On June 14, I was honored to moderate a panel of nine truly spectacular women at The United State of Women summit presented by The White House. The panel, which was entitled “A Conversation with Trailblazers: Making the Case for Gender Diversity across Industries and Sectors,” included extraordinary women who have shattered barriers in arenas from business to martial arts to technology to football to the military.
As president and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a company devoted to improving the workplace for women everywhere, I was heartfully inspired by these women, and also deeply grateful for their courage and perseverance. Their words were wise and generous, and so I hope to share some of them here with you:
1. Take Risks.
To kick off the session, Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Global Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, encouraged the group to take risks. As she writes in one of her books, Expect to Win, “there is never any real danger in taking well-thought-out calculated risks….Most people look back and regret not taking a risk.” Risk-taking was one of the primary themes that emerged from session. It’s clear that progress and advancement are strongly linked to a willingness to embrace risk.
In a profound example of risk-taking, Erica Baker, Build and Release Engineer at Slack Technologies, confessed to having ignited something of a revolution inside the walls of Google when she exposed pay discrepancies by creating a Google Sheet on which Googlers could share their salaries with their peers. Erica’s risk, though perhaps not popular with her former employer, established her as an up-and-coming talent in the tech space and helped create progress for many women in tech around the issue of the gender wage gap.
2. Take the high ground.
General Ann E. Dunwoody*, US Army, Ret. told me a story about how she advanced up the ranks in the Army as a distinguished paratrooper and as a company commander, and was promoted to Major and ordered to report to the 82nd Airborne Division. Yet when she arrived at Fort Bragg, she was shunned while “closed-door meetings were held to determine what to do with me,” the General writes in her book on Leadership, A Higher Standard.
7. Ignite Progress by Taking Action.
In addition to her day job as CEO of Joyus, a video shopping startup, tech veteran Sukhinder Singh Cassidy built an organization called theBoardlist which is committed to placing more women in seats on boards of tech companies. Sukhinder deduced that despite a clear case for improved ROI when women take board seats, approximately 70% of private funded tech boards have no woman member -- mainly because the male founders lack strong female candidates from their networks. So she set out to make a difference. By building theBoardlist, not only did Sukhinder draw attention to this important cause, she helped facilitate the solution.
This diverse and wise group of women shared thoughtful and personal advice, and it was empowering just to hear them share their stories. However, as Anne Toth astutely remarked, “we look forward to the day when these events are no longer about celebrating firsts.” With trailblazers like these, that day can’t be very far away.
*NOTE: General Dunwoody was scheduled to appear as a part of the panel on June 14, but was unable to attend due to time conflicts. She related her experiences to me separately.
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