of Kiwis.

Community Hero: Ranjna Patel, domestic violence campaigner working with police to identify at-risk men and help them change their behaviour.

Diversity: Tupe Solomon-Tanoa'i, helping finance criminal justice and family law research; campaigner for cultural recognition and inclusion.

Global: Jane Kelsey, law professor, leading academic and commentator on neoliberalism and international trade policies.

Public Policy: Una Jagose, Solicitor-General embedding Māori language and values in Crown Law; first female GCSB Acting Head.

Rural: Trish Fraser, soil scientist, Plant & Food Research, leads a team of scientists to help improve the productivity and sustainability of Kiwi farms.

Young Leader: Aigagalefili Fepulea'i Tapua'i, climate change and social equality campaigner, author and poet, head girl at Aorere College.

Lifetime achievement: Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, Pasifika community leader and New Zealand’s first female Pacific Island MP.