It's time to get your head around what matters for you in 2017. And to do that, you need not just inspiration, but motivation to deliver on your dreams. No better place to turn than this list of 17 inspiring women. They are each vibrant examples of what it looks like to challenge the status quo and change the world. Hear in their own words how they stay purpose driven and see if some of their secrets work for you.
1. Becky Blalock, former CIO, Southern Company; author,Dare
Becky worked her way through college on three jobs: as a secretary to psychology professors; working retail in a clothing store; and doing market research for a professor. She rose to be the chief information officer of Southern Company, leading with grace through a disruptive time in energy technology. How did she transform herself? Becky wrote a book to share how to go from "just a job" to the C-suite. "Confidence is a learned skill just like leadership. Everybody can learn to be confident. You just have to do something every day to push outside of your comfort zone." Hear Becky share the nitty gritty herself in this frank talk:
2. Lindsay Burton, founder, Kayo
Lindsay found her experience as an ambitious woman in private equity at firms like Lehman Brothers to be a lonely one. She decided to do something about it. "At the time," she says, "I had just discovered kickboxing. Kayo is slang for KO -- a knock out. I am a fighter, as are most women investors. When a group of sharp, tough, and ambitious women get together, we see great results measured by business opportunities and the inspiration to keep going when it gets hard."
She launched the Kayo conference series just a few years ago and has spread her knock out series to hundreds of women in finance.
3. Kirsten Green, Forerunner Ventures
Today, Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures is followed as a top trendsetter in investing. She was an early investor in successes like Dollar Shave Club.
"Green is decidedly low-profile," Sarah Lacey wrote in Pando Daily of the VC. "She has never built a company, and she isn't an engineer. She's never been on the board of a giant like Google, Facebook, Apple, or eBay. In fact, Green has never even worked at a tech company,"
Green took those realities and focused on her own strengths to become a leading voice. "I'd like to think my strengths are in connecting with people and the relationship aspect of this business," Green says. "Some of those things are more feminine traits. There were times when I was less comfortable putting those forward as my differentiation."
4. Meredith Jones, author/speaker; partner, Aon Hewitt
Based in Nashville, Meredith is an expert on high-stakes investing. Her recent book, Women of the Street, and her biweekly blog make investing not only accessible, but even entertaining. Meredith is in demand as a speaker at the highest levels, including speaking recently at the World Economic Forum. Her day job is partner at Aon Hewitt, an investment consultant that advises over $3 trillion in assets. Meredith is the first partner in charge of emerging and diverse manager research. You can hear why in her recent interview on The Street, below:
"When I wake up at 2 a.m. feeling frustrated with my own career, accomplishments, or the overall state of diversity in the investment industry, I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns until I can go back to sleep," she jokes.
"All kidding aside, what I really rely on to get me through the inevitable bad days is celebrating victories. Large and small, my own accomplishments or, more frequently, those of others. There are a host of wildly talented women out there getting wonderful things done every single day. Collectively, we are the windshield, even if at that particular moment, I was personally the bug."
5. Angela Lee, founder, 37 Angels
Angela is assistant dean of the Samberg Institute for Teaching Excellence at Columbia Business School and a former McKinsey consultant. Looking at the investing landscape, she was appalled at the lack of women investing and felt it was limiting the innovation economy. She founded 37 Angels, an angel investment network that trains women to invest in early stage start-ups. The network funds early stage startups led by both men and women and evaluates over 2,000 startups a year.
6. Stephanie Lampkin, founder, Blendoor
Stephanie pulls no punches: Her analysis is that for most of us, where we're born and whom we're born to dictate much of our potential for economic success in life. Stephanie felt this was fundamentally unfair. With her startup, Blendoor, she's hacking how career opportunities are shared. Blendoor uses merit-based matching on the key elements that predict job success--and skipping over the features that can trigger hiring and interviewing bias, like race and gender. It's "merit not mold" in a recruiting app.
"The best way I keep myself inspired," says Stephanie, "is to constantly remind myself (and expose myself to people who remind me) that the work that I'm doing goes far beyond just starting a successful business. I have an opportunity to change the way technology impacts marginalized people and be representative of what is rarely seen: a black woman engineer willing to take a risk big enough to change the world."
7. Yin Lin, co-founder, SheWorx
Yin Lin, along with co-founder Lisa Wang, is the force behind SheWorx, a global collective of female entrepreneurs with programs in New York, Los Angeles, London, Singapore, and Tel Aviv.
"I surround myself with people who are working toward the same goals as I am," she says. "I create forcing functions for almost every goal I have so that I know that I'm being kept accountable by people I respect. For business, my SheWorx co-founder, Lisa Wang, and I meet with a coach regularly who keeps us on track and honest about our progress. For marathon running, I schedule long runs (10-plus miles) with fellow marathon runners because I know they will push me to complete the training even when I get tired. It's much harder to let things slip when other people are expecting you to pull through with them."
8. Kristine McDermott, strategy and business operations, Atlassian
Kristine held a number of leadership roles in engineering and product development in Atlanta before she made the leap to work for Atlassian in San Francisco. "I read a quote once that said suffering comes from resistance. The theory is that if you accept the situation for what it is, then you won't suffer. I found this perspective to be very insightful. To accept something for what it is doesn't mean that you give up or concur that this is as good as it gets. Acceptance means only that you stop wasting your energy swimming upstream. If you find that you have a limitation, accept that limitation. It opens your mind to alternate ways of solving the problem. I find that sometimes we get caught up on the how and lose sight of the why. All great innovation and growth comes from being inventive and forging new paths, not banging your head against a brick wall -- doing that will only give you a headache."
9. Melissa McGhie Proctor, CMO, Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena
An artist, a marketer, and a student of diversity, Melissa doesn't fit neatly into any one box. Raised in South Florida by a single mom from Belize, she brewed her own blending of Caribbean, continental, and black American culture to create a unique perspective on life.
"When things get hard I keep myself inspired by looking back and having an attitude of gratitude. When I was graduating from Wake Forest University, I stopped by the cafeteria to say good-bye to the cafeteria staff that took good care of me throughout my studies. As I was leaving, one of the older African American women pulled me aside and held my hand. She said, 'Baby, I am so proud of you. We are so proud of you. I never went to school, but when I see people like you it makes me so happy.' That memory has stayed with me and when things get hard I think of that woman and all the people who have left an indelible imprint on my life."
Recently, Melissa became CMO of the Atlanta Hawks, a role in which she says her innate ability to culture shift creates opportunities both for the brand and for her career.
10. Tanya Menendez, co-founder, Makers Row
Tanya Menendez started researching the problem of technology's hurting rural jobs in Oaxaca, Mexico, while at college. Later, working with Matthew Burnett at the Brooklyn Bakery, she came up with the idea of a platform for entrepreneurs who make things. She and Matthew started Makers Row, which helps small manufacturers get the software, community, and production materials they need to keep up with change.
"Inspiration for me is all about perspective. I journal a lot -- I write about my struggles, wins, fears, and inspirations. Writing helps me keep perspective, and I like to look back and at what I have overcome, and what my greater purpose is. I constantly think about how short life is. I want to make the most of each moment, and for me, that means making an impact. I love speaking with other entrepreneurs, and that's usually my go-to strategy for when things start to get hard."
11. Alaina Percival, Women Who Code
Alaina is no stranger to the roundabout path to global leadership. She was an early leader in a small group of women in tech helping each other grow in their careers. At the time, she said, "I realized that if I was willing to step up and be in the spotlight, I'd be able to make everyone else around me much more powerful as well."
She stepped up as the first CEO of Women Who Code and incorporated the nonprofit, which now has 80,000 members worldwide. She stays inspired by keeping it simple and straightforward. "I focus on things within my control. This doesn't include things that occurred in the past, so I can devote my energy to creating strategies and plans to help move our team and mission forward." (Full disclosure: I'm on the board of Women Who Code.)
12. Carolyn Rodz, founder, Circular Board
Based in Houston, Carolyn took a look at the burgeoning numbers of startup accelerator and incubators and saw something magical missing--women. She founded the Circular Board, the world's first and largest digital accelerator for women entrepreneurs.
"I'm less inspired by singular icons than by the collective voices of women. When women come together as a group, the sky is the limit. We've rallied for the right to vote, we lead the fight for racial equality, and we are among the strongest voices when lobbying for the next generation. The power of women supporting women -- that is an unstoppable force."
13. Reshma Shetty, co-founder, Ginkgo Bioworks
Reshma Shetty has raised over $151 million to re-engineer technology through cells. "The more I see what biology can do -- how living things grow and heal and work in ecosystems -- the more I'm convinced that we'll grow our technologies in the future, with products made by biology," says Reshma.
She recounted how she and her co-founders launched Ginkgo 15 years ago:
14. Geri Stengel, analyst and author
From her Manhattan apartment, Geri's voice is heard across the world. She has worked on success factors for women entrepreneurs since the late '90s and is president of Ventureneer, a market research company that helps corporations like Dell reach small businesses through thought leadership. Her book, Forget the Glass Ceiling: Build Your Business Without One, distills some of the practical wisdom she's collected over decades.You can read her on Forbes.
15. Carla Piñeyro Sublett, CMO, Rackspace
Carla is senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Rackspace. "It is actually the most challenging times that keep me the most motivated," she says. "I thrive when things are difficult. However, if I am ever feeling discouraged, I remind myself that my intentions are pure and that it is in the toughest times that one can make the biggest impact. Net net, problems always represent the opportunity to propose a solution and contribute significantly."
Carla lives in Austin with her husband and two children. "My mother played a huge role in shaping me as a woman, mother, wife, and leader. She was a working mom, yet managed to feed us home-cooked meals three times a day. She also advocated for me and my sister -- making sure that we had access to the best education and experiences. She made sure we attended magnet schools and wrote letters on our behalf seeking scholarships for college. Lastly, from the time that I was very little, she wouldn't permit me to have Barbie dolls, only a Wonder Woman doll. That will certainly shape a young girl's self image!"
16. Theia Washington Smith, executive director of Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative
Atlanta is known for women's entrepreneurship. Georgia ranks second in the nation for producing women entrepreneurs. The city recently opened an innovative program for women entrepreneurs, the Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative. Its first executive director is Theia Washington Smith. She serves as the ambassador for women's businesses in the Southeast, advises the mayor's office, creating programs for WEI, serves on boards like Startup Runway, and hosts groups that come to visit Atlanta's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
"I'm inspired by the more than 4500 women in the U.S. who have registered to run for public office, since our most recent election cycle," Theia says. "In 2017, I will be excitedly watching women who advocate for social justice and policy change, particularly at the local level, by championing for underserved communities."
17. Tiffany Wilson, CEO of GCMI
Tiffany knows it's game time for the medical-device industry--and yet many medical-device entrepreneurs struggle to find resources and expertise. Tiffany decided to change that landscape. As CEO of the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), the first comprehensive medical-device innovation center in the Southeast, Tiffany's work has supported 70-plus innovative medical technologies making their way through design, prototype, preclinical testing, and clinical trials to commercialization. With the recent acquisition of T3 Labs, a new medical-device accelerator launching in 2017, and a medtech seed fund in the works, Tiffany is pioneering the ecosystem for bringing breakthrough medical technology to market.