Our new appreciation for this remarkable woman stems from the way she’s the self-proclaimed “bell-ringing, banner-waving representative of generations of women who have been in the movie business and have gotten no recognition”. In a world that still expects a catfight between co-stars, that now viral image of Jamie Lee celebrating Michelle Yeoh’s win at the Golden Globes set a new bar for female friendships. It was a portrait of the purest kind of sisterhood – raw, real, riotous, selfless, and thrilling to see.
With this in mind, International Women’s Day tomorrow, and Women’s History Month all in March, we asked nine founders, leaders and creators to tell us about one woman who has made an impact on their lives. She could be a mentor, a colleague or friend, maybe even someone she’s never met but admired from afar. Either way, she’s made an indelible mark, and what better time to shout out her name than now. Here’s what they shared…
Erin Gallagher, CEO & Founder, Ella
“Blessing Adesiyan is my touchstone: as a woman, mother, founder, small business owner, wife, activist, advocate, hype woman, sister and friend. She is the Founder and CEO of MH WorkLife, a community-powered work-life care platform that is transforming benefits for employers and employee caregivers.
She inspires me to be better. She sees things in me that I often don’t see in myself. She sets the standard for what it means to be a powerful, empathetic, purpose-driven leader. I am constantly in awe of all she impacts, does and is.
Blessing is one of the first people I call when I’m in crisis. She’s also one of the first people I want to share in my success. Those friendships are rare… and I revere ours. Her sisterhood has seen me through some of my darkest moments and brightest achievements.
We show up for each other. Literally. Figuratively. Virtually. In-person. She has flown from Lagos to LA to show up for me. I have flown from San Francisco to New York to show up for her. And we’ll do it all again tomorrow.
I would walk through fire for her. She would do the same for me. And because we continue to teach each other how to be fireproof, we not only survive, we thrive. I am grateful every day that she came into my life, and I will continue to stand beside, behind and in front of her in whatever way she needs me to do the system-challenging, innovative, ground-breaking work she does every single day.”
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Vicki Engsall, Co-Founder, The Jojoba Company
“Back when I started The Jojoba Company in 2008, I had endured my fair share of life struggles, which included going through infertility, IVF and other challenges. Sally Obermeder’s lifestyle blog, that was launched soon after we launched The Jojoba Company, became an inspiration for me. Her healthy living tips, her OG green smoothies, as well as the tips in her book, Never Stop Believing, were an inspiration to me and a motivation to keep on going, even when it was tough.
I had followed Sally closely from watching her on Sydney Weekender, through her cancer and infertility battle, and out the other end to create an amazing brand, become an ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and even create her own charity Wish By SWIISH which supports women going through breast cancer.
Her journey has been inspirational to me and the way she stayed strong and true to herself, while helping and supporting others, has made a huge impact on me.”
Sepideh Nasiri, Founder & CEO, Women of MENA in Technology
“As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in March, let’s not forget about elevating those who are creating impact and making a difference. I’m so proud of the women I know, look up to and support. Each of us takes a different path in our journey of building seats and opportunities for our community.
Zahra Bahrololoumi is the CEO of UKI at Salesforce. As an Iranian woman in tech, it’s so inspiring to see someone who looks like you, is from the same background, and has achieved so much success. What an honour to know her and follow her work of bettering the workplace with her vision and mission.
Prior to joining Salesforce, Zahra worked for Accenture, where she led the technology business for the UK and Ireland, with a particular focus on transformation in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and platforms underpinning new applications. Zahra has been widely recognised throughout her career as an industry leader, including Computer Weekly’s Most Influential People in UK Tech 2022, Woman of the Year for MENA Women In Tech Awards 2022, and Most Influential Women in UK Tech 2021.
Zahra is a strong advocate for equality for all and has held many D&I [diversity and inclusion] roles across the world. She’s such an inspiration.”
Louise Stokes, Founder, Loulerie
“A woman I greatly admire and have been following for the past few years is author, podcast series host and broadcaster Elizabeth Day. In lockdown, I was under immense pressure to run my business in a totally new way, turning it 100% digital overnight, and shipping from my home every day. This was a highly pressured time for so many people and I found solace in long walks by the sea and listening to Elizabeth’s highly acclaimed podcast How To Fail.
I have learned so much from her and I think her conversation around failure is such an important one to have. She has normalised the showing of your true self, the power of vulnerability, and defining what success means to you, not what you think it should be based on outside pressure.
I also received her book, Failosophy, from my good friend Ruth, and I keep it by my bedside to remind me about the fact that failure is not always a bad thing – it’s a lesson, a part of life, and often an important part of defining your success. This has had a profound impact on me personally, and how I now view myself. It’s also helped me massively with my business as I now take a much more human, less robotic, ‘just going through the motions’ approach to life.
I also take more risks, and think more creatively, and if something doesn’t work out, I don’t focus on it. I just chalk it up to experience and move on. I now know if you’re not failing and making mistakes, you’re not growing and operating outside your comfort zone.”
Laura Gassner Otting, Author, Keynote Speaker & Executive Coach
“I am who I am today because of a few teachers who loved what they did so much that students in their classes couldn’t help but become better versions of themselves.
There was Bonnie Sipe, my 12th grade English teacher. Yeah, she made us read Beowulf, but she also didn’t let me settle for mediocrity. So, I’ll call that a draw. I had her class first thing in the morning, and I was late without fail. “An awkward start,” she called it in the yearbook I edited. Then, one day, my phone rang at the crack of dawn: “Laura, this is Ms Sipe. It’s time to get up so that you aren’t late for class.”
And she proceeded to call me for the next five mornings until finally I asked her why. “Laura, you are better than being late and mailing in the rest of your senior year. If you stumble through the rest of this year, you will stumble through life. You can write. I want to see you write.”
That was the first time I knew I could write.”
Phoebes Garland, Co-Founder & Head of Product, G X G Collective
“There are so many women I respect, it’s hard to pick one, but one of the female founders I most admire is Jane Cay from Birdsnest.com.au. In a town of roughly 8,000, Jane has created an incredible business with a beautiful team of staff who are all delights to deal with. I admire her honesty about the hard times, and her deep appreciation of her customers which has seen a retention rate of 85% of repeat customers.
Her ethos in business is beautiful and it shines through to her staff. Everyone from dispatch to accounts is a pure pleasure to deal with. She remains grounded and humble and leads by example.”
Gessica Marmotta, Personal Stylist
“I am inspired by so many women that I could pick a different woman for all 365 days of the year and keep going! So many women crusaders doing ground-breaking work for poverty, domestic violence, education, equality in all forms, reforms, caring, medicine, sports and pretty much every area now. It’s mind-blowing and impressive.
What and who have always inspired me deeply are fearless women who walk to their own beat and don’t conform. They have a certain X-factor that I admire. It was so hard to choose one; however, this year, I am choosing someone aligned with my values and also in my industry – the late, great fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Whether you like her garments or not is irrelevant, you can’t deny she was a pioneer in fashion and never a prisoner, largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashion into the mainstream.
She paved the way for people to unapologetically express themselves and have fun with it. And in a world where excess fashion is harming our environment, Vivienne became a world spokesperson for climate change and sustainability in the fashion industry, with the quote; ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last. That’s the most environmentally friendly thing you can do.’
Vivienne inspired me because from a very young age. I have had my own attitude, dreams, goals and way of style that was and still is different to others and I adopt those values when styling my clients.”
Kirsty Ghahramani, CEO, O&M
“Last year was a very personal year for me. It was about reconnecting to my identity and reprioritising what is important. To find the golden path forward I needed to be present.
I realised that making yourself a priority once in a while is not selfish – it is a necessity – and even though I have a very ambitious schedule in my day-to-day life, there is nothing more important than investing an hour a week into building strength in our connections and community.
Tory Archbold really empowered me to dive into this chapter, to really listen to what I was yearning for and to manifest what my heart desires. I have set foundations that are going to carry me for decades to come, and I have embraced connections with new people as a gateway to endless possibilities.
Tory is a genuine leader who wants to see others find their courage and succeed. Tory has held me accountable to my own personal strategy, has become my ultimate cheerleader and is extremely generous with sharing her little black book of connections which has given me the gift of very powerful conversations.
Life is a very interesting journey and sometimes, when we least expect it, all of the dots align.”
Brei Montgomery, Head of International Trade, Hort Innovation
“On International Women’s Day, I am celebrating two women who inspire me to show up, see the future of our world through their eyes, and serve to build a more equitable, diverse and inclusive world for our humanity and planet.
These two women, Summer and Elysia, are my daughters. Both in high school, they speak out about inequality that they identify – whether in the classroom or their friend groups – and openly share their concerns about climate change. They also speak about how, as a family, we can make changes to be more resourceful, as well as challenge stereotypes by getting involved in community sports that, not so long ago, were only played by men at a national level.
I have seen both of them lean in and ask for help when they are scared to try something new, feel the pressure of expectations or feel overwhelmed with the day ahead. Additionally, they are my biggest champions and are kind and empathetic when I face challenges and tough days. They also adore and are fiercely protective of their younger brother, Luca. What a gift to celebrate our daughters on International Women’s Day.
So, here’s to strong and kind women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”
Like what you’ve just read? You’ll love this. Six women leaders, one simple question: What have you changed your mind about lately?