Looking Back, Moving Forward, and Speaking Out: Lessons on Leadership from Three Different Generations of Women

Looking Back, Moving Forward, and Speaking Out: Lessons on Leadership from Three Different Generations of Women

By Abby Homer

Seventy different nations have been led by female heads of state, but this year’s Fortune 500 list was dominated by a staggering 96% of companies operating under male CEOs. Over the years, women have transitioned from fighting for respect in the workplace to demanding it; but there’s still ground to cover. On the heels of International Women’s Day, LaunchSquad hosted a panel with SheEO, a network dedicated to supporting female entrepreneurs, and client Zinc, a communication platform for “deskless” field workers. The panel, titled “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: Female Leaders and Their Stories,” brought together four women – across three generations – who broke down barriers in male-dominated industries and experienced distinctly nuanced challenges along the way. Bringing their personal inspirations, successes, failures, and fears from the past several decades, the event offered a glimpse into the variety of experiences these women accrued over the course of their careers.

1. Millennial Alice Brooks, entrepreneur and founder of Roominate, represented the youngest end of the spectrum. As a “Millennial,” Alice received her Bachelor’s degree at MIT and her Master’s at Stanford in Mechanical Engineering – something that interested her even from the time that she was a young girl. She remarked on an unlikely, favorite belonging of hers as a child: a saw. Fascinated by the idea of building things, she was always encouraged to explore the sciences, and was inspired by her mother – herself a role model for Alice as an immigrant from Thailand and now a professor in the U.S. – to pursue those interests. Seeing the differences in how boys and girls approach circuits, electricity, and the basics of engineering at a young age, Alice wanted to create a toy line that would foster young girls’ interests in the STEM fields. First funded through a Kickstarter in 2012, Roominate was profiled on “Shark Tank”, where Alice and her co-founder successfully landed their pitch with an investment from Mark Cuban. Alice discussed how she built her company from the ground up, and the challenges she faced in meeting with potential investors as a young woman entrepreneur.

One piece of advice from Alice: Confidence is key, and preparation is the key to being confident.

2. Generation X Obi Felten, Head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world (aka director of early stage projects) at X (fka Google X), moderated the discussion. Hailing from Germany, Obi is a startup mentor and angel investor focused on supporting women entrepreneurs through the SheEO venture network. Obi discussed her experiences as a female leader working under male superiors, and the common misjudgement that women are “bossy and aggressive” while men exhibiting the same behaviors are seen as “strong and powerful.”

One piece of advice from Obi: Don’t be afraid to call out your male co-workers if you think they’re perpetuating a double standard.

Like Obi, Zinc CEO Stacey Epstein is also a SheEO activator, and falls into the middling “Generation X.” Stacey began her career in an entry-level sales role at Oracle, quickly rising through the ranks to lead marketing teams at large companies like SuccessFactors and ServiceMax. Once she began to recognize the burgeoning need for improved communication in the field service industries, she went on to head up Zinc as CEO. Stacey remarked on balancing her time as an executive and a mother to two young girls, and the challenges that come with excelling in both. Noting that being a strong leader and mother is often about compromise, she discussed the importance of valuing your own time alongside that of your team’s and your family’s – and mentioning that keeping personal routines and goals is a must. Referring back to her long-time mantra, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” Stacey’s happy to see women in the upcoming generations more confidently pursue roles in traditionally male-dominated fields: “When you bring women to the table, you bring a little more empathy, and sensitivity – and that’s a good thing.”

One piece of advice from Stacey: Believe in your worth, be proactive, and go after what you want. Don’t be afraid to demand respect.

3. Baby Boomer Rounding out the panel, LaunchSquad welcomed “Baby Boomer” Diane Rowland, EVP of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and nationally recognized health policy expert. Diane’s career started on an unsteady path when her high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade her from attending a competitive college, telling her she would “just be getting married anyway.” Ignoring his warnings, Diane chose to attend Wellesley College and attributes the decision to much of her success – which would grow to include a number of publications, high-ranking government positions, and her current position overseeing the Kaiser Family Foundation’s health policy for the low-income, elderly, and disabled. Diane discussed some of the changes she’s seen in the several decades since she began her professional journey in the 1970s – including the expectation that she be a secretary in her first job offering – to the more general acceptance and promotion of women leaders. She did note that there is a long way to go as we strive for gender equality, highlighting the importance of strong female role models, mentors, and women empowering one another.

One piece of advice from Diane: Women need to support other women, and make sure we give each other the confidence and resources to advance, together.

2017 and The Next Generations These women’s stories provide valuable historical context and further insight into how women are perceived in the workplace today. Sharing their experiences navigating the professional waters, we learned how each of these leaders were able to address gender biases, find mentors, achieve their goals, and become advocates for female leadership. By imparting practical knowledge and offering words of advice, the panelists paid forward their lessons-learned – leaving the audience with the renewed ability and inspiration to create real change, and champion women’s empowerment and equality moving forward.

For more from the panel, view our FB Live broadcast here or check out #mygeneration on our Twitter @LaunchSquad.

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