Every year, when March rolls around and International Women’s Day with it, our social feeds are flooded with shout-outs, campaigns, promotions, challenges and inspiring content honoring the incredible achievements of women around the world. The importance of these public pronouncements isn’t lost on me; they’re a marker of the progress that we’ve made and a reminder of the barriers that still exist.
But each March, I’m always struck by the contrast between the flurry of activity and the subsequent slowing of the celebration come April. This movement—and others—that honors those who have historically been marginalized isn’t about one day or one month. It’s about the actions we make towards making things better and the everyday recognition we give to those we’ve learned from, leaned on, or were simply inspired by.
With that, during this first week of April, I’m grabbing the #IWD baton and continuing the conversation by spotlighting some badass women I had the honor of interviewing throughout our Icons in the Making podcast. There were many gems in each of these conversations, but these are the ones that stuck with me.
01 | “We all start from somewhere.” –Archana Sristy, Sr. Director, Blockchain Platforms, Walmart Tech
Archana is responsible for software engineering and operations for Walmart’s Blockchain Platforms team. When I asked her to comment on the daunting challenge of breaking into this new field she said, “I know that it may not always be easy for women to carve out their space in technology. But my advice would be to just pull up a chair and join the conversation.” Pulling up a chair is easier said than done. So many of us are too cautious about overstepping our boundaries, being seen as “too eager” or even out of line. But Archana reminded me that we need diverse representation in order to build transformational technologies that will shape our future. She then quoted the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I love that. Just take the first step. After all, we all start from somewhere.
02 | “You can do this.” –Lavina Talukdar, Senior Vice President, Head Investor Relations at Moderna
When Lavina applied to a job-posting on LinkedIn to become the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at Moderna, she had little to no direct experience in IR. But she was seasoned in the biotech industry and was an investor and believer in mRNA technology. She told me, “In my prior experiences, I often liaised with investor relations representatives, and I knew who the effective ones were and why. I had a clear vision of what I could bring to the table, and I decided to reach out to the CEO directly.”
This was 11 months before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and at a time when Moderna had zero commercial products on the market. But Lavina had confidence in her capabilities, in the company and most importantly in her own instincts. During our conversation, Lavina and I spoke about how often society puts people into boxes based on where they grew up, how they look or even what schools they’ve studied at. “This is why I’m very anti-pedigree,” Lavina said.
“Diversity of thought, to me, comes from diversity of backgrounds, environment and upbringing. And you can’t get there if everyone is the same.” Immediately following her note to CEO Stephane Bancel, she got a response. The two spoke at length about the role and Lavina convinced Stephane why she was the right fit at the right time. Of course, it doesn’t always work out this way, but what Lavina reminded me was not to limit where we might go tomorrow based on where we are today. You never know where your unique talents and experiences are most needed.
03 | “There’s still miles for us to go in being more unapologetic.” –Lara Mendonça, Senior Manager Product Design, Twitter
I was blown away by the words of wisdom coming from this incredible designer who has barely hit 3 decades on this planet. Lara has been open about her upbringing in Brazil, her sexuality, and her struggles with ADHD. In our conversation, I commented on how confident she seemed in her own skin and how impressed I was given how many of us still struggle to bring our “authentic selves” to work every day. She admitted, “I’m not going to say it was easy to get where I am…as a teenager, I was constantly trying to fit a mold and I was really unhappy. It took years to undo some of those behaviors and have the confidence to truly be who I am in the workplace. So, what I tell people is you are not obligated to bring your full self to work, if you don’t feel confident that it’s a good business decision.” Lara talked about the importance of finding a company where you can unapologetically be who you are, which for her, was Bumble and now Twitter. She said, “I can tell them who I actually am and what I’m unhappy about and what accommodations I need. And they either listen or I walk.” Just like that. No apologies.
04 | “Take it and appreciate it because it goes by really quickly.” –Kate Barney, Head of HR, Americas & Global Functions, TikTok
This lesson is one we can apply to when we take a vacation, a sabbatical, a continuing education course or simply one friggin day off. In the case of my conversation with Kate, we were talking about maternity leave. At the time, Kate was actually out on her own mat leave—her second one—and with the baby monitor safely by her side, we spoke about the difference between her first and second time around. “I had a lot more anxiety around being out the first time,” she said. I could relate, although, I admit I was nervous during both my maternity leaves and opted to cut my second one short to 10 weeks so I wouldn’t miss out on a big project that I was asked to lead. Kate spoke about the many worries that ran through her mind the first time, “Am I going to be replaced. Am I going to be seen as working hard enough? Should I really take all of this leave? Will I be seen differently when I return?” We both acknowledged that you never get that time back and so it was great to hear Kate talk about how much more comfortable she felt the second time around (although given the breakneck pace of growth TikTok is experiencing, she joked, “Who knows, maybe when I return it will be a different company!”). It’s when we step back to take a breather that we learn how to trust our teams. They don’t need you to micromanage them while you’re out and it’s actually a really great opportunity for people to step up and take on new responsibilities and gain exposure to things that they might not have otherwise. If I could do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t have cut my time short.
05 | “Don’t let fear stop you.” –Christina Wootton, Head of Brand Partnerships, Roblox
I’ll never forget the first time I read Anne Marie Slaughter’s article,“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It felt like a punch to the gut. At the time, I had two young boys, a new job and disciplined way of tightly managing it all with a smile. But what I learned by talking to my colleagues and friends who were also in the “juggle,” was that there is liberation from recognizing that you can have it all—just not at the same time. In our conversation, Christina, who has been with the now red-hot brand Roblox for over eight years said, “I have three boys, and just trying to balance my career with also being a working mom is so hard. I go from waking up to spending time with the kids to working to putting the kids to bed to working again. And it’s very exhausting. But if you love what you’re doing then it’s all worth it.” We put so much pressure on ourselves, especially as working mothers that it seems our efforts are never good enough. But Christina reminded me that they are: “Don’t let the fear of thinking whether you can do it stop you.” This is important to remember, even if some days it feels like we’re hanging by a thread.
06 | “Find your difference and own it.” –Arianna Orpello, Head of Marketing, Consumer Bank/Marcus by Goldman Sachs
When speaking with Arianna, it was one amazing piece of advice after another. “Find your difference and own it. Great brands do that. Great people do that. That’s rocket fuel for your career.” This, said Arianna, is one thing that has stuck with her throughout her storied career. As a mentor to so many, she says she encourages others around her to do the same. “Don’t try to be like me …find what makes you different and special and own the hell out of it, because that is what’s going to get you into the places you want to get into.” She explained, “Instead of focusing on the weaknesses that we all have, which we tend to do as humans, we need to find that difference and own it.” Owning our own voice and our distinct form of leadership is not always an easy task. But Arianna reminded me to keep practicing, just like any other skill. To slowly move past the fear and embrace the quiet confidence that comes from being comfortable in your own skin. In her words, “It’s all about running to things versus running away.”
I have so much respect for these women—and so many others—whose advice I keep close by as I navigate each day. So, here’s to all you amazing women out there, whether you’re early in your career or beaming at the top. I see you and salute you, today and every day.