I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by women leaders in my personal and professional life. Here are just a few of them:
Opal Tomashevska | Spoken Word Artist
I worked with Opal at a large corporation behind the times concerning including minorities in marketing videos and photos. I met her as we both wanted to move forward with diversity in this corporation’s marketing images.
A few months later, Opal just happened to be performing at an inspirational world night I was attending, and I heard her spoken word. I was frozen. I never knew the spoken word could be so powerful.
I later found out that Opal does this for many organizations and events. It’s her way of making a mark on this world, not only from a diversity standpoint but from being a woman making significant changes in large corporations.
I am so honored to know her and to have worked with her. Sure enough, we were both able to add diversity to our marketing images, and Opal’s fierce dedication to healthy culture went on to make many changes within many corporations.
Deb Radman | Communications Maven
Oh, Deb. Where do I start with Deb? Deb feels like family at this point. She was my first female mentor when I moved to NYC after college, and as a recent graduate from the friendly city of Miami, I was continuously shocked and in awe by what came out of this woman’s mouth.
I still clearly remember working on a project with her, and she said, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” I thought there was no way she would follow up on this belief, but then she did, and I was mortified because I would be fired alongside her if the risk we took didn’t work.
Well, Deb took the bull by the horns, and we co-created and co-hosted an international communications conference at the Yale Club in NYC with VPs from the likes of Audi, Bentley, PepsiCo, Walmart, and more.
At 23, I had the world in the hand of my palms, as our CEO announced me as co-host of the successful conference. All because Deb showed me what it took to be a female leader. I set my expectations for success right then and there— and said that when I spoke in that room at The Yale Club as a Communications professional, I would have made it in the world.
Six years later, I was honored to speak for a PRNews event in that same room in The Yale Club.
Deb has been helping dreams like that come true for women worldwide since I’ve met her, and she still is always actively looking for ways to empower women. I love her. Deb defines leadership, especially female leadership, as raising others up in the day-to-day.
Carrie Kerpen | Female CEO
Carrie is the biggest cheerleader of other women I have ever met in my entire life. When I first met her, I just kept thinking, “This woman cannot be real.” I was convinced she was putting on her “nice-face” for the conference I met her at since she was a speaker.
But when tragedy struck my personal life, Carrie was the first person to reach out, and she still is. She has a natural way of making you feel special, cared for, and fixable. She quite literally fixes other women’s crooked crowns.
Carrie is a great leader who raises up women in leadership positions. She writes and speaks about the leadership skills it takes to be a strong career woman in today’s world, inspiring and motivating women all around the world.
This is a two-for-one! I was recommended to Alex by a friend, and we became fast friends ourselves! Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other, and I am always learning from her years of digital and traditional marketing experience.
I met Camille Renshaw, CEO of B+E, through Alex and immediately wanted to be her. Camille is a fierce female CEO in the male-dominated finance industry. Not only is she one of the few females in the industry, but she is also kicking ass at everything she does.
Camille’s effective leadership has pushed many companies forward. She is an intelligent, gorgeous, kind, gritty, tenacious leader who inspires me every day.
Marsha Collier | Social Media Extraordinaire
Marsha is on every list I ever write, and she always will be because that’s how much I adore this woman and her tenacity. She is much like Carrie, fixing other women’s crowns while also kindly answering any and every social media question that ever comes her way. Author of many of the “…for Dummies” books, Marsha still takes the time to connect with her followers— a real example of what successful social media is all about.
Marsha has true leadership skills that make men and women alike better people, just for being around her.
I also asked my The MJS Brand teammate, Amanda Quinn, to honor her five top women leaders. Amanda is a fun, energetic, intelligent mom who has found the perfect balance of working and raising her two children. I am in constant awe of her. Here are her picks:
Erin | Explore With Erin
Who doesn’t love a fellow foodie/traveler!! Erin provides all the delicious food and travel content that I am soooo missing in my life these days! As someone that checked off 20 countries over a three-year period while living abroad from 2016-2019, I have the travel-itch bad right now! Erin’s draw for me is the food content, give me all the food recommendations you have, please!! And a big BONUS for me is that travel tips include traveling with kids!!
Mari Smith | Social Media Pro
As someone that just entered the field of marketing this past year, Mari Smith has been a huge source of information and inspiration for me. Facebook is currently overloading my brain with all of its updates and policy changes (one more review request might be the end of my sanity!), but Mari is on top of them all with the latest tips and tricks. If you are going to be marketing across FB and IG she is an endless source for information to help better your brand and skillset.
Michelle Hancock | A Modern Mom Life
Michelle Hancock is a mother’s dream!! With kids about to be on Spring Break (and me still having to work from home), I am going to need all the help I can get. Michelle is my go-to source for all the cute craft and snack ideas. I am currently putting together a Spring Boredom Buster inspired by her latest post. There will be no Spring Break boredom in this house, Mama needs to work
Missy Franklin | Olympian
I first came across Missy Franklin, as I am sure most of you did, during the 2012 Olympics and have since been following her journey. She was incredible, an instant fan favorite in this house. This young girl, now a woman, has grown up in the public eye as an idol for so many young women, and she has handled that with absolute grace! I love to see what she is doing for the swimming community, and the mentorship role she has taken for so many young ladies! She is a bright light for females everywhere!
Stefanie Cornwall | Making Of A Mom
Stefanie Cornwall is showing me all the things I should be doing as a mom! Don’t get me wrong, I pride myself on my parenting skills, but my eyes are bigger than my patience some days. Stefanie provides me with the mom-spiration to do very simple, yet satisfying crafts with the kids during the week. You will find this girl attempting to make Stefanie’s mint oreo in a cookie recipe for St. Patrick’s Day and hoping it tastes as amazing as it looks!
Let’s not stop here! Who are some women leaders that you look up to? Share their info in the comments so we can give them some more follows and engagement!
My story of being a woman in corporate America:
I grew up in a small cowtown in Wyoming that clung tightly to stereotypical roles for women at the time I was being raised. I also am a very feminine female, so this traditional role fit me quite well. By the time I was in high school, I could sow, make any meal from scratch, bake desserts worthy of a French bakery in Soho, and attend any tea or infinite course meal and know how to use every piece of silverware and dining-ware in front of me.
On top of that, I could effortlessly join any conversation with my pleasantries. I played multiple instruments, won every singing competition, and was on the stage in a full face of makeup when any opportunity presented itself.
Fortunately, I had parents who saw talent in me beyond being groomed as a perfect Mrs. for the boy next door. I was expected to keep straight As through all schooling, and I did, except for one B in high school.
Not only was I competing on a stage singing, but I also was competing and winning city science fairs. Again, this was expected. I never knew there was an option to get a lower grade or not compete every weekend in traditionally female and traditionally male events.
When it came time to go to college, all I wanted to do was continue my singing career. I was obsessed with improving my coloratura soprano opera voice. My parents immediately squashed that idea. I was so upset and continued to find all of the vital reasons supporting my journey to becoming an opera soprano.
However, I had a hefty college fund that my parents held the purse strings to. I told them that I was excellent and singing and writing, so they urged me to find a career in the writing space to study at college. I eventually landed on a double-major in Public Relations and English-Creative Writing.
I’ve revisited my parents’ persistence for me to be the best at everything and their intentional guidance towards traditionally male classes, projects, and competitions throughout my life. I will tell you that every ounce of me is happy that I did not go to school for music.
I was friends with many students in the music school at my college, many of who are famous today, and watched them struggle every step of the way to be the absolute best than anyone in that music school. That road was just not for me. I found myself gravitating more towards events, writing about public figures, photography. College introduced me to the other side of the spotlight, and I thrived behind the stage.
I sometimes want to shut off all digital marketing, emails, phones and just be a Mrs., But that wasn’t the road for me. I loved to work. I worked 40 hours my senior year of college and quickly moved to NYC to continue a 24/7 work life.
I thrived on the adrenaline that came from managing a crisis that popped up on Twitter at 1 AM, and on all of the incredible events, I got to tag along to capture cool photos and meaningful quotes.
This attention to work took me away from cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, etc. I dropped my laundry off at the cleaners next door every Thursday and picked it up after I grabbed dinner from the chicken place down the street, late on Thursday nights. It would be perfectly folded and washed, so I would only have to spend the tiny bit of energy left in me putting it away in my small NYC closet. I had a per diem budget of what I spent on food each day, and each meal was either delivered or picked up. I paid $20 for a maid to come every other Friday and clean my tiny room.
Fast forward a decade, and I cannot say I am any more domestic than I was in NYC, and I am a Mrs.! I am impressed by my younger-self as I read through all of the household activities I nailed as a child and teenager. I would have made a perfect stay-at-home wife at 18. Now, not so much.
A balloon of prospective domestic bliss was popped when I had to have a hysterectomy two years ago, after months and months of chemo. I met my husband just weeks after my hysterectomy, and we have had to always think about our future in a different way than others. He is 17 years older than me, on top of everything else, with threatens fertility. Our path to domestic bliss looks A LOT different than the traditional one I imagined as a child.
Having my hysterectomy threatened my identity as a strong woman. Now, I could not do the one thing that I believed women were put on earth to do.
What good was I? What was my worth now? Could anyone have me now for 90% off? Am I the dress no one bought?
My extensive and successful career path, and effective relationships with my family and friends, helped me stay upright and positive during the darkest time in my life.
Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I have worth. My worth is just different than what you might see in a 1950s catalog. I am obsessed with my career, and I, quite honestly, suck at domestic chores.
When I first married my husband, I made it a point to wash and fold the laundry every Thursday. I would then neatly put it away. It did not take me long to realize that my husband was taking the folded laundry back out and re-folding it, and putting it away in different places when I wasn’t in the bedroom. He now does most** of the laundry.
And that’s okay. Our marriage is very fluid in gender-specific roles. I married someone that actually complements my aggressive workstyle. My husband is quite OCD about cleaning and, obviously, his laundry.
I still take on most cooking because it is a passion and stress-reliever, but if I have a crazy work week, he cooks all of the dinners.
I am fortunate. As a woman, I never felt like I was “less-than” in my formative years because I wasn’t a male. Oddly enough, my parents’ OGBYN told them I was going to be a boy, and they had already named me Marcus.
In a family full of girls, my dad wanted nothing more than a boy. Yet, he quickly adjusted and became the best father I could have ever had in every single way. He is still my go-to when I have questions about my business or need that rational, secure, steady voice when making a tough decision.
I did not feel the difference of being a woman in corporate America until, well, I was in corporate America. When I was already quite successful and interviewing with the top car media outlet and race supporter globally, the CEO looked at me and said that I only had as many Twitter and social media followers as I had because of my looks. The CEO’s comment was said in front of an entire room of male leaders.
This man looked me in my eyes and said that I would not have become a social and digital media leader if I was not as pretty or a man. Fortunately, I had some experience with “these types” earlier on in my career, and I stood up and walked right out of that office.
Earlier in my career, another male business owner pulled me into his office and pulled up my Facebook, which still had some photos of me at clubs in college in Miami. They were tasteful, barely any, with a drink in my hand, and I was always laughing and smiling.
This man said that he had stalked my Facebook before he hired me and that “club girl” is what he hired. He wanted to know why I wasn’t showing up to work as a “club girl” and that I better damn well show up as her in the future. I found a new opportunity a few days later.
An international conservative corporation hired me as one of the first female managers. My immediate supervisor did not want to hire me, and the HR manager had to go directly to the CEO to get me hired. The HR manager believed I had what they were looking for when it came to leadership talent.
While there were many learning curves working for this corporation, the biggest was a male director who refused to speak directly to me. He would talk to my cubemate and then tell him to tell me what he said. This went on for a few months until I realized just how bizarre this whole situation was.
Once I was comfortable in my position, I told my cubemate to say to the director that I would no longer complete work for him unless he asked me directly. This was a daring move, but I had no idea what else to do. It took two weeks, but finally, that director came to my desk, and we ended up building a strong working relationship. I still look up to him today.
I struggled a lot at that company, leaving with multiple #MeToo stories that I have never felt “right” to tell. Those people know what they did, and I am not sure I can help with exposing them and wrecking their careers. I have my own opinions on #MeToo, fully supporting the women brave enough to tell their stories but not wanting my story to be about that.
I have moved on, but I have never felt so much like a piece of meat and like a “weak-link” as I did via some male executives in that company.
Another job did not want to hire me because they felt I was “little,” “weak,” etc. and that I would not be able to take on on the magnitude of the projects they had waiting for me. Within a month, I had already gained new business from my client account.
I left another company for another #MeToo moment that I shared privately with my friends and families. That crushed me, broke me, for nearly a year.
Who was I as a woman in my career? Why was I viewed any differently as the male directors on my team? Why was a female director subjected to hostility and foul-play?
One thing that blew my mind, which looking back, it shouldn’t have, was hearing the stories that are all-male (minus me) team shared about this same person. They had received kickbacks from him, extra days off, bonus projects— all the while he was harassing me in private. The best thing that came out of that experience was ensuring a third person in every meeting with someone you think might do something.
I was groomed to be whatever I wanted to be, no matter what gender mostly played that role. The professional world introduced me to a whole new ballgame and taught me how to be more assertive.
I learned right away that using the #MeToo moments and the harsh comments as a way to grow and not be as a person was much more fruitful than continually complaining about the inequality. By not being like those men and by not letting their acts shatter my dream to be a female executive, I showed them that their time of controlling women and pushing them down was over.
We all have our ways as women, and no way is wrong. This was my way, and I am happy about it every single day.
My parents gave me a gift by putting blinders on me to the role stereotypes in corporate America, which helped me believe that I could do anything I wanted to do.
My career, so far, has given me the gift of learning that women’s equality is still out there. The best way to stomp it into the ground is to dominate the conversation and step into the world as a strong woman who will not be told “no” and is not going to succumb to sexual harassment.
Grit, tenacity, sleepless nights, sacrifices in other areas of my life, and lots of tears went into creating my company, The MJS Brand, and the kind of woman I want running my company. I would be a fool not to recognize all of the luck, opportunities, and incredibly effective leaders that helped me pick myself back up on the 7th, 8th, 9,th…1000th fall and stand up again.
What women leader has helped you in your life? Write a note honoring them in the comments below!
-Marji J. Sherman