7 Women Who Inspire Us to Set Audacious Goals

At the beginning of each year, I set professional goals that I share with none else, mainly to allow myself the freedom of audacity. I aim high, setting my stretch goals so far outside of what looks possible that I get a little scared just thinking about them. Much to my surprise, I’ve reached more of those stretch goals than I ever accomplished when I kept within modest, safe boundaries.

When we stretch ourselves outside of our own confidence, when we are willing to live on the edge of our ability, there is an energy, a drive that isn’t present within the confines of a safe life. And using personal achievements as a catalyst to create opportunity for others is just as important. Fulfillment does not lie within the fountain of provision and safety; it lies in the joy of daring to believe in the impossible and risking everything to make it so – and then carrying others forward as a result of our own journey.

Finding role models who exhibit proof that it is possible to build illustrious careers while carrying others forward has helped me broaden my perspective. Some are dear friends and mentors while others simply inspire me by how they are choosing to spend their lives. Here are a few of the women who inspire me to believe that within each of us lies the potential to be bolder, to think bigger, and to let go of security to create, solve, and give back to something that matters.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen

LAA-Headshot-Giving-2.0-e1437699555771 Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen inspires me because she has chosen to use her life’s achievements for the betterment of others. Upon reaching what others might have seen as the pinnacle of success in the academic world, she was only getting started. She has used her successes with its resulting honors and broader network as assets to empower others through her visionary philanthropic organization, LAAF. In addition to fueling worthy social impact organizations, LAAF embraces scalable, open-source tech that can teach others how to more effectively impact society through their own philanthropic efforts. She reminds me that women should not fear success or the trajectory into the public eye, because it is a powerful platform that can serve as a catalyst for the changes that women want to see in the world.

Gabriela Dow

Gabriela Dow SC Headshot CroppedGabriela Dow, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, has already achieved success as a journalist, serving at two CNN bureaus as well as CBS, and in multiple roles in the White House and Washington D.C., including public liaison in the White House. She is a serial entrepreneur who has been named one of the top nine people to watch in San Diego, California, where she is currently raising her family with her husband while also serving multiple roles in the community and running a consulting company serving government agencies. But it is not her successful career that inspires me, although it is quite impressive. It is her grounded, pragmatic view of life. Born into wealth in Mexico, she understands clearly the perks and clout that money can buy – and the constraints that living a protected life creates. Despite being thrown into poverty when her mother and siblings started over in the United States, she views that time in her life as being given “the opportunity to fail”. She is a role model for anyone who believes that someone else’s wealth and provision are an acceptable trade off to never fulfilling one’s own goals.

Anne-Marie Slaughter

iXwSMk4UFor the past two years, Anne-Marie Slaughter has headed up the think tank and civic enterprise, New America, while also serving as Professor Amerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was the first woman to serve as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, receiving the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award and meritorious service awards from USAID and the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe for her work. She’s also served previously as the Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affair, written or edited six books and over 100 scholarly articles and has accumulated a large collection of awards and accolades. She has done all of this in the midst of raising two sons with her husband, who is also a professor. Anne-Marie inspires me because of her voice and how she chooses to use it. She can speak intelligently and with conviction on a broad range of regarding policy, government, and civic innovation but also chooses to use her voice to point out the biases and challenges faced by men who opt to be the primary parent in a relationship. She advocates for change, not through strident, provocative or angry tirades but by sharing compelling research and personal anecdotes to articulate her point of view. Anne-Marie reminds me that I can speak up, hold strong opinions and do so without creating needless strife if I speak from a place of authority and respect to others.

Carrie Hammer

Carrie Hammer-HEADSHOTI have long lived under the belief that if I am thinking something nice about someone else, that whenever possible, they should be aware of the positive thoughts going their way. This mindset recently resulted in my meeting Carrie Hammer while attending a women’s leadership forum in New York City when I approached a gracious young woman to tell her how stunning she looked in the dress she was wearing. A talented designer who is a graduate of Parsons Paris School of Art and Design as well as the Tory Burch Foundation Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, Carrie is taking the world by storm since her “Role Models Not Runway Models” fashion show in New York City in 2014 which featured the first ever model who modeled the runway in a wheelchair. She has already appeared on prestigious lists such as the Forbes 30 Under 30 and 15 Women Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2015. Carrie is an inspiration, because she is proving that it is possible to combine talent, drive and a mission to create one’s one mark within a highly competitive industry.

Joanne Wilson

150408122429-dreamit-athena-joanne-wilson-780x439Joanne Wilson is an inspiration to me on so many levels. I first discovered her through her blog, Gotham Gal, where she shares insights about her life in New York or about the places she visits, about parenting or recipes she’s recently enjoyed, and about the companies she invests in and the women entrepreneurs that she meets who inspire her. She is an indefatigable advocate for women, putting her own money behind the businesses that resonate with her own values – and racking up an enviable success ratio as an angel investor. She is also the vision behind the Women Entrepreneurs Festival, held each year in New York City and bringing together 300 attendees for a day focused on the challenges and success faced by women entrepreneurs at every stage of business. It was her festival that helped me build a network of support outside of my own city, and it was the panelists curated for the days’ sessions that often helped me resolve the challenges I was facing in my business. But she inspires because of her willingness to be accessible. Yes, she protects her time as we all must. But more than once when I needed advice about the terms of an investment offer or how to find investors while working to close my own round, she made introductions to people within her network that she thought would be a good fit. She gave me feedback on my pitch deck. And she gave me honest, raw advice. She didn’t have to do any of that; she didn’t know me from Adam. But she did, and it helped me take steps of courage while armed with knowledge. She reminds me of the importance of being willing to help others when and where we can and to remain as accessible as possible no matter how demanding life becomes.

J. Kelly Hoey

photo-3Forbes has described Kelly Hoey as one of five women changing the world of VC for women. She’s also been called one of the 100 most influential women – and one of the 25 smartest women – on Twitter. When I first met Kelly, I was completely unaware of the massive amount to accolades, awards and prestigious lists already in her arsenal. We met for a cup of coffee, and if I add in the cost of the plane ticket to New York City, it was a rather expensive cup of coffee, even by gourmet coffee standards. But it was the best investment in a cup of coffee I ever made. Through our conversation that day, I not only gained an invaluable advisor and mentor, but a dear friend who is willing to tell me the hard truths, because she understands that friends tell each other what they’re doing wrong as well as building up courage and confidence through praising what is being done right. Kelly walked away from a thriving law career to become an angel investor and went on to help found an accelerator for women in mobile. She is a highly respected strategist, columnist, author, and a consummate networker. But my inspiration from her comes from the wisdom of how and when she uses her influence and voice. She is outspoken and is not at all afraid to call someone out when she believes it is merited. But she chooses when and how to use that voice, and by doing so, is taken seriously when she does. She reminds me that a voice and platform become so much more powerful and useful when we choose when and how to effectively convey our values.

Minerva Tantoco

Minerva TantocoMinerva-Tantoco started coding in the ’80’s as a pre-med student, where she used a mainframe to run statistics for a psychology class and later studied programming. She holds four patents, has directed tech for UBS, Merrill Lynch, Fannie May and Palm, and she currently serves at CTO for New York City. An incredibly savvy, brilliant woman, Minerva inspires me because she chooses to champion other women, bringing a strong, positive voice and role model for young women both in her own city and across the world. Our company participated in this year’s NYC Big Apps competition, supporting a group of young teenage women who were part of the YWCA NYC Geek Girls Club, and it was not lost on me that Minerva cheered those young women on when they were pitching their mobile app ideas to adults who were much older and more powerful; she bolstered their courage and gave them confidence by using her voice on social media to cheer them on. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll soon discover that interspersed with posts addressing cutting edge tech, she shares kudos to everyone from young women in STEM program to women serving in leadership positions. She reminds me that is it vital that we use our position and our reach to lift others up, to use our successes to encourage young women to be brave and bold in their own choices, to not fear failure or to believe that failure is anything other than a roadblock to be circumvented on the way to a goal.

The Real Reason Girls Don’t Want to Code

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I recently sat down for a visit with friend who is running a program focused on STEM, and his insights into the boy/girl ratio were discouraging. “We offer coding camps and courses and work hard to get the word out to everyone. We send invitations to all of the girl-focused organizations. But last time, we only had one girl show up.  This time? None.”

A study released by Google indicated that when girls aren’t familiar with technology, they view STEM as hard, difficult and boring. But here’s the thing: I honestly don’t believe that girls are turned off by STEM because it’s hard or simply because girls think they’re bad at math. Girls aren’t wimps or wilting flowers; they don’t shrink from challenges just because something isn’t a strength. When girls are inspired, when they believe the payoff is worth the risk, discomfort, fear or effort, they can be unrelenting in the pursuit of a goal. Self-doubt doesn’t stop a girl when she wants something bad enough.

The problem isn’t that girls don’t think they can code; the problem is that they don’t want to code badly enough to get past any of their doubts or weaknesses. If you think about it, why shouldn’t girls be turned off? Think of what we see in movies, television – or in the news. The entertainment industry rarely portrays ‘tech’ characters with anyone young girls easily identity with; far too often those characters are either bad boy bro-culture or awkward misfits – neither of which are stereotypes that inspire girls to imagine themselves enjoying a career spent coding. And if you read tech news at all, you know how often it is filled with stories of badly behaving executives, unequal pay for women, and limited opportunities for funding for women in tech. We, as a culture, really aren’t doing a very good job of selling tech to girls.

If we are going to get more girls into STEM and have them like it, I firmly believe we need to change the “why” of these programs and events. Consider that have girls have flocked to Girl Scouts for over a century, in large part, because Girl Scouts play to girls’ natural strengths of leadership and social problem solving.

We need to stop telling an entire gender they need to embrace STEM because it’s good for their brain or if they don’t, boys will get all the good, high-paying jobs. It’s not working, and I’m kind of glad, because it means girls aren’t buying the logic that they need to do something just because boys do. We need to play to girls’ strengths and invite them to participate in projects that create solutions for social issues or problems that they care about – and then offer accessible tech which empowers girls to stop thinking about doing STEM and just use the technology, developing skills along the way as a means to an end. When STEM is simply a set of skills and tools to help solve problems we care about, it takes the scary out of tech.

Besides, girls most definitely embrace tech – think of the evolution of selfies since the introduction of camera phones, of instagram videos and photos with powerful storytelling in the unique framing and juxtaposition of images, and even the storyboarding on Pinterest – all predominantly female audiences using tech as the background for their creative expression.

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Our team at APPCityLife recently flew out to California as a technical sponsor for a local weekend challenge focused on solving congestion problems. When I asked one of the attendees, what motivated her and her companion to come to the event, she said, “We don’t either one of us know how to develop apps, so we just showed up hoping someone else here would like our idea enough to take it for their own project and run with it.”

I should add that she told me this as she stood next to me moments after she and her team were named the winners. She stood there smiling at her other two team members, shaking her head in dismay. “We won. We won,” she said. She paused and then said again, “We won!”

Imagine that.

Imagine waking up early on a rainy Saturday morning to attend a local hackathon – and being willing to do that without any hope of participating in any meaningful way beyond attempting to convince someone else with the right skills to take your idea and run with it. But when she and her companion heard the announcement that our platform was available to attendees, they wanted to learn more. We initially developed our platform for our own needs of robust app development and management, but its user-friendly interface makes it more easily accessible for those without prior coding experience. The need for such a gateway platform in the civic space inspired us to begin opening it up to the public through events like that weekend’s hackathon.

The couple attended our brief bootcamp and eventually teamed up with another attendee. For the rest of the weekend, the three worked under the mentoring of our team to build out their prototype mobile application and test the viability of the original ideas of a woman who believed her solution could improve the experience of riders while helping stimulate the local economy. She showed up with an idea and left with the understanding that she didn’t have to give her idea away to someone else with the right skills; she and her team could own it themselves and create their own solution.

It has been one of my proudest moments in my company when we were able to celebrate the success of her team. It was something to realize we were able to offer a portal into this incredibly rich world of tech, and our team of mentors made that experience a positive, rewarding one.

The response since the hackathon has been more than I expected. I was happy with an early win and validation, but I wasn’t expecting what followed. Invitations are starting to roll in for our team to bring our platform to civic and tech events across the U.S as well as Mexico City. We’ve entered very early conversations with a few educational institutions about launching gateway STEM programs. And we have already forged exciting new partnerships with inspiring groups like the Geek Girls Club of the YWCA of the City of New York, which, by the way, is also the oldest women’s organization in the U.S.. In fact, our team will host our first bootcamp of the year this coming January in the heart of New York City for high school girls who are actively exploring this rich, exciting world of STEM, whether by traditional means or something else in-between.

The demand is high and growing rapidly. We’re a small startup, but we’ve already imagined great things that we simply got busy and made happen. I am committed to push forward with one of our more lofty goals – to empower those who have had little or no access or enough valid reasons to enter the world of STEM. I am hoping others will be inspired by our early wins – like when our civic bootcamp ended up with over 50% women in attendance – and that others will be inspired to support and join our efforts so we can begin to change the ‘why’ for more girls and help shift the metrics just a bit more every time in the right direction. Together, I firmly believe that we erase the real and imagined barriers into tech by creating easier access to gateway platforms which lower the barrier of entry for so many groups who have believed themselves a poor fit for whatever reason within this world of STEM.

That’s a pretty powerful ‘why’, don’t you think?

Also published on Huffington Post.