Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Global Connections for Women Entrepreneurship Ball at the Harvard Club in Manhattan. The charity event recognized game-changing women leaders, with benefits going toward the GC4W Entrepreneurship Scholarship Fund. With access to the brilliant honorees, I was compelled to ask five of them the best advice they’ve ever received. Here’s what they responded:
Lilian Ajayi Ore, Founder and CEO of Global Connections for Women Foundation
The best advice I have ever received was from Sheryl Sandberg. It was March 13th 2013, and I was in Union Square waiting to get an autographed copy of “Lean In.” I recall being the very last person in line, but I was determined to meet her and get my book signed. I walked up and she immediately asked me for my name and what I did. I had just started the Global Connections for Women Foundation (GC4W), and balancing my personal, work, and founder goals. I shared how I had just started an organization to support women and girls globally, and she leaned over and wrote in my book, “Lean In, Lilian.” To me, those words meant never giving up in spite of the challenges and obstacles. It also meant recognizing the value of what I was trying to create for women and girls, and my failure to see it through would have a significant impact.
Part of “leaning in,” she writes, is “find[ing] someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious.” As entrepreneurs, I believe that our significant others have a tremendous impact on what becomes of us and our business endeavor. I remember meeting my now-husband, and how supportive he was from the very start about my academic career, my work at GC4W, and educational pursuits. He’s supported me in a way that makes being the goal-oriented entrepreneur that I am today even more possible.
Heather Hartnett, CEO and Founding Partner of Human Ventures
From a young age, my parents told me, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” It instilled in me an understanding and acceptance that we can’t control everything that comes at us, but we can control our reaction to it. This advice comes to mind any time I feel the inevitable turbulence of the world of startups. I remind myself how important it is to be centered in myself, my values, and my beliefs, and I encourage all of the founders building at Human Ventures to tap into that same part of their core.
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Kathleen Griffith, Founder and CEO of Grayce & Co
Starting out I felt so hungry to find my ‘purpose’, but as we all know, life has a plan for when that will hit you – and it is rarely on your terms. So, I turned to a quote from Diane von Furstenberg: “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the woman I wanted to be.” That I could envision, and that brought comfort.
Many years later, life winked at me and I got to have a business meeting with this woman whose quote I had stared at for so long. Looming behind a 20-foot desk (while I sat in front of her), surrounded by color, bracelets jangling as she emphasized every point, she taught me an even greater lesson: she showed me a woman who was brutally direct, pointed in her questions and tough – but at the same time, utterly graceful, gushingly complimentary (of me) and generous, wrapping me in a beautiful lavender leopard print scarf before she spun me out the door. She taught me as women we can be multifaceted, profound contradictions and that is not only okay – it is fundamentally, absolutely necessary. Sometimes the best advice of all isn’t dispensed; it’s demonstrated.
Janett Liriano, CEO of LOOMIA
1) Be confident, not confrontational in asking for what you deserve. Women entrepreneurs have unique and powerful perspectives to offer every industry, and walking in that power means walking with confidence – not arrogance or fear.
2) Be sure to ASK.
3) Be willing to walk away from things that cease to align with your values and mission.One of the most challenging things to do saying NO.
4.) There is no such thing as making a good deal with bad people.
5.) Compromises of character are not worth any cost
6) In general, be steadfast in your principles, and trust yourself. There are so many books on strategy, fundraising, product development etc. The most important, and in my opinion least emphasized, is preserving a positive, value-based sense of self.
Lana Pozhidaeva, Founder of WeTalks
Before founding WE Talks, I used to attend different types of networking events for women around New York. I kept meeting many successful women who had graduated from top business schools and were pursuing amazing careers. I felt very intimidated and insecure because I’m not from the US and didn’t go to school here, nor do I come from a corporate background.
I shared my insecurity with Stacy Martin, founder of Flatiron Works – an innovative consulting and coaching firm focused on entrepreneurs. She told me, “Lana, it’s great that you’re not from here. It’s great that you didn’t go to business school here. It’s great that you’re Russian. Use it all to your advantage. Your biggest asset is that you’re not like everyone else.” Her encouragement helped me create an all-inclusive community that embraces these differences so that everyone feels welcome and included. I think our inclusiveness is the main reason why WE Talks grew so fast without any marketing dollars spent.
Tennille Amor, Cofounder of E.P.I.C.
The best piece of advice that I ever received was probably from my dad when I was dealing with one of my earliest disappointments. He told me that the highs in life wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if we didn’t also experience the lows. The simplicity of that explanation impacted me at a young age, and has stayed with me throughout my adult life. I still struggle with immediately reminding myself of it when I’m going through some of my lower moments, but it has often given me the hope I need to keep moving forward when things become difficult to handle. Life is of course filled with ups and downs, but our ability and willingness to ride the wave will determine the outcome of our experience.
by Megan Bruneau