Elizabeth Sutton

Elizabeth Sutton is an artist turned entrepreneur. While continuing to produce her original artwork, she is also coming out with a home product line and a lifestyle platform called Hustle Chic. She envisions a community in which women support one another’s endeavors in a creative and collaborative environment. Two pop-up stores are featuring her work – one in New York City (236 W 10th St, New York, NY 10014, now open) and one at Art Basel in Miami (151 NW 24th St, Miami, FL 33127, December 6-10).  

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What is Hustle Chic?

“The hustle” represents ambition and hard work while ”the chic” is about the love for one’s self and the desire to constantly improve. Hustle Chic is a networking group and a lifestyle platform for women in the design and creative fields. It’s an online space where contributors can share knowledge, promote projects, seek advice, and find support across a wide range of topics such as fashion, art, cooking and parenting.

There is also an ‘incentivization program’ designed to award generosity and contribution with unique benefits, access, and privileges through its partnership with commercial brands, individual influencers, and exclusive communities.

We’ve developed a system in which users can acquire both ‘hustle points’ and ‘chic points.’ As users add content, offer solutions to presented problems, and participate in the community, they accumulate two distinct categories of redeemable points. Hustle Chic will solidify its group spirit and promote user activity through these rewards.

Rewards include gift packages; access to networking events; tickets to educational seminars; discount codes for retail outlets, cultural events, health classes and fitness memberships.

How do you achieve balance between your home life and your professional life?

My two kids are the most important aspect of my life. Then my work. Then my family and friends. For two hours a day my assistant takes my cell phone away from me and I log off. I spend time with my kids. Sometimes I invite a friend to come over during this time.

What are you most proud of?

The relationships I’ve built. My network.

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What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

My divorce. I grew up financially dependent on my parents and then I got married and was financially dependent on my husband. My divorce forced me to be completely financially independent. It has motivated me to work extremely hard so I can provide for my children.

What advice do you have for other women and moms who are going through a divorce?

Work hard, build a support system and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Take care of yourself too.

What are you struggling with these days? 

When I use social media, I struggle with what to share with the public and what to keep private. I want my work to speak for itself but people want to know the details of my personal life. I’m sharing my personal life on social media in order to build my brand but in the next 5-10 years I hope to take myself out of my work and let my work stand on its own.

Katie Orenstein

Katie Orenstein is the Founder and CEO of The OpEd Project. Working with universities, think tanks, foundations, nonprofits, corporations and organizations across the nation, The OpEd Project scouts and trains under-represented experts (especially women) to take thought leadership positions in their fields (through op-eds and much more); connects them with an international network of high-level media mentors; and vets and channels the best new ideas and experts directly to media gatekeepers across all platforms. Orenstein envisions a world in which the best ideas—regardless of where or whom they come from—will have a chance to be heard and shape society.  

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Why did you found the OpEd Project?

The range of voices we hear from in the world is incredibly narrow – and comes from a tiny sliver of the world’s population: mostly western, white, older, privileged and overwhelmingly male. Which means we’re hearing from only a small fraction of the world’s brains. That’s a big problem for women and for all of us who aren’t being represented – our ideas and perspectives are not being told.

Why isn’t everyone equally represented in the media?

We live in a culture that treats people differently. It’s a complex matrix of deterrence and incentive that’s unevenly distributed. For example, if you’re a woman that wants to be taken seriously, you have to present yourself as an expert and it negatively correlates with likeability. There’s high risk and low rewards. Women are also pulled in a lot of directions – they don’t have the time, the support and the resources that others have.

What advice do you have for women who want to get published?

The OpEd Project offers workshops and resources to help alter the way stories are told in the media. You can learn more here:

https://www.theopedproject.org/seminars/

https://www.theopedproject.org/oped-basics/

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What do you say to people who want to get their voices out but don’t know what to say?

Everyone has a topic. The idea of expertise is very hierarchical. If you’re white, male, western, and went to Harvard you get more credit from our culture. There is a small group of thinkers who run things that others can’t touch. Everyone has knowledge and a right and responsibility to use it.

What is the long-term goal of The OpEd Project?

We want to change the culture of knowledge from a hierarchical culture to a democratic one. We’re all active participants.

What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

I lived in Haiti in the 1990’s and it changed my worldview. [While in Haiti, Orenstein worked for the United Nations human rights mission, and with a team of lawyers helping Haitian victims of military crimes bring cases against the alleged perpetrators.] I witnessed that the majority of the population were not the ones telling their own stories – instead; others were reporting what was happening and it wasn’t always representative or accurate.

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Jennifer Gefsky

Jennifer Gefsky is the Founder and CEO of Après, a company geared toward women who left their professions to be home with their families and are now looking to go back to their careers. Gefksy, herself, was a high-powered lawyer at Proskauer Rose LLP and then at Major League Baseball before choosing to become a full-time mom. She wants employers to recognize the value that these women bring to the table – they are reenergized, loyal and hardworking. Après curates job postings featuring companies that have made a pledge to hire women returning to the workforce. Après also has career coaches to help women navigate this transition. Après now has 35,000 members from around the U.S.

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What advice would you give to a mom who chooses to leave the workforce? What should she be doing?

Strategically think about volunteer work – Volunteer at a nonprofit where you can network and meet people as well as expand your skill set.

Keep up with your connections – Put in the effort to grab coffee with old colleagues, write emails periodically and don’t let your networks fall by the wayside.

Keep your toes in the water if you can – Find consulting projects, stay current on what’s going on in the world and in your industry.

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You’re working within the current system and helping women make these transitions but how can we change the system?

Changing the system is going to take a lot of time to accomplish. The workplace doesn’t value the fact that women have children. In fact, it’s considered a negative. In addition to dealing with guilt, women are dealing with disengagement from their employers (they’re given less important projects, etc.). There’s also a bias that exists – men like to work with men. People think men make better leaders. It’s hard to change the culture. It’s going to take a lot of effort. And women need to stand up for themselves. They need to vocalize what they need from their employers instead of just jumping ship.

Part-time work is known to offer more flexible hours but ultimately ends up being the same overall time commitment as full-time work – with half the pay. How do we ensure that a part-time job stays part-time? 

Because we’re living in the digital age, when you leave work you never really leave work. Lines have to be drawn very clearly. Be available when you’re on the clock. If you are being paid to work two days a week, only answer emails and phone calls those two days a week.

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Is there a company that represents the model for what should be done?

PricewaterhouseCoopers is very smart about retaining women and maintaining a connection with those who leave. If a woman leaves the company, for up to five years, PwC continues to pay for professional training and each woman is assigned a partner at the office who keeps her up to speed on what’s happening internally. This is a brilliant play. PwC demonstrates that they want you and these women want to come back.

What was your biggest career mistake?

Taking a career break without researching and talking to women who did that. I didn’t take a break with my eyes wide open. Not that I would have made a different decision, but I would have made it with more clarity. I also didn’t investigate alternative opportunities for myself (i.e. part-time or flexible positions). I just left without exploring.

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The Case for an Imbalanced Life

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Samantha Ettus, author of “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction” has caused a lot of controversy among working and stay-at-home moms.

Ettus found that the happiest moms are the ones who have seven main areas of focus — or “slices” — in their life: career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies. She advocates that women need to give themselves permission to participate in all of these slices. While it doesn’t matter how much time is spent in each slice, some time must be devoted to each of the seven in order to feel fulfilled.

After hearing Ettus speak at the S.H.E. Summit and listening to her espouse the virtues of a balanced life, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disagreement.

First, balance doesn’t exist. An artificially created pie structure is laughable to a new mom, an ER doctor, or an entrepreneur. At different phases of life, various priorities emerge. It’s appropriate to focus on one or two areas at a time, especially during a stressful or sleepless period.

Second, seven slices are not the key to happiness. I personally know many professionals who find the greatest meaning in throwing themselves completely into their work. They consider carving out time for friends or going to the gym a nuisance and a dilution of their purpose on earth.

Similarly, there are individuals who are not career-oriented and find happiness in their interpersonal relationships. Ettus has reportedly received hate mail and criticism from stay-at-home moms who say they have found fulfilling lives without investing time in a career. However, in multiple interviews, Ettus rejects this claim.

She told the New York Post, “I have yet to meet a woman who is completely fulfilled without keeping up her career. There are plenty of women who claim to be happy without a career, but two glasses of chardonnay in, you will find a well of dissatisfaction. Where you see a woman who is not in an independent pursuit of her own life goals, you’ll likely find an anxious child, an over-perfected home, a marriage out of balance and a school administrator who wishes this woman would get a job.”

She continued, “Would you ever say someone who spends every moment at the office has a good and satisfying life? A woman who spends every moment doting on her family has an equally unbalanced life.”

I would agree that both a professional who devotes all of her time to work and a stay-at-home-mom lead an imbalanced life. But an imbalanced life does not necessarily translate into an unhappy life. Many people find joy and fulfillment in the lopsidedness of spending more time on things that matter to them. Ettus’ seven slices – career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies – sound like a laundry list that needs to get checked off and not a list that leads to pleasure. A career is not for everyone. A romantic relationship is not for everyone. Children? Certainly not for everyone.

Disproportion is what leads to satisfaction. Throwing yourself into one or two areas of focus at a time leads to greater impact. When you get a promotion, when you make a difference in your community, when you develop a skill or a hobby – that’s what yields happiness. By spreading yourself too thin, you risk feeling subpar at everything.

Ettus has created a model that is easily digestible by the masses. However, it is an unrealistic portrayal of life for the modern woman. Having an evenly balanced scale is a nice image, but isn’t practical or even ideal for many people. As we navigate the different stages in our personal lives and our careers, it is up to us to determine what areas deserve more attention and what can be put on the back burner.

S.H.E. Summit 2016

It was an honor to represent Forward Females at this year’s S.H.E. Summit. I wanted to post highlights from the conference and inspirational insights that the speakers shared throughout the event.

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How to Amplify Your Leadership through Radical Self-Love

Gala Darling, an author and self-help guru, spoke about the need to practice “radical self-love.” She described a “self-loathing industry” that capitalizes on our need to constantly improve. There is a mantra of “we’re not enough” that women must fight against. She urged the audience to let our “judgment muscle” atrophy.

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Darling also mocked our need to constantly look for purpose. She said seeking your purpose is an “obsession with perfection masked in procrastination.” She continued, “The meaning of life is whatever stops you from killing yourself.” Darling explained that the meaning of life is what you bring to it and there’s not necessarily one secret answer that you need to discover.

From Partners, Co-Workers, Bosses, Fathers to Friends: How We Can Engage Men on All Levels

This panel featured Wade Davis, former NFL player and #HeForShe UN Advocate; Simon Isaacs, Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer of Fatherly; Connor Beaton, Founder of ManTalks and Adam Parker, Chief U.S. Equity Strategist at Morgan Stanley.

Simon Isaacs     Wade Davis    Claudia Chan

Wade Davis shed light on the mentality of athletes and their locker room banter. Mainly, the widespread notion that women are gold diggers who are only interested in their money. He also said that it’s important to widen the definition of masculinity. Davis grew up thinking that he couldn’t be a black athlete and also be gay because homosexuality is associated with weakness and being like a woman. While women are socialized to share their emotions and be vulnerable, it is critical to also educate the next generation of boys that vulnerability is a strength.

Simon Isaacs founded Fatherly because he felt that men’s media shouldn’t just be about swimsuits and BBQ sauce. He wanted to create an online space with content about family specifically geared toward men.

Adam Parker     Connor Beaton

Adam Parker expelled the myth that the quality of a maternity policy indicates whether there is gender diversity in that given place. For example, he said that Japan has an excellent maternity policy, but it’s not representative of the reality there. So what is representative? 1) the percentage of women in the C-Suite 2) pay parity and 3) representation of women across all ranks

Parker conducted a study and ranked 600 publicly traded companies on gender diversity. He found that those stocks that had greater gender diversity were less volatile.

Connor Beaton of ManTalks urged women to assume that men have positive intent. He said that no man loves to fail – in fact, men have a deep desire to succeed in everything they do: being a father, a husband, a professional, etc.

How to Maximize Your Career Success as Your Whole Self

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Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, was the most phenomenal speaker of the entire conference.

She said that information doesn’t give you a competitive advantage anymore. Today, information is a commodity. Instead, your distinction and your authenticity is your competitive advantage. Harris went on to explain that she is a gospel singer but didn’t want to reveal that side of herself to clients. She wanted to be taken seriously and not be thought of as someone who “sang and danced for the boys.” But she soon realized that the more she shared her whole self with clients, the stronger her relationships grew with them. They enjoyed learning about her interests and passions and even found a common bond when they too expressed a love for singing. The current trend is that the boundaries between personal and professional spheres are crumbling. By bringing your whole self to work, you become a more interesting, multi-dimensional individual.

Couples Therapy with Esther Perel: How Marriages and Relationships Thrive as Women Rise

Esther Perel, sex therapist and author, said that women are so focused on their daily mundane tasks that they don’t make time to embrace their sexuality. “Women think that they don’t deserve to focus on their own pleasure until the list is completely checked off – which is never.”

Perel said that often where we work becomes an erotically charged place. Work is where you’re charming, where people laugh at your jokes, where you’re energized, where people respect you. Home is where you bring whatever energy is left over. Perel said if you treated your partner the same way you treated your customer, your marriage would be thriving. A couple’s relationship also deeply affects the family. Therefore, the connection between parents needs to be paramount. If the couple isn’t doing well, the whole family falls apart.

Invest Your Time in “What Matters” Over “Having It All”

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This panel featured Chloe Coscarelli, the vegan chef and founder of By Chloe restaurants; Kelly Clarkson, three-time Grammy winner; and Ellen Seckler, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Citizen Watch Company.

Kelly Clarkson spoke about the difficulty of juggling everything in her life: a book tour, an album, four children, a husband, etc. She believes in the “trickle down” effect where the mother needs to take care of herself before she can take care of everyone else in her family. Clarkson was raised by a single mom who taught her the value of being independent. But today, she is learning to ask for help.

The Pie: A New Guilt-free Paradigm Shift for Thinking About Work-Life Balance

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Author Samantha Ettus found that the happiest moms are the ones who have seven main areas of focus — or “slices” — in their life: career, health, relationship, children, community, friends and hobbies. She said that women need to give themselves permission to participate in all of these slices and while it doesn’t matter what the ratio is of how much time is spent in each slice, some time must be devoted to each of the seven in order to feel fulfilled.

Ettus has reportedly received hate mail and criticism from stay-at-home moms who say they have found fulfilling lives without investing time in a career. However, in multiple interviews, Ettus rejects this claim.

She told the New York Post, “I have yet to meet a woman who is completely fulfilled without keeping up her career. There are plenty of women who claim to be happy without a career, but two glasses of chardonnay in, you will find a well of dissatisfaction. Where you see a woman who is not in an independent pursuit of her own life goals, you’ll likely find an anxious child, an over-perfected home, a marriage out of balance and a school administrator who wishes this woman would get a job.”

She continued, “Would you ever say someone who spends every moment at the office has a good and satisfying life? A woman who spends every moment doting on her family has an equally unbalanced life.”

In an interview with Us Weekly, Ettus said, “Nobody raises a daughter and says, ‘I hope she will grow up to be financially dependent with no career of her own.’ Model what you want your kids to be.”

Although I dug up these controversial interviews after the conference, Ettus was less provocative in her speech at the S.H.E. Summit, focusing on women dividing their time more effectively. 

The 2016 S.H.E. Summit was extremely inspiring and engaging. The speakers energized the audience and gave us a lot to think about and work towards. I look forward to attending this annual event in the future. Thank you Claudia Chan for putting together a wonderful conference!

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Claudia Chan

Claudia Chan is the founder of S.H.E. Global Media, a women’s media and education company and the force behind the S.H.E. Summit, an annual conference devoted to supporting women’s movement champions around the world. Chan sat down with Forward Females to discuss her career path, her daily inspiration and the importance of involving men in the fight for gender equality. 

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Describe your professional journey and how you ended up where you are today.

I went to an all women’s high school and college. I also had a strong, entrepreneurial mother. I come from a Chinese first generation family. My parents came to America from Taiwan and opened Chinese restaurants. They had fierce entrepreneurial spirits and taught me that in order to be completely independent I’d have to open my own business one day.

Out of Smith College, I started out doing dotcom networking parties. Then, with a friend, we met the founders of Shecky’s, an event promoter company. We rolled out a Girls’ Night Out platform with Shecky’s. This was during the Sex and the City era. There was so much emphasis on going out, wearing certain brands, shopping, etc. That was the culture. We were the largest, premium women events platform. We were in 15+ cities and 150,000 women attended our events each year. I helped form a lot of corporate partnerships for the company.

How did you go from organizing Girls’ Night Out events to working on women’s empowerment?

After ten years at Shecky’s, my partner and I didn’t have the same vision anymore. There weren’t a lot of successful women business owners. At leadership conferences, women were part of the work/life balance conversation. But in the forums on leadership, only men would serve on those panels. At that time I also read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and it had a huge impact on me. It documents the greatest atrocities affecting women around the world. I started reading more about inequality and how women are underrepresented and undervalued in so many segments of society. We’re 118 years away from gender equality according to the World Economic Forum.

I wanted to create a cool, mainstream women’s empowerment company to get women involved in the cause.

What is the S.H.E. Summit?

I’ve spent the last 5 years, together with an army of women, driving awareness of women’s empowerment. The conference is affordable. We’re engaging the masses. We have a holistic leadership agenda covering wellness, motherhood, and financial wellbeing – not just entrepreneurship and business leadership. We encourage 360 degree empowerment – embracing everything that makes up our lives. We can’t be successful if we’re not taking care of ourselves fully.

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What does S.H.E Media do besides for the Summit?

That’s our big event for the year. But we’re also focused on the corporate market. Women today associate passion and purpose with leaving corporate America. We consult with corporations and help them gain clarity on how they are empowering women both internally and externally.

How do we get more men involved in the women’s movement?

Women’s forums have to be a lot more inclusive of men and boys. Women aren’t going to thrive unless they’re co-existing with men in their reality. It’s a partnership of genders to make something work. We need to ask men what they’re thinking about, what they’re struggling with, and include them. There’s a new masculinity movement. We have to be concerned about our next generation of men and boys and how they’re fitting into the women’s empowerment movement. It can’t be a woman’s-only approach anymore. We need a partnership approach.

We are bringing the S.H.E Summit to Bacardi, the global spirits company based in Miami. Bacardi is a corporation that has an internal women’s network. A lot of the male, senior managers are participating in the event. Content creates consciousness and consciousness creates change. Individuals create change. We need to ignite individuals.

How would you respond to women who say, “We’re already equal, we’re already empowered”?

Women create society. We bring life to the world. That’s a pretty big responsibility and a lot of work. A huge percentage of women drop out of the workforce to take care of their families. Childcare is expensive. Parental leave isn’t mandatory. The political is personal and the personal is political. But these issues still affect everyone. For example, women aren’t taught financial literacy and how to manage their money. Money affects the choices we make and the families we raise.

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What are your short-term and long-term goals?

My short-term goal is that the S.H.E. Summit is successful. I want to activate people to take steps to actualize their potential and decide how to contribute and empower others. I want to further the leadership and impact of those who attend.

My long-term goal is to cultivate a network of corporate leaders who are truly devoted to empower women in their specific areas and close the gender gap by 2030.

What are you most proud of?

My ability to continually grow. I constantly change in my leadership, in my character and in my integrity. I devour books on leadership development. I go to Church. I’m a student of life and I’m really proud of that quality.

And my son. He is just the greatest miracle and force of light in my life.

Who inspires you?

My dad inspires me. He taught me how to be a good person. He told me to marry for love, to do the right thing, and not to sweat the small stuff. He taught me character. He came to America, started a business, sent us to school and gave us a wonderful life.

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What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

Losing my father has really put everything in perspective. His passing reminds me that we’re all here on earth for a limited period of time. However much time I have left, where I invest my time and energy matters. It makes me intentional about the character I want to be, the quality of experience I want to have, and what contribution I want to make to this world.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I want my legacy to be that I encouraged people, primarily women, to serve and contribute to society in areas that are authentic to them. And if it’s specifically within the gender equality movement that’s even better! 

Jovian Zayne Irvin

Jovian Zayne Irvin is the founder of the OnPurpose Movement, a consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations and individuals “Live on Purpose” through curated web content and in person training and facilitation experiences. Previously, she was a Managing Director of Talent Recruitment at Teach for America and a marketing professional at Black and Decker Corporation.

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What werthe key experiences in your life that influenced where you are today?

A key experience was growing up with two incredible parents who coached and supported me. There’s a saying, “Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” And I owe my parents everything. I learned from my parents to be the voice for others who don’t have a voice. They encouraged me to go down a path that others may be afraid to go down.

When I was younger I was told stories about the extraordinary choice my parents made to integrate schools. When my father was only fourteen-years-old he chose to integrate his school in South Carolina. My mother was part of a trailblazing group of women who helped to integrate Winthrop College. Their experiences taught me how to lead a life that’s legacy-leading and to provide a better life for other people. They ignited a passion in me to do things that were bigger than myself.

A huge moment for me was when I was the first black woman to be elected as Senior Class President at UNC Chapel Hill, and I’m still the only black woman who has held that position to this day. That was a pivotal moment when I recognized the power of my voice, and that I could be a uniting force across lines of difference. My peers wanted me to represent them and make things better for my class.

Another important experience was when I decided to move out of my marketing career into doing work that was more social justice based and people focused. I left Black & Decker and went to Teach for America. There I learned that I love to coach and help people be their best. This led me to create the business I run today.

What is the objective of your consulting business?

I, along with my partners, coach managers, deliver speeches, and develop curriculum and design work around professional development, management, branding, and diversity and inclusion. Some of our clients include Harvard University, The Clinton Foundation, The Aspen Institute, Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records, and The Robin Hood Foundation. We love to help individuals and organizations live and work on purpose.

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How can companies incorporate more meaning into the workday?

Organizations need to be clear on their intrinsic value and purpose. Why do they exist? What purpose are they serving? Why is their customer important? How does that drive how they want to serve that customer better? They need to understand the context in which they work.

Organizations need to clearly communicate this and more during their recruitment process. They should develop more nuanced and yet, direct job descriptions that mirror the impact they hope people will achieve in those roles. Too many job descriptions we see now are stale and fairly nondescript. They don’t necessarily communicate how the company wants employees to embody the values of the organization and bring their full selves to work. A person who is ready to work and live on purpose doesn’t want to have a disconnect between who they are outside of their 9-5 and during their 9-5. Organizations get the most out of their employees when they adapt jobs to let them shine.

What is the International Day of Purpose?

My organization founded the International Day of Purpose earlier this year out of a growing desire to shift the culture and the conversation around the power of purpose. As we work with clients to help employees and managers become more purposeful, and help organizations build core values and engage in one-on-one coaching, we realized that people are often floating through their lives without a clear sense of their “why.” People are living by accident. We asked, “What would happen if everyone in the world lived – not by accident – but on purpose?” We want people to be challenged by that question.

On the Day of Purpose we worked with multiple partners to give people opportunities to reflect on purpose, engage on purpose, and share on purpose. On our website there was a guide to help people participate in all three of these efforts. There were also events around the world where people could attend and participate in person.

There was a powerful social media component where people used the hashtag #dayofpurpose. People posted how they were living intentionally that day. We had 10 million people engaging in on-purpose behavior either online or attending events around the world from D.C., L.A., New York, Brazil, and Johannesburg.

Some of our partners included the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, KIND snacks, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York, The Clark Fox Family Foundation, Teach for America and Wondaland Records among others.

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What are you short-term and long-term goals?

A short-term goal is building out more content to be delivered by the OnPurpose movement. For example, we’re hoping to get a recurring column in Forbes or another publication.

Our ultimate goal is for the International Day of Purpose to be recognized by the United Nations as an official day to be celebrated around the world. I’m also writing a book, The OnPurpose Manifesto that describes the stories of people who have been living on purpose, and also provides tools for others to do the same.

What is a meaningful life to you?

When you’re living on purpose, you’re constantly exploring your inherent purpose over time. An on-purpose lifestyle is activated with daily decision-making driven by a motivation to serve your purpose: who your friends are, where you eat, where you go, etc. The last piece is intention. You live intentionally and serve the world with your unique gifts and perspective.

What was your biggest career mistake?

There are two things I’d caution people against:

1) Do not let frustration in a job or frustrations with a manager stop you from showing up each day and being your best at work. Sometimes you’re frustrated and you check out. Don’t check out. It’s a decision you need to make for yourself – to be proud of your behavior and always be your best. I didn’t always do that and later I wish I would have.

2) Don’t stay in a position for too long when you know you’re not serving your purpose and serving the world. It’s hard to rebound after you’ve been in a job that sucks you dry. You know intrinsically it’s time to move on. Don’t wait for the fifteenth sign when you’ve already gotten four. Just go. Every day that you stay, you’re chipping away at your confidence.

What trends have you seen over time in the quest to have more meaning?

People don’t want to be bystanders. Millennials are also not driven by money or even comfort. They care more about doing work that matters; they care about recognition and professional development. The millennial generation makes up 25% of the workforce and by 2020 they will make up 50% of the workforce. That sheer fact demands that organizations adapt to allow people to be fulfilled through their work. They don’t just want to be fulfilled in their extracurriculars.

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Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by Oprah. I’ve watched how she’s evolved, stood up in the face of challenges, and how she’s let’s herself be redefined by her own standard and not by someone else.

Miki Agrawal [fellow Forward Female], the founder of Thinx, is an inspiration. I admire her boldness. I’m attracted to people who are unashamed of being authentically themselves. As Miki becomes more famous she remains true to who she is. She is genuine.  

What do you want your legacy to be?

I want to be known as someone who lives her life boldly and on purpose. I want to light the path for others. I want to be known as an encourager who has helped others to be their best.

Kellee Joost

Kellee Joost is a Managing Director at Golden Seeds. Golden Seeds was founded in 2005 and has 275 members across the country. Members have invested more than 80 million dollars in over 76 companies. Golden Seeds invests in three areas: life sciences, consumer products and technology. In order to receive funding, companies must have a woman as part of the leadership team. She doesn’t necessarily need to be the CEO but she has to have a significant stake in the company and be a driving force in the strategy of the company.

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What were the key forces that propelled you to where you are today?

I have a diverse background. That comes from a desire to always be learning new things and getting out of my comfort zone. I like change and I like to try new things. I started in government and politics working at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. Then I moved to Chicago and worked for the Illinois State Medical Society. At this time the technology space was growing and I wanted to try something different. I applied for a job at GolfServe, a startup that provided golf-related web content and e-commerce services.

How did you come to found your own company?

When GolfServ exited I had developed a strong passion for dogs. I had a Newfoundland who needed knee surgery. The surgeon described my dog’s post-operative care and none of it included physical therapy or rehabilitation. The doctor dismissed any treatment besides rest and walks around the block. It didn’t sound right. I met a veterinarian who was doing holistic veterinary medicine. She was doing at-home physical therapy with dogs. I worked with her to help rehabilitate my dog. We went back to the surgeon six weeks later and he was amazed at the strides my dog had made. I teamed up with this veterinarian and another friend of mind to start Integrative Pet Care. It was one of the first veterinary specialty care centers focused on rehabilitation. Starting a company was a great experience and we operated it for about five years and then sold it.

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How did you get involved in angel investing?

I moved to New York and wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Through networking, I met the woman who started the Pipeline Fellowship (now called Pipeline Angels). She was starting her second class of Fellows. The Fellowship is a network of new and seasoned women investors interested in supporting women social entrepreneurs. Pipeline Angels holds boot camps and classes for new investors and pitch summits for startups looking for funding. Before learning about Pipeline I never saw myself as an angel investor. I didn’t think angel investors looked like me. I didn’t think there were a lot of women my age. I thought they were older men. I became a Fellow and it was my first glimpse into the opportunity to become part of something bigger. I was able to invest capital in startups and also relay my expertise to help make the journey for entrepreneurs a little easier.

Through the Fellowship, you take courses on evaluating companies, negotiating term sheets, and doing due diligence while you’re also on a parallel track of meeting entrepreneurs, evaluating business plans, hearing pitches and then as a group determining which companies to invest in. All of the companies that were pitching were women-led and social impact for-profit companies.

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How did the Pipeline Fellowship lead you to become Managing Director at Golden Seeds?

After the Pipeline Fellowship I joined Golden Seeds because I wanted to keep investing through a similar lens. I also sit on the boards of two different companies I have invested in. Members of Golden Seeds, both men and women, work together to screen businesses, do due diligence, invest, give advice, and expand opportunities for women entrepreneurs to get capital. It’s still really challenging for women to raise capital.

Why is it still so difficult for women to raise capital?

The majority of angel investors are men, even though that’s changing. Men invest in what’s familiar to them. There’s a bias. People are more comfortable with people who are similar to them and who look like them. Many women are also starting companies that are mostly consumer products or food related, which can’t scale as rapidly as a Google or Facebook. It’s less attractive to traditional investors who are looking for a significant multiple in what they’re investing in.

At Golden Seeds we think that by having both women and men in the leadership team there’s an even greater opportunity for multiple. But the companies that women lead are “softer” and that’s not attracting the same kind of capital. Or they’re involved in social impact or social mission investing, which aren’t perceived as being as profitable. Even though they could be.

Women also find it harder to ask for money. They don’t always have the confidence to walk into a room filled with 90% men and say, “I’m going to make you rich. Give me $1 million.” They’re more cautious and deferential. And often times if they are bold, people think those women are too pushy and assertive. It’s a catch-22.

Why is it important to specifically invest in women-led businesses? Some argue that highlighting the difference between men and women entrepreneurs actually perpetuates sexism.

It’s important to have both sides of the brain represented in leadership roles. That’s why at Golden Seeds we invest in companies that have women in the leadership and who are not necessarily the CEO. Also because of this unconscious bias that hasn’t leveled yet, it’s important to draw attention to the fact that women are underfunded and don’t have the same opportunities so we can elevate them and get them to a level playing field. If we just keep it as status quo and don’t push for parity we’ll never get there.

What do you look for in a pitch?

I make sure that the entrepreneur can concisely describe the problem, how she’s going to solve it, why it matters, the size of the market and how she’ll make money doing it. At the end of the day, it’s the entrepreneur that needs to execute on everything. The entrepreneur needs to be in it for the long haul. At the end of the day, nothing looks like the entrepreneur originally thought it was going to look.

You sit on the Board of Directors of two social enterprises. What do these companies do?

DayOne Response is a company that develops products for disaster relief in the water and sanitation space. Their inaugural product is a personal water purification system, which consists of a ten-liter backpack that collects, treats and stores water in 30 minutes. They sell to NGOs and the military. They work internationally on the humanitarian side and they work domestically for preparedness. So in California, for example, there are earthquake kits in case the water supply gets contaminated or shut off. DayOne Response was a Pipeline Fellowship investment and that’s how I learned about them and got involved in the Board.

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Cissé is a fair trade cocoa company that designs a line of baking mixes and cocoas that has a fully traceable supply chain of cocoa from a cooperative in the Dominican Republic. All of the proceeds go back to the village to build the community. Cissé is a more traditional company that sells to Whole Foods, Stop & Shop and Dean and Deluca. But the social mission of the company is what speaks to me.

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Why did you join the Boards of these two companies?

What drew me to work closer with these two companies were the two strong entrepreneurs. They are the fiercest women I’ve ever met. They are tenacious, smart and great to work with. I get homework assignments from the entrepreneurs: networking, fundraising, strategizing, evaluating their financial models, etc. We work independently and also with fellow board members.

What was your biggest career mistake?

Not listening to my gut. Not paying attention to red flags. I’m better at it now, but I’m still working on trusting my intuition. At heart, I’m an optimistic person and I always think everything is going to work out fine.

What are you most proud of? 

Starting my own business with my partners. Employing a great team, creating jobs, and making a difference in our customers’ lives. That was very fulfilling.

What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

When I was still working for Integrative Pet Care I travelled to South Africa. I was there on vacation but I had the chance to meet with women entrepreneurs who were starting businesses in townships in order to make their lives better. They were providing better lives and better opportunities for their children. It struck me that an entrepreneurial spirit could change a woman’s life, her family’s life and her entire village. To empower women in that way struck me as something that was really important to do. I had a light bulb moment when I was abroad and saw a poverty level beyond anything you’d see in the U.S. and then watching these women take control and make a difference was incredible.

Miki Agrawal

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Miki Agrawal is the Founder and CEO of Thinx, a company that sells period-proof underwear. For every pair of underwear bought, Thinx sends funds to its partner AFRIPads in Uganda. AFRIpads hires local women and trains them to both sew and sell washable, reusable cloth pads, turning them into local entrepreneurs. 94% of girls in Uganda report having problems at school due to menstruation and many drop out of school entirely. Thinx gained a lot of media attention once Outfront Media, the company that sells New York City subway ad space, sent back THINX’s designs for being inappropriate.

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Agrawal then went on to found Icon, which sells pee-proof underwear for light bladder leaks and Tushy, a modern bidet attachment.

What were the key forces that propelled you to where you are today?

I truly realized that there was a huge need for something like this. I had the same problem happen over and over again. You know what they say that necessity is the mother of invention. There was a necessity here.

There have been only three major innovations in the entire 20th century in the feminine hygiene category, which is just absurd. The products don’t currently work and they’re potentially harmful – whether it’s toxic shock syndrome as it relates to tampons or whether it’s the fact that it’s super hazardous to the environment and not sustainable with 20 billion menstrual products filling up landfills every year, which require 500-800 years to break down. There was no brand speaking to women about their bodies the way we’d want to be spoken to. It was very clinical and academic and not human. I hate wearing tampons and pads. I could never feel comfortable when I had my period every month. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about the existing offerings. There was a lacking in all of these categories so it was time for Thinx to exist.

Why are you uniquely positioned to take this on?

People can relate to me on many levels. I’m petite, I’m first-generation American, and I didn’t come from a family with a lot of money. I’m also fearless. Having a twin sister gave me the mentality of “I can do this.” My twin sister and I constantly champion each other and it makes me feel like I can do anything. She challenges me to be as authentic as possible and speak the truth.

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When you first conceived of Thinx did you think it was going to become what it is today? 

I believe in it and I’ve always believed in it. There was a lot of hard work and dedication involved plus a little bit of luck.

You previously said that you’d like to be the “the taboo queen for the nether regions” – why are you attracted to this area of focus?

I don’t want to be, I just happen to be. I think these are conversations that need to told. They shouldn’t be taboo. If men dealt with these things, it wouldn’t be taboo. In fact, they’d get vacation days every month. There’s a level of inequality that’s intolerable.

How do you split your time between Thinx, Icon and Tushy?

I’m the Chief Creative Officer for all three brands. I’m the CEO of Thinx and Icon. I have a CEO for Tushy. It takes a village. I can’t do everything myself. Being creative is fun and it’s easier for me than doing operations and finance. I lean on my other teams for the stuff that I’m naturally less inclined to do. I devote most of my time to Thinx, because it’s the biggest business of the three and then I devote an equal amount of time to Icon and Tushy. 

Are you thinking about your next venture?

No, the 3 P’s – periods, pee and poop – are going to take up my time for a while. I’m definitely interested in the philosophies and deep understanding of what it means to be a human alive on this planet today. I don’t think people get what that means. We forget that we get to be alive. That’s the next philosophical thing that I want to tap into. But right now, I’m making people more comfortable while they’re alive.

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What are your short-term and long-term goals?

They go hand in hand. I want to impact as many people as possible and I want to eliminate shame from conversations that shouldn’t have shame attached to them.

What was your biggest career mistake?

Understanding the different types of people that you need around you. Both energetically and in terms of skill-set. There’s an element of yin-yangness that comes into play when growing a business. I have a lot of yang energy – intense, emotional and fiery. I need yin energy around me, which is calm, loving, and peaceful. I also have a lot of creative fire and I need people who have the complement to that – people who like operations and finance, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. That’s very different from me – creative, open and full of broad brush strokes. To find the right team, the right temperaments and the right skill-sets are the biggest challenges. You don’t always know how it’s going to go until people are working with you, so I had to make very difficult decisions that caused a lot of stress in my life. I listened to my intuition when it wasn’t feeling right.

What are you most proud of?

We are truly on track to eliminating shame in the period conversation both here and around the world. We helped 45,000 girls go back to school in the developing world. We are empowering women here every day to bleed with pride and without frustration or worry. It’s liberating and we get to be part of that liberation. We are at the forefront of the period feminist movement.

How have you been treated as a woman in the start-up industry?

I am fundraising right now for Tushy. If I were a man pitching after having achieved great success with his previous company like I’ve had with Thinx, it would be much easier for him to bring in money for his second business than it is for me. I have to continue to prove myself at every single step. It’s a challenge and I need to show up every day with as much fire as possible to get the job done. All three brands are doing really well but it is frustrating that there’s still an old boy’s club. In time, the women will rule. 

What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs?

Take a positive action everyday. Don’t wait for something to happen to you.

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What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

Definitely going to Burning Man. It’s a transformational experience and has given me a re-belief in humanity and the human spirit. It’s run on ten core principles and when you show up you have to espouse them. One principle is radical self-reliance where you re-learn that you are completely capable by yourself. Another principle is radical inclusion – you don’t need to put up a front, you can just be yourself and be included. Participation is another big one – you need to put something in to get something out. Often people expect things to turn up in front of them but it’s actually necessary to put in the love and energy to get something in return. During Burning Man, people exhibit art and then at the end of the week they burn everything to the ground. It makes you realize that nothing is permanent. Why do I have an ego when I’m fleeting in this world? I’m a blip. Why am I so concerned about myself? I get to be here right now and bear witness to the world, let me just sit in gratitude for a second.

This is my sixth year going in a row.

What are you struggling with these days?

There’s so much to be done while I’m here for a short amount of time. I want to gift the knowledge that holy shit we’re alive right now. Why are we talking about gender inequality and race and body image when we’re all alive together? Let’s celebrate that. You’re an extension of me and I’m an extension of you. That’s an important mission in my life. It doesn’t keep me up at night but it’s something I’m excited about.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I was alive and I lived life everyday like it mattered. And I felt lucky to be alive.

Nancy Lublin

Nancy Lublin is the founder of Dress for Success, a nonprofit that provides professional clothing, support and tools for low-income women to succeed in their job-search and helps them gain economic independence. After building Dress for Success, Lublin served as the CEO of DoSomething.org, a nonprofit that galvanizes young people to join national campaigns for projects that create social change.

Most recently, Lublin is the CEO of Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit organization providing free crisis intervention through text message. Lublin founded Crisis Text Line after an employee at DoSomething.org received a text message saying: “He won’t stop raping me. He told me not to tell anyone.” The next day, there was another message: “It’s my dad.”

Forward Females had the opportunity to interview Lublin and learn more about her work, what she claims she’s “not so good at,” and what she’s planning on never feeding her kids…

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What’s the common thread between your three main ventures: Dress for Success, DoSomething.org and Crisis Text Line?

My career seems kind of strange – bailing on law school to go to Dress for Success and then DoSomething, but all of these things are about helping other people help themselves. Dress for Success is about nailing that job interview, feeling confident and reclaiming your life. DoSomething is helping you figure out what you’re passionate about and then making a difference in that space. Crisis Text Line is giving you the tools, coping skills and support to make a plan for yourself to be safe. I like helping other people help themselves. Either that or I just have an aversion to making money.

What have you learned about yourself through your professional journey?

I learned a lot about managing people. I learned about technology and using it in smart ways to build things that matter. I’ve also learned what makes me tick, what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.

What are you good at and what are you not good at?

I’m good at functioning on very little sleep. I’m good during “war time”, when things get really messy. I’m good at letting people know what their strengths are and managing to those strengths.

I’m not good at math. I’m not good at taking deep breaths and going slowly. I’m really not good at taking care of myself.

What is your current involvement in Dress for Success and DoSomething.org?

I’m a fan.

When do you know when it’s time to move on to your next project?

When you find yourself spinning your wheels. And then you have to be passionate about something else. I never want to be bored somewhere. Leaving DoSomething was easy because I worked with a fantastic person who was ready to become CEO.

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You have a tremendous amount of data and you don’t want people exploiting it in any way. But do you plan to use this data in any other way besides making Crisis Text Line more accurate and efficient?

Yes, we’re using it to make us better and to make the world better. We’ve opened it up at Crisis Trends. And by application only we’re allowing others to do research based on our data corpus. We had 65 applicants in the first couple of weeks. An ethics committee comprised of experts around the country evaluate the applications.

How do you recruit the volunteers who respond to texts? Do you do outreach or do most people come to you unsolicited?

People apply, they go through a background check, and then there’s a 34-hour online training that includes quizzes and role-play exercises. From the start of the application stage to actually getting on the platform, there’s a 39% acceptance rate.

We put the word out at key venues. Moms, veterans, the deaf and hard of hearing – there are these groups of people that are particularly terrific crisis counselors.

What was your biggest career mistake? 

Only one? There are so many… Not firing people fast enough, not dreaming big enough, getting caught up in the details and missing the forest and the trees.

What are you most proud of? 

My kids have never eaten Chicken McNuggets.

What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

Probably having my kids. It’s made me a better person and a better CEO.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I want my kids to be kind.