March 8 is International Women’s Day, a chance to reflect on the significant gains women have achieved in our global community. While full equality remains a daily struggle, more women than ever are holding office, starting their own businesses, earning college degrees, receiving their due credit, and pushing for equal pay.
I’m so thankful for all the strong and wonderful women I’ve gotten to know over the past year — women that remind me to dream big, never compromise, and stay committed to my values. So in honor of International Women’s Day, we asked five of these amazing women to share their insights and offer advice to help other women achieve their business goals.
Below you’ll hear from:
Wynne Reece, a lawyer who founded a firm designed to offer small business owners affordable and approachable legal counsel.
Carolyn Rodz, an innovator who created a business to connect aspiring founders with the resources they need to be successful.
Christina Sass, an entrepreneur who trains and recruits software engineers in Africa and pairs them with global tech companies.
Masha Zvereva, an educator who empowers women to choose and excel in the tech industry by making it fun and accessible.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a woman? How do you overcome it?
Finney: As a woman of color with comparable credential as others in the room, there’ve been plenty of times I’ve been asked to justify my presence. Instead of putting myself in situations like that, I’ve learned to focus on organizations that support people who look like me. Everything else is a distraction. This type of solid, supportive network is vital.
Reece: It may sound cliché, but the biggest business challenge I face is being a woman in a male-dominated industry. I wish there were an easy answer to overcome this, but it just takes a consistent and concerted effort — from the way I envision my practice to the plans I have for the future and the support I surround myself with. For the most part I just have to face everything head on, garner a bruise or two, and just keep going.
Rodz: Honestly, it's trying to be as good of a mother as my mom was to me, while at the same time as good of a CEO as my father was to his business. We're lucky, as women, to have so many roles opening up to us, but it also means we have to make difficult choices every day. I’ve learned over the years that it isn't about pleasing everyone else, and that as long as I feel balanced, everything else typically falls into place.
Sass: What I’m currently struggling with is how we create systemic change after #metoo. The last few years have demonstrated just how architectural the harassment of women truly is. Entrenched systems have protected perpetrators for decades, and 60% of women in tech still report unwanted harassment in the workplace. How are we not completely outraged by this? To overcome this, we start by talking about it; state outright that you want your business to be a great place for women to work. Next, ask the women in your company for anonymous feedback on how your policies and culture are working for them, then update your policies accordingly.
Zvereva: My biggest challenge is the person living inside my head. I have to constantly remind her that it’s OK to stretch outside of my comfort zone despite her feeling vulnerable. Our relationship has improved over time, though. The more I take risks that pay off, the more she trusts me.
What’s one thing we can all do to support women as leaders?
Finney: Share their stories. Amplify their visibility. Hearing about women leaders inspires more to rise from the ranks and keeps the momentum going.
Reece: Challenge them, but in the right way. Believe they’re more capable than even they think they are.
Rodz: Give them honest feedback. For some reason, we’ve been told women are soft and emotional, but the reality is that we’re strong and resilient. We need the truth, even when it's difficult to hear.
Sass: People take cues from whom you hire, fire, and promote. The best way to support other women is to hire and promote top performing women based on merit, and then talk loudly about how and why you made those decisions.
Zvereva: Collaborate instead of competing. Build a community, share ideas, and help each other — because that's the only way to elevate everyone's level.
What career advice do you have for girls growing up today?
Finney: Let your true self shine! I’ve been in your shoes, and I know too well how we’re conditioned to make ourselves small, to shrink, to become invisible so our presence doesn’t take up too much room or offend someone. But by becoming less than who you truly are, you’re doing the world a disservice.
Reece: Keep an open mind, be innovative, and don't back down. Embrace failure and obstacles; you’ll only be stronger for facing them.
Rodz: Every job you have opens up new opportunities. Give it your all, but keep your eyes open until you find your real passion. Work hard, but never settle.
Sass: Pay attention to how your work environment makes you feel. This is not to say it should feel easy — you should always be pushed to grow — but you should feel that your opinion matters and that you and your colleagues share similar values. You should feel that you belong.
Zvereva: Treat obstacles as opportunities. Every experience gives you something new, and you're the only person who can take advantage of that.
Who inspires you?
Finney: People who continue to pursue their dreams, even when the world says their dreams aren’t possible. Several founders in our BIG Incubator are balancing work with families, and a lot pulls on their time and energy — yet they’ve found the time to pursue their dream of building a company.
Reece: Off the bat I’d say Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, and Emma Watson. But reflecting further, I think about some of the students I've taught, quite a few of my clients, and my pseudo-godmother Cindy, a fierce attorney, loyal friend, and dedicated mentor. All of these people — if you take away the frills, the prestige, the honors — are genuinely good humans who care about making this world a better place.
Rodz: My grandmother, who is a force as a business owner and matriarch in Bolivia, but also reserved much of her life to have fun, travel, and experience the world. I remember visiting her bread factories and stores as a child and watching as she made sure every oven was meticulously clean and every shelf was perfectly stocked, all while gaining the respect and admiration of her employees. She is an incredibly strong woman in a 90-pound frame, with a confidence I'll forever admire.
Sass: I’m lucky to have mentors that both cheer me on and give me tough love when needed. To name two specifically, Ann Cotton, Founder of CAMFED, is a tireless advocate for girls education who did it long before it was cool or anyone was taking notice. And Julia Gillard, a former Prime Minister of Australia. I've watched her famous Parliamentary speech on misogyny about 1,000 times and it still give me chills, infuriates me, and inspires me to improve these realities for future generations.
Zvereva: Female Founders. They each have their own story of perseverance, and they push through no matter what, proving everyone who has doubted them wrong. I find that incredibly inspiring and love learning about more incredible women out there.
So this Friday, March 8, in honor of International Women’s Day, practice kindness, confidence, and bravery — but also remember those wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
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