Inspiring stories of women in business

Inspiring stories of women in business

Good leaders share several traits: they’re good at what they do, they’re decisive and they’re strategic. However, great leaders go beyond merely getting the job done. Through what they say and do, great leaders exemplify character, courage, resilience, competence and likeability. Throughout my career, I’ve been inspired to reach for my leadership best by these five women.

Anita Zucker, Philanthropist and CEO, InterTech Group

Workable are her speciality

Anita Zucker, included on the Forbes 400 list, personifies character and courage. Not satisfied as a businesswoman by focusing solely on the bottom line, she assures an emphasis on both results and relationships by practicing the 3Ps:  people, profits and the planet. She includes integrity, honesty, responsibility, teamwork, family, community, service, health and wellness in her list of corporate values.

Anita is a highly respected member of the Charleston, SC community, and I love how she describes her personal tikkun olam philosophy. Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means, “repairing the world.” She leads herself, her company and her family in repairing the world, saying they use their “time, talents and resources to make a difference in the world.”

Patti Klinge, Consultant and Psychotherapist, Klinge/McArthur, LLC

Patti Klinge epitomizes courage as it’s defined by Maria Eitel, CEO of the Nike Foundation, “Courage is not one moment. It’s a sequence of moments. You have to keep tapping and tapping day-by-day, moment-by-moment, and not let fear overtake you.”

For me, great leaders courageously accept risk. They push fear into the background as they do what’s right and needed. I saw Patti, working as executive vice president of human resources, do all that and more when I worked at AT&T Broadband during a time of mergers and acquisitions. She demonstrated unrelenting bravery in dealing with contentious people and competing priorities. Patti fearlessly, persistently and persuasively made her voice heard as she fought for fair treatment for employees whose jobs were going to be lost. Most impressively of all, she did so without regard to potentially negative impacts on her own career.

Amy Brennan, Executive Director, Center for Women

An Accenture’s study emphasized resilience—the combination of flexibility, adaptability and strength of purpose—as a critically important leadership skill. Amy Brennan knows a thing or two about resilience. She’s a three-time brain tumor survivor. She nearly lost her son to illness. She’s faced leadership challenges while running organizations, helping the homeless and turning around struggling nonprofits. “What I’ve been through isn’t so bad when I look into the soul of someone else who is struggling,” says Amy.

Amy leads the Center for Women, South Carolina’s largest development and resource organization for women, in its mission to advance women’s economic and leadership opportunities. In a state paying little attention to its national ranking of 50th in female-to-male executive ratio, Amy initiated the Status of Women in South Carolina Task Force, which will publish an extensive report in the fall. The report will shine a light on many disconcerting statistics about women in the state and offer solutions. “The report will be something to turn to and see if we’re doing the right thing,” she says.

Sallie Krawcheck, Owner, Ellevate;  Founder, Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund

Female climber clinging to the edge.

I saw it daily in my corporate career and research affirms it—businesswomen face an uphill battle in being seen as both competent and likeable. We can be one or the other but rarely both. A former executive in several Wall Street firms, Sallie Krawcheck has impressively mastered doing both. A reporter delightfully sums her up by saying, “talking with Krawcheck is like getting a sit-down meeting with one of the smartest minds in business while simultaneously hanging out with that friend from college you haven’t seen since graduation.”

I admire Sallie’s courage in sharing, not hiding, that she’s been fired, not once, but twice, and in saying it’s the difference between how men and women think that contributed to her being let go. Now through her investment work and networking group Ellevate (formerly 85 Broads), she advocates boldly and persuasively for gender diversity.

J.K. Rowling, Author

The business world is generally intolerant of failure. Overwhelmed with shame or paralyzed by fear, many people give up after failing. Not J.K. Rowling. She experienced 12 rejections before getting her first Harry Potter book published.

She was a divorced mom, short on funds, living on state assistance and had recently lost her mom, but she was steadfast in her resolve to see the book in print. “I’ve often met people who are terrified, you know, in a straitjacket of their own making because they’d rather do anything than fail,” Rowling says. “They don’t want to try for fear of failing. That’s the rock-bottom thing. I’m not going to romanticize rock-bottom, but it was liberating.” She didn’t equate adversity with weakness or poor skills. Instead, she opted to see these rejections as a trial-and-error learning tool.

Serving us all

In a world sadly short on female role models, the character, courage, intelligence and resilience demonstrated by these five women is inspiring to women of all ages, everywhere. Their example can guide us in forging ahead, staring down boundaries, refusing to accept limitations and making a positive, sustainable difference.

Let us know in the comments below what leaders have inspired you in your career journey.