After she repeatedly applied for a managerial position with no success, her friend pulled her aside.
“You know why you’ll never be a manager?” he asked her, rhetorically. “Because you’re black.”
Adversity. Racial discrimination. Asylum. Extreme poverty. Sexual Harassment. Cancer.
Resistance. Persistence. Faith. Triumph. Success.
I recently had the opportunity of interviewing 23 incredible women. Their titles ranged from president and CEO to owner and vice president. Each woman’s background varied, ranging from the poor and disenfranchised to the extremely wealthy and affluent. One woman barely escaped her home in war-torn South Vietnam alive before landing in the U.S. Another fled everything she knew in the slums of the Philippines, where she slept on the ground, fearful cockroaches might crawl into her mouth. One woman spent her weekends at her family’s vacation home on a private beach in Connecticut. There was a stay at-home-mom turned successful entrepreneur and a woman who started as a secretary and worked her way up to become the CEO of the company. The common denominator was that they each worked extremely hard, overcoming numerous setbacks to achieve success.
Before speaking to them, I explained the project: A book that compiled the stories of women who had found success in a traditionally male-dominated industry. We set a date for the interview and I called them at the agreed upon time. We started each interview as complete strangers and over the next hour, they would tell me the story of their life. I asked questions and they obliged, offering pictures into worlds that seemed so completely foreign to me and struggles so seemingly intangible that it felt like fiction. Except it wasn’t—these were their stories, their lives. The steps they had taken and chapters they lived to become the incredibly successful women they are today. We laughed and cried and at the end of each interview, I was stronger. In telling me their stories, each woman taught me something new—about humankind, perseverance, resilience and strength.
Here’s what I learned:
- You can’t go it alone. If behind every great man is a greater woman, behind every great woman is a great man, a network of close friends or a supportive family. The women I spoke to had established a great network of friends, sisters, parents, nannies, walking groups—people who could step in as sounding boards, childcare givers and support systems when things go haywire. Because they will go haywire. And while we might be pre-disposed to want to conquer the world alone, we need other people.
- Be resourceful. Badass women don’t wait for someone to teach themselves something, they figure it out on their own. When one woman was asked to create a business plan, she went to the library and checked out several business management books. And she created a business plan. When another was stumped with a business-related challenge, she called a bunch of other people in a different part of the country to see how they were handling the challenge.
- Read everything. Successful women never stop learning and actively seek new information and resources to continue evolving personally, professionally and culturally. Many badass women will always have a book on their nightstand—oftentimes, something non-fiction that provides a new perspective or approach on leadership, mentorship or business.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. When the markets crashed in 2008, business leaders everywhere scrambled. With uncertainty lurking at every corner, many people waited to make significant decisions. But to be a real badass, you have to assess the situation and “pivot” as one woman described it. With businesses closing everywhere, she took a leap and built a new corporate headquarters to double down on their commitment to the territory. It turned out that risk paid off.
- If someone tries to push you down, stand right back up. Research shows that as many as one-third of women have experienced some form of harassment in the workplace with one-quarter of women reporting that they have been sexually harassed in the workplace. Surveys also show that as many as 70 to 90 percent of women who experience harassment never make a formal complaint or file any chargers, either with the employer or fair employment agencies. As the #metoo campaign has demonstrated, this silence helps no one. Badass women don’t sit down for anyone and speak out when they’ve been silenced.
- Don’t look for “balance,” rather, search for a “rhythm.” It seems that as women, we’re always seeking to maintain this invisible and extremely delicate equilibrium between the personal and professional. It’s like when you were little and stood in the middle of a teeter totter, gently pushing down on one end so the other side wouldn’t come crashing down to the ground. One woman advised that rather than view this dynamic as a maintaining a “balance,” she instead looks to strike a “rhythm” between her personal and professional worlds. This allows her to recognize that sometimes, she’ll spend more time hanging out with her kids and other times, she’ll spend more time hanging out at the office— it’s really just about moving in a way that works for her.
- Do you. Regardless of where you are, be authentic to yourself and don’t assume another persona because that’s what you think people expect. When we change our voice and dialogue to mirror the interests of those around us (e.g. try to talk sports with a group of men if we don’t typically follow sports), we undermine the significance of our voice and message. Badass women don’t ever compromise their voice—they sing loudly and let it be heard.