In 2015, actress Reese Witherspoon gave a poignant speech upon accepting Glamour’s Woman of the Year Award; elegant in its simplicity, her speech drove home the point that American industries across the country are in crisis, and the reason for this crisis is both the utter lack of female participation and collaboration across all industries and the fundamental lack of respect our culture has for the contributions women make therein.
“I think we are in a culture crisis in every field,” Witherspoon stated, “In every industry, women are underrepresented and underpaid in leadership positions. Under 5 percent of CEOs of fortune 500 companies are women. Only 19 percent of Congress is women.”
Across the country and in every industry, female leaders are taking matters into their own hands, creating and exploring innovative new markets in fashion, film, health care, and so much more. It takes grit and resilience to not just survive but thrive in an ambitious new venture, but fortunately, these ladies have it in spades.
Natasha Davis is a marketing leader at Azazie, an ecommerce bridal retailer that is on a mission to revolutionize the way women shop for formalwear. She shares that Azazie echoes Witherspoon’s assertion that women should start creating their own spaces and standards of operation: “Too often, women think they have to take up as little space as possible and keep their opinions and emotions in check. But Azazie is in the business of empowering and celebrating women, and we practice what we preach internally as well. Our company is built on a foundation of support and openness. Every single person on our team is encouraged to speak up, while respecting the opinions of others.”
And Azazie isn’t just striving to change the way women are perceived in the workplace; they’re drastically altering the way brides shop for wedding gowns. Their innovative e-commerce platform allows brides, bridesmaids, and other formal dress shoppers to order custom-sized, expertly crafted gowns online, without ever having to step foot into a brick and mortar dress shop.
Fashion as an industry is ripe for innovation, of course. Designer and branding consultant Nova Lorraine launched Raine Magazine in 2007, promising to feature the next big names in fashion, culture, and technology around the world.
“Making the choice to go for my dreams and enter the fashion space, one of the most competitive fields out there, without a background in the industry, contacts, or financial backing and eventually building a media company from scratch was all due to resilience,” Nova Lorraine explains. She was pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology when she realized her passion for creating was pulling her in a different direction. She enrolled in F.I.T. in New York to study fashion design, and the rest is history.
“Over the years, the journey as a designer and consultant led me to discovering a need in the market for a platform for entrepreneurs who are in the creative industries,” Nova shares. “Some key factors to my grit include not taking no for an answer, always being prepared and ready for future opportunities, and offering kindness and knowledge to fellow peers and young students. All these have helped me forge a path to achieving my daily mission of inspiring others through my love for fashion and creativity.”
Of course, women are revolutionizing more than just the fashion industry. JOANY is using machine intelligence and data to make buying health insurance a simpler, more transparent process, offering unbiased recommendations for purchasing the most affordable health care plan customers will actually use. JOANY’s platform crunches the numbers between tens of thousands of plans to find the right plan to suit each customer’s individual needs, but they’re also pioneering a “healthcare concierge” model to provide customers with ongoing support for maximizing benefits, reducing expenses, finding specialists, and more.
As you might imagine, the American healthcare system is not the easiest industry to break into; and yet, JOANY just became the very first company in the United States to successfully contain all data on available health insurance plans for this year, housing more information than even government-run healthcare.gov. The JOANY team is dedicated to making healthcare more streamlined and personalized. Though the healthcare industry is notoriously filled with barriers and challenges, JOANY’s leaders Christine Carrillo and Helen Lee know that through their efforts, they have the opportunity to increase the qualities of people’s lives.
“I’ve never given up on anything in my life,” says Christine Carrillo, co-founder and CEO, “Giving up has never been an option. Failure I get to do often. Fail; learn; get back up. But under no circumstances should giving up ever be an option.”
Deeply entrenched in politics and insurance industry money, the healthcare industry isn’t exactly known for being on the side of the consumer. But JOANY is changing that, empowering people to make educated choices about their insurance needs. Company co-founder and COO Helen Lee understands the real-life value JOANY offers, and it inspires her to keep moving forward in a challenging industry. Lee says, “My resilience comes from the overwhelming feeling of thankfulness to be able to come to work every day and figure out solutions to hard problems in an industry that desperately needs innovation.”
It isn’t easy breaking into and revolutionizing these industries; fortunately, these female leaders aren’t intimidated by a challenge. “I practice resilience every day by reminding myself that it isn’t about perfection in what I do, but excellence in what I create,” says Helen Lee. These women are changing the game and enhancing their bottom line with innovative products and services and their unyielding commitment to refining their crafts.
By Lisa Winning
“My biggest mistake is not recognizing the power of compounding and the ability for it to build wealth, and therefore, not investing early enough,” she says. “To me, if there is one thing that can change our society, our economy, and the world, it is getting more money in the hands of women.
Indigenous Americans make up less than 1% of board members for major, publicly traded businesses, according to DiversIQ analysis. Only five people among the 5,537 board members for the S&P 500 identify as fully or partially American Indian or Alaska Native.
These three questions can not only play a pivotal role in strengthening an organization’s DEI culture; they can also serve as team-building exercise. The process of evaluating one’s understanding of DEI principles promotes open discussions, knowledge sharing, and alignment within the team.