By Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO, Business Publications Corp.
If asked who my female heroes were when I was growing up, I would probably have said Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo or Amelia Earhart – historical figures I admired for their bravery and independence. But looking back, the women who truly shaped me and influenced my professional life most were the ones who were around me and knew me, who supported me no matter what. While they were far from ordinary, I call these women “everyday sheros.”
I was fortunate to have grandmothers, aunts and a mother who were role models at juggling work and home life, passionate about politics and the world. My sister and my best girlfriend since childhood have always had my back. Several beloved teachers identified skills and pushed me to develop and grow. My adult girlfriends, in-laws and cousins have been steady presences in my life, always willing to listen, brainstorm and support my crazy ideas; even those who I see less often inspire me each time we talk. I’ve been lucky to work with inspiring female leaders and colleagues, and to have friends and allies from women’s leadership groups and networks. The list of women who have shaped me and – whether they knew it or not – supported my professional dreams is quite long.
These are my everyday sheroes. They are not famous on a world stage, but are pivotal in my life – and they deserve official shero status because, even while on their own winding journeys, they have believed in and supported other women, each in their own way.
With Mother’s Day just celebrated, let’s keep reflecting on our mothers and on all the women who have helped shape and transform us in our day-to-day lives. And let us be there for other women as well.
I asked some local fearless leaders: “Who was a woman who always believed in you and supported your professional dreams?”
Michelle Bates, chief innovation officer, Revology: My mom, Virginia Hochstedler, was and is my inspiration. She grew up in a very modest household, worked from the time she was 14 years old and had a high school education. She believed in me, wanted more for me, and made college a reality. She taught me the power of grit, grace and faith in myself.
Brittani Dudley, the Urban Impact Show: My mom has been my biggest support system throughout my life. At a very early age she pushed me to find what I was passionate about, and completely focus on that. She encouraged me to make sure I gave 110% in everything I did, and always pushed me to finish everything I started. These are traits I carried to adulthood.
Christine Her, executive director, ArtForce Iowa: The women of ArtForce Iowa, my work sisters and little sisters in our programs have been some of my greatest champions. In my highest of highs and lowest of lows, these incredible women have been there to celebrate and grieve with me. They allow me to show up as my truest, most authentic self – the good parts and the messy parts.
Maria Ramos, human resources talent acquisition manager, AgState: Many women helped me achieve a successful career. They encouraged, empowered and affirmed me, but none more than my mother. She beams with pride when she looks at me, keeping me positive, focused and strong. She never learned to read or write, but taught me the value of hard work and an education – doing the impossible to give me every possibility.
Karla Walsh, wellness, food and lifestyle freelance writer and freelance writing coach: My mom is my biggest cheerleader personally and professionally. From mailing my two boxes of possessions to my new home as I pursued my NYC magazine dreams to reading every single story that I publish, to predicting I will win awards even when I know chances are slim, my mom believes in me even when I struggle to do so myself.
Lindsey White, control management senior manager, vice president, Wells Fargo Home Lending Business Controls: My motherhood journey began at 19 and I received abounding support from my parents, specifically my mother. At a time where my goals could have been pushed aside, she provided assurance my opportunities had no limits, even if there were detours. She is my biggest cheerleader with every personal and professional accomplishment. I am forever grateful for her unconditional support.
Shekinah Young, global inclusion consultant, Principal Financial Group: My late mother, Juanita Wilson-Young, was the president of my fan club and always supported my professional endeavors. I believe she did so because I am a physical manifestation of her dreams. Every prayer, sacrifice and decision made led to the now. She made the safer decisions so that I can go farther and reach higher than she or my grandmother did. She did it because of love.
What makes a shero?
Sheroes help others. “A shero is one who feels fulfilled by helping others succeed in life,” says Ramos. “She goes above and beyond without expecting anything in return, sees the best in people and encourages others to do better.”
Sheroes lift as we climb. Walsh says, “In a world where women earn 82 cents to every dollar that men do, where we face more health care disparities and where the cards are very much stacked against us everywhere from politics to boardrooms, it’s crucial for us to team up rather than tear each other down.”
Sheros challenge the status quo. “Sheroes are ordinary women who show up, call others into hard and uncomfortable conversations, and challenge the status quo,” says Her, adding, “If we continue to support women, we’re supporting change leaders who have the strength and kindness to impact communities where everyone flourishes.”
Sheroes bring others along. “Leadership isn’t about how well you do your job, but about how you inspire others around you and bring out the best in them,” says White. “As a Black woman it is paramount for me to bring others alongside with me – to introduce them to new people, resources and opportunities and then help them be successful.”
Sheroes embrace themselves and others. “As an over-50, openly gay woman in business and tech, entreprenuer, mom, wife and now ‘granny,’ I’m able to bring the tapestry of me to the table, because others have stepped out in strength and demonstrated authenticity at work and in life,” says Bates. “For me, a shero is someone who embraces all parts of themselves and encourages others to do the same, resulting in an experience where all feel valued.”
Sheroes share. “As women in corporate America, we have to be each other’s biggest advocates and biggest fans,” says Dudley. “Share in best practices you’ve learned, help educate other women on ways you’ve navigated through corporate America and help put them in a position that will develop their skill set … and continue to grow within leadership.”
Sheroes empower others. “A shero empowers, encourages, advocates and mentors other women – especially younger women – who can all use a little praise, a little push and recognition,” says Ramos. “She instills confidence in them, teaching them to never feel threatened or intimidated by another woman. She models how women can use each other’s strengths to complement each other’s weaknesses … and in that way, creates a pack of successful women leaders.”
Sheroes are there for each other. “It’s important to be there for other women because I am my sisters’ keeper,” says Young. “We live in a very competitive world; it’s our default at times. When you notice your barriers to success are similar to your sister’s, you grow to understand that her success is your success because you’re making progress easier for each other – that’s where the magic happens.”