Career-Defining Moments: Women Tell All For Women’s History Month

CMO by Adobe’s community of female execs share the moments that defined, catapulted, or even set their careers on an entirely new path.

Career-Defining Moments: Women Tell All For Women’s History Month

Career-defining moments are few and far between, and they’re not always recognized until long after they occur.

But be it an encouraging word from a mentor, a promotion that comes out of the blue, or lessons learned from a blunder, these moments have the potential to define, catapult, or even set a career on an entirely new path. They did for the successful women you’re about to meet. In honor of Women’s History Month, the annual March celebration of women’s achievements, CMO by Adobe turned to its female community and asked: Tell us a critical moment in your career that truly impacted your journey/path.

Like us, we think you’ll find their responses both intriguing and inspiring.

Toccarra Baker, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Adobe

“A few years ago I was working in San Francisco and got offered an opportunity to help with our company’s business in New York. It wasn’t a permanent move, but it required me to commit to working out of New York for at least six months.

I was excited and scared at the same time, and to help myself with my decision, I made a list. The list included the opportunities and challenges in accepting the new role, and to be honest, I felt crippled by all of the challenges. I started to feel that I wouldn’t be successful in the role. To make matters worse, a work colleague had heard I was considering the offer and in so many words told me they didn’t think I deserved it. I felt a complete mixture of anger and defeat.

While discussing the opportunity and angering conversation with a different work colleague, she gave me one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever received. She told me, ‘Who cares what other people think? You are given an opportunity–you need to run until you get tackled.’ It is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received, and because of it I have felt the confidence to not only take full advantage of opportunities given to me, but also to ask for those that I’ve wanted, ignore the negative words of others around me, and, overall, confidently take full control of my career.”

Shelly Belvill, VP Of Marketing, Cybersource, A Visa Solution

“I remember moving from advertising agency life to the client side of the world. For me I was 10 years into a marketing career and loving the work.

At the time I was working with very seasoned and wickedly smart leaders at Visa. As I grew in my role, they kept encouraging me to take on more. At one point, I raised my hand for an opportunity that truly scared me a bit, but I vividly remember two senior members telling me they believed in my ability to lead. I took the jump and never looked back. They pushed me to listen to my inner voice and trust my instincts—and for that, I am eternally grateful. Without those cheerleaders, I would not have taken the chances in my career that have made me who I am, nor would I have met the friends and colleagues along the way who have defined my experiences and memories. It has taught me to always encourage those starting out and to push them to have a voice, not be afraid to make a mistake or two, and lean into new experiences. Take on your fears, enjoy your work and the people that you meet along the way.”

Deb Corrao, Managing Director, Accenture Interactive

“A critical turning point in my career was when I learned that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.

I spent the first half of my career being the hard-charging hero who was often parachuted into difficult situations to ‘right the ship.’ I was successful and was promoted often. Then I ran into my first challenge that I really couldn’t solve on my own. I tried, driving my team hard as ever, and failed. I vividly remember feeling defeated, picking up the phone, and asking for help. My peer on the other end gladly took the call and provided the help I needed. It was such an eye opener to me to discover that I didn’t have to solve everything with me as the sole leader. It changed how I lead. I began to focus not on how to solve problems, but on who could help me solve them. It led to far better outcomes, with my teams far better equipped for their challenges, and enabled me to take on far more than I ever could have otherwise.”

Lindy Crea, Head of US Partnerships, Klarna

“My critical moment happened right at the beginning of my journey, at the start of college when my parents were suddenly not able to provide financial support.

After much stress and deliberation, I decided to take a year off school but to stay near the campus and work full time. This allowed me to maintain independence while gaining state residency and lower my tuition costs. I started a full-time job as a manager at an event company and worked as many hours as they would give me, sometimes finishing an evening event and starting again a few hours later on a breakfast event. My colleagues were all students in a similar situation to mine: working to pay for college. We had a glorious time together delivering these events, solving the inevitable issues, reveling in satisfied customers, and celebrating together when the work was finally finished. This team became my tribe, and together we solved various trials, such as a fallen wedding cake, a buffet caught on fire, or a boisterous drunken guest. After a year, I returned to class with a renewed appreciation and much better grades. I continued to work every hour I could, through every summer, until I graduated.

That process (20 years ago!) taught me to love a challenge, especially a challenge tackled with a team. It gave me confidence, albeit sometimes anxiety-filled breathless confidence, to step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I have sought and accepted opportunities that weren’t always easy but took me to incredible places, such as Spain, London, and Mozambique, to work with incredible teams in all cases.”

Carole Ferrand, Chief Financial Officer, Capgemini

“Since the first day in my first job, 28 years ago, I have constantly been focused and sensitive to the values and the leadership of the people and organisations I have worked for and with.

In my opinion, mutual trust and respect and a strong commitment to bringing value through professional expertise are essential to building a successful career. This has enabled me to build a variety of great experiences with strong role models, both men and women. Prior to joining Capgemini, I worked five years with Patricia Barbizet, a prominent female leader in the business world and a true role model for me. “Always ready” was her motto. This is something that stays with me today.

In all circumstances, while acquiring, financing, or accompanying companies in their key strategic developments, I have always valued intellectual stimulation, inspiration, and collaborative decision making. When asked what it takes to build a successful career, I always say that making conscious decisions about the career choices and the associated commitments and ensuring that the experiences gained are complementary are important elements.

Finally, Capgemini is part of that journey both when I was board director and now group CFO. I am really pleased to see all the progression and objectives around gender in the group.”

Siobhan Fitzpatrick, SVP Virgin Holidays & Digital, Virgin Atlantic & Virgin Holidays

“A critical moment in my career was the first time I met someone who defined for me what being a mentor truly was and the unique ability one has to help unlock the potential we all have inside.

I was working in a high-pressure sales environment and had been given the opportunity to step up into a much bigger role with more responsibility. I was engaged, motivated, and terrified, aware that I was being given the opportunity based on aptitude and attitude versus experience. Like many women I have met in business, sometimes the biggest obstacle to success lies in our own limiting self-beliefs, and I was secretly wearing my ‘fear of failing’ badge daily.

A few months after being given the role, I was lucky enough to meet an amazing mentor who provided me with an arsenal of tools that I still use every day. He patiently listened to me try to rationalise my role and contribution and graciously shared with me years of vast and extensive knowledge, creating a safe environment for me to learn, flourish, and sometimes fail. But equally as importantly, he gently but directly, with razor-sharp insight, challenged me on limiting self-beliefs. The conversations were often direct and uncomfortable, but there’s no doubt that without the support, investment in time, and my own personal curiosity to grow my horizons, I would not be in the amazing role I am in today.

I’d encourage anyone who is lucky enough to have access to a coach or mentor to seize the opportunity. Use the time with this person to challenge yourself to face into possibilities ahead of you, embrace the strengths that these opportunities help you find, and don’t back away from the things that might sit in the ‘too-hard-to-face-about-myself-today’ pile!”

Deja Foxx, Founder, Genz Girl Gang

“When I was 15, I was experiencing homelessness for the first time, hadn’t gotten re-elected to student council, and didn’t make the volleyball team. All of the circumstances were telling me I wasn’t a leader, and I was starting to believe it.

But it only took one person and five simple words to turn my trajectory: ‘I’ll give you a ride.” An organizer from Planned Parenthood asked me if I’d like to go to a training, and after telling her my family didn’t have a car and I couldn’t make it, she took the extra step to meet me where I was. She saw leadership in me and pushed me to see it, too, and gave me the tools I need to unlock it. For her sisterhood, I am forever grateful. She’s why I’m not only why I’m inspired to empower other women, but why I am able.”

Stephanie Genin, VP, Global Enterprise Marketing, Hootsuite

“The most critical moment for me was when I felt I had to consciously make the decision to either continue on my career trajectory or settle into a less demanding role due to the fact I had become a mother.

That was a self-limiting mindset that in my opinion should never be a decision women should have to make. What was critical for me was the support of an understanding leader who honored and encouraged balance. I have learned to speak my truth and never make decisions that enter into conflict with my personal values.”

Christel Grizaut, VP Marketing, Akeneo

“Self-confidence grows with experience—but we all have to begin somewhere, and like many women I didn’t always advocate for myself when I was starting out.

Fortunately, I had a great boss who helped change that. I was working well in a pretty difficult environment, and one day my manager took me aside and said, ‘Look, you can be anything you want. So what do you want to be?’

For me, that was eye-opening. It was great that my manager saw my potential. But those words were also a reminder that far too often, amid the daily challenges of solving problems and enabling success, we lose sight of our broader goals.

From that day forward, I started thinking about the bigger picture and taking responsibility for my own growth. I’ve become more confident in my abilities—in part because I’ve learned that if you know how to do everything perfectly, then you’re overqualified for your current position and missing out on the next step in your evolution.

That has helped me become more comfortable taking risks, going out of my comfort zone, and asking for room to grow. Getting to that point isn’t easy. It takes practice, and you’ll have to learn how to say no, how to agree to disagree, and how to be frank and straightforward about your needs. But one thing’s for sure: If you don’t ask, you’ll never get what you deserve!”

Mim Haysom, Executive General Manager, Brand & Marketing, Suncorp

“Reasonably early on in my career I had a wonderful (male) boss. He always encouraged and challenged me, and shortly after returning from maternity leave he promoted me into a more senior role. I insisted I wasn’t ready, and he insisted I was.

Something he said to me has stuck with me forever: ‘Don’t settle into being comfortable. You’ll be your best and thrive when you’re uncomfortable and challenged. Push yourself out of your comfort zone’. In that moment I made a decision to grab the opportunity and push myself out of my comfort zone, and I was successful in that challenge. That comment and that moment have shaped so many of my decisions that followed. It gave me confidence to take giant leaps and grab opportunities that made me uncomfortable. And I wouldn’t want it any other way!”

Michele Herron, SVP, Strategy, Marketing And Small Business, Cybersource, A Visa Solution

“Early on in my career, I had an opportunity to take on my first big speaking engagement—mainstage with over 250 people in the audience. While I was nervous, I told myself it would be fine. I was a comfortable public speaker, I knew my content—what could go wrong?

In fact, I became so confident that I didn’t really practice. The day came and I stood up in front of that big crowd—and I failed. I failed hard. I stuttered, I lost my breath, I meandered through the presentation, and I forgot the key messages. I was terribly disappointed in myself that day, and that pain stuck with me for some time.

But from then on, I started to use that moment to my advantage. Now that I knew what my personal worst felt like, it helped me shape what great could look like. I know that for me, success comes with planning, preparation, and hard work. I still see an imbalance in the professional world in which women have to work harder to compete with their male peers. It is frustrating, but there should be no shame in going above and beyond to prepare and support the work we are invested in, whether on stage or in a meeting.”

Alison Herzog, Senior Director, Brand and Digital/Head of Global Brand and Digital Marketing, Cybersource, A Visa Solution

“Many times, we like to share the uplifting points in time in our careers. The reality is, we have a blend of building and tearing down that may happen at any given point.

I was in a situation where I had a boss who was abusive and had torn me down to the point where I was anxious far too much and dreaded every email, every text, and every call, always unsure of what person I was getting. It was bad. Period.

Then I had a phone call completely out of the blue. It was an executive recruiter, looking for the right person for a newly built C-suite role at a very recognizable company. I was shocked and wondered where the mistake was. He confirmed I was the right person and that someone had put my name forward as a leader who had the guts, capability, and creativity to execute in a big way. It was a seven-figure compensation with the intent that, in time, I would take over as the CEO. It rebuilt my confidence and helped me remember the talented person I am. So I thank the influential person who put my name forward and helped me regain what I had lost for a moment. There is so much power in building—and you never know what it might mean at any given critical moment to another.”

Shama Hyder, CEO Of Zen Media

“My critical moment came right out of graduate school. Here’s the story: I had just graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a master’s degree in organizational communication and technology, and I’d done my thesis on Twitter.

At this point, Twitter had only 2,000 users! It was very early days for social media, and I just knew it would forever change the world. This was a time where most people thought social media was a fad. I couldn’t even land a job because the industry didn’t exist. That was when I started Zen Media, my own B2B firm, and never looked back. I realized I had a gift for seeing what others didn’t quite see just yet, and more importantly being able to communicate that vision.

I wish all students would take communications in school—regardless of their major—because being able to share your ideas is vital. I’ll also add that it doesn’t happen from behind your phone. Texting only goes so far. It is safe but not impactful. You can choose safe or you can choose impact. The truth is too many young people (and older people, too) are afraid of rejection. The road to success is paved with multiple rejections. You don’t hit a home run each time. The more you swing, the higher your chances. I also want to add that proximity is power. Whenever possible, be in the same room with the person you want to connect with.”

Jacki Kelley, CEO, Americas, Dentsu Aegis Network

“The most critical moment in my career was making the tough decision to stay or leap to a new opportunity and become a beginner again. There is always a risk in leaping, but I am restless in my desire to make an impact, and I’m always willing to do what it takes to meet a goal.

I grew up in Colorado—the fifth generation of cattle ranchers—which helped mold my work ethic and teach me responsibility at a young age. I’ve been surrounded by people who have believed in my potential, challenged me to leap to the unknown, and have been honest with me, propelling me forward in my career. The power of faith, hard work, and fantastic teams have all helped pave my path.

Picking the right people to surround yourself with is key to learning and growing. We are the product of the company we keep. If you surround yourself with accomplished, generous, secure, innovative, determined people, you’re more likely to become these things yourself. Leaders with these qualities are more likely to create environments where you’re able to grow, and in these environments the opportunities are endless. Women and the next generation are in the best position to force progress. We must create positive solutions for meaningful change, with a lot to do and limited patience to do it—we have a shot for real progress. My experiences have shaped me as a leader and allowed me to create an environment where I can bet on potential for women in our industry.”

Sally Mactaggart, General Manager Delivery, Aligent Consulting

“My career path has been somewhat organic. It wasn’t defined by one critical moment but more a series of micro-moments over a few years. Moments like the realisation that I was doing the right things with the wrong people, and that I didn’t need to be good at everything or know all the answers. I just needed to work with good people.

I love working in the digital space. I’ve been doing that for over 20 years! I knew that my career would always include digital, but I didn’t have a firm idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. After working in the not-for-profit space in 2012, I realised with absolute certainty that my next role would have to have people at its heart and change as a constant, but I wasn’t aiming for a title. Having role models and mentors who were not your typical manager types helps. You start to see a different path and vision for what you want to become. My objective was to combine all the things I love and do well in a business that would value them. There were false starts along the way. Some businesses looked all shiny on the outside, but they didn’t live the values.

It’s OK to change your path and pull back and re-evaluate by measuring against your principles. People always matter, and finding a business that has the same values, not the rhetoric you hear all the time, but truly aligned values was a must. If your core values are not aligned, then no matter how brilliant you are, you will not love your career choices. Be brave, and forge your own path with people who have the same values where you can have the most impact.”

Rani Mani, Head Of Employee Advocacy, Adobe

“A pivotal moment in my career was 12 years ago when I made the hard decision to leave my account management role at IBM. I was on cruise control, at the peak of my profession, barely using my brain muscles because everything was coming so easily.

I was leading a very seasoned team who required little to no oversight, and my customer considered me an extension of their team. Life couldn’t be better, and I could have easily coasted for several years in that exact state of static bliss. The only problem was I wasn’t learning or growing.

I’m most alive and at my best when I’m challenged and doing things that make me gasp. It was terrifying to leave something so safe and predictable, but I also knew my heart was no longer singing and my soul was rather lifeless. I’ve always been taught to face my fears head on because discomfort was growth in wolves clothing, so that’s exactly what I did. I gave my notice without having anything else lined up to force me to act with a sense of urgency to figure out what I was meant to do next. It was at this point I came across a program management opportunity at Adobe that I was reluctant to pursue because I didn’t feel I was 100% qualified. Software was a totally foreign industry to me, I could use another certification, and on and on went my list of excuses. Finally, a dear friend shook some sense into me and insisted I needed to start before I was ready if I wanted to experience something new and interesting. Absolutely the best advice I’ve received that has served me well all these years. Start before you are ready!”

Tara Mcgrath, Delivery Principal, Gorilla Group

“In a job in my past life, there was a culture of blame, which made it difficult to do new things and ultimately resulted in a lot of self-doubt.

When I moved on from that role, I found myself seeking approval from leadership on any nontrivial decision. Finally, in my new role, the approval-seeking behavior led to my new manager telling me, ‘Tara, you set the direction. It’s your decision to make.’ It was an eye-opening experience to realize that I had been seeking approval for things I was empowered to decide. Moving forward from that day, I made a choice to do what I thought was right and empower myself to deal with any consequences. By empowering myself as a decision maker, I’ve taken ownership of my own success.”

Heidi Melin, CMO, Workfront

“If you hang around me long enough, you will learn that I am not a natural risk-taker.

The biggest risk that I ever took was stepping into my first CMO role. It was at a large, publicly held software company, and it was the first time I would have responsibility for the entire marketing function, including those more technical, product-related functions that I had always shied away from. Even thinking about taking on the role gave me a full-blown stomachache, but I decided that if the CEO was willing to take a risk on a first time CMO, I was, too. It turned out to be an exhausting, invigorating, and ultimately rewarding challenge that helped catapult my career.”

Morgane Peng, Director Of User Experience And Design, Societe Generale

“Careers aren’t linear. Everything you do, including your side gigs and passions, can impact yours.

People are sometimes surprised to learn that I started my career in finance before moving to digital and design. This happened around 2014: In addition to my regular work, I was asked to coordinate a design audit project across Societe Generale CIB. This ultimately led me to build the internal design team, as we decided from the audit to enforce more design acumen, tools, and frameworks within the bank. The vision was to close the gap between business and design. So I took on the challenge.

I was actually an ‘undercover designer’ from the beginning, making Flash-based video games as a side gig. Today I’m still working on an indie game, Koruldia Heritage, after having a successful Kickstarter campaign. I never thought that making games would be ‘useful for work’ some day! Yet it helped me become a design director.

That’s why my advice to people starting out in their professional journeys is to not overthink their career path too much—just do everything at 100% and embrace opportunities. Maybe you won’t even notice the moment when things ‘click’.”

Laura Quereshi, Managing Director Melbourne, Overdose Digital

“The most critical moment in my career was being made managing director of Overdose Digital Melbourne. Having experienced our business being acquired by Overdose, and then having the opportunity to represent the Melbourne office as managing director, has truly put my career on a trajectory I never anticipated.

Naturally, I had many doubts when approached for this role: I was too young, not experienced enough, I had young daughters, and was I capable of such a responsibility? Luckily, I was supported by amazing leadership, internal team members, and a close network of trusted people. I soon shook off the doubt, accepted the role, and it was professionally the best thing I have ever done.

Leading a growing team with exceptional talent, having the opportunity to work amongst some of the best minds in the industry, and having a leadership group that has each other’s back has been a joy. The ability to learn and understand individually how I can handle challenges and new experiences has enlightened me to a new approach to my career.

Furthermore, by having this critical career path change, it solidified my individual belief in myself as well as reinforced my confidence and gratitude for what a great team surrounding you can provide. My 13 months as managing director has taught me more about myself than the previous 14 years of my professional career.”

Miri Rodriguez, Head Of Global Internship Program, Microsoft

“What is success? Only you know! To some, it might be to become the CEO of a large corporation; to another, it may mean to be a stay-at-home parent, and yet to another, just to be happy.

A critical moment in my career happened when I took a role that put me in close proximity with influential leaders who appeared extremely successful on the outside by all standards, yet I knew they were very miserable on the inside. How could this be? They had everything I had been actively and passionately seeking for so many years! An immigrant from the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, I had set out to achieve many things society, culture, religion, and my well-intended family had envisioned for my life. ‘By this age, you should be married.’ ‘By that age, you should get your masters.’ ‘At such point in your career, you should hold this title at the company.’

On and on, a laundry list of musts and shoulds built me such an astronomical and intimidating career (and life) ladder, not even the most avid mountaineer would dare climb this range. But I did. I was determined to live out the American dream. And I did … soon to realize that every time I reached a milestone, I wasn’t truly fulfilled, and the reason was because I was living someone else’s standard of success. This remarkable insight provoked me to think further into my personal convictions (my why) and empowered me to shamelessly make unpopular career decisions (taking lateral roles or a pay cut for a learning opportunity) that in the end proved to be the best ones for me and my professional journey. What is success? Only you know. Let no one tell you different because you are the CEO of your life.”

Shiri Ronen, VP Customer Success, Yotpo

“After five years of working as a software engineer and four years getting a CS degree, I wanted to try a new career path in customer success. I was working for a leading tech company at the time. My manager called me in and said, ‘You are making a big mistake. You are one of our best software engineers, and we want to promote you to become a manager. This is not the right time for you to change career directions.

But was my manager right? Was I making a big mistake by not following the obvious upward linear career progression?

I decided to listen to my inner voice and follow my passion of working in direct contact with customers to solve their problems. It was not an obvious choice since it moved me into a lower salary bracket, was considered less prestigious by some, and required retooling and having to prove myself in a new setting.

Now 15 years later, this decision feels like it was the natural path for me. But I remember how fragile and threatening it felt at the time. Today as I mentor people going through similar career crossroads, I encourage them not to optimize for short-term promotions but to try different roles and grow laterally. The most talented and successful people I have worked with have selected a variety of different roles throughout their careers. It is this jungle-gym path that gives them a unique perspective. What may seem like a stall or sideways move in your career today could set you on a more meaningful and impactful trajectory going forward.”

Mary Fratto Rowe, EVP And Chief Customer Officer, Yext

“Early on in my career, I learned the importance of building strong relationships with customers and developed a ‘client-first’ mindset.

When a program for a major international client was in trouble, I was asked to take the lead, despite being based in New York and having a North American scope. Ultimately, the project was successful, and I was able to rebuild the customer’s trust. My customer-centric mentality and willingness to jump into any challenge differentiated me and elevated my brand with the executive team. It accelerated my career, ultimately leading me to customer-focused executive positions like the chief customer officer role I hold today at Yext.”

Adriana Rubio, VP, Strategic Partnerships, Blue Acorn Ici

“There have been several ‘moments of truth’ in my career that have helped accelerate my professional growth. I believe these critical moments will continue to happen as you pivot into higher roles with greater responsibilities and embrace new company cultures, while working with new mentors and mentees along the way.

One of the most critical moments in my career was making the decision to leave Colombia to grow and develop my career in the United States. I knew where my ‘north’ was, but certainly the path wasn’t clear on how to get there. Building a network from zero wasn’t easy, but hard work paid off, and I was able to find a digital experience consulting agency that believed in me as much as I did and sponsored my H1B visa to stay in this country to lead its strategic alliances and marketing initiatives across the Americas.

This critical moment in my career taught me that when you devote yourself to an idea, you can make it happen. You will struggle with it, overcome your fears, and key people will surface to help you get to your desired destination.”

Amy Russell, Executive Director, UC Davis MSBA

“I’m a proud type A professional who likes to plan ahead and minimize uncertainty. Then opportunity from left field knocked. I swerved and life hasn’t been the same since.

Since 2010, I had been progressing through the MBA admissions ranks at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM). We are lucky at the GSM as the school is supportive of staff development, and I was able to pursue the UC Davis MBA while also working full time.

I learned so much about doing business well, how organizations function, and developing strategic, data-, and market-driven decisions. I made some incredible friendships among alumni, students, and faculty in that process. I not only knew the product, I was the product, and this gave me a huge edge in being in able to deliver. My career took off. In the three years while I pursued the MBA, I applied what I learned and even welcomed my daughter (huge thanks to my wonderfully supportive husband). I saw three different titles with increasing responsibilities.

After graduating, I moved into a deputy director role where I was a middle manager in charge of the admissions team and strategy across our three MBA programs. My director at the time was preparing for retirement. Everything I did was geared toward that opening. Then out of nowhere, our leadership approached to see if I would be interested in running a brand new Master of Science in Business Analytics program. They needed an executive director. I was hugely flattered, and it also threw me for a loop. I might have suggested some other candidate instead that first conversation. There was so much that I would be giving up–including knowing exactly how to do my job and that I could do it well.

Fortunately, I had some great mentors, including our school dean, who spent time to help me see the opportunity that existed. While there have been challenging moments as we built a new program, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences. We are now ranked No. 10 in the U.S. overall by QS and No. 6 worldwide for value for money. Demand is high, and in the last year we successfully more than doubled the cohort and are one of the larger top-ranked programs nationwide. The alumni are in high demand, and are at great companies, Adobe included. More importantly, I get to work with some of the most delightful human beings who selflessly help each other out. In working with our students and team, there are times that we laugh so hard we cry. Knowing we’re part of this larger network and doing work that helps people achieve their professional goals and companies do business better has been richly rewarding.”

Asma Stewart, VP Of Marketing, Persado

“Taking the leap to start a company at a time when I was really comfortable in my career was super scary and a huge turning point.

While running my startup, I was operating far outside my comfort zone every day, which eventually bred a fearlessness that has stuck with me ever since and opened doors that led to where I am today. So I especially encourage women to take that leap and force yourself out of your comfort zone. You never know where it can lead, and at the very least, it will exercise and build your courage muscle!”

Linda Wetterborg, Tribe Lead Sales & Marketing, Telenor Sweden

“Growing up I dreamt of becoming an actress and spent a fair amount of time on stage within various amateur theatre societies. Thinking back on defining moments in my career, I realize that the one thing most of them have in common is that I suddenly found myself in a somewhat burning situation that I had not prepared for but quickly needed to take control of and turn to my advantage.

In these ‘do or die’ situations, my ability to respond quickly, based on gut instinct and improvisation skills, has allowed me to build trust and receive mandates that have accelerated my career.

One such example was back in 2011 when I was just getting started in a new company. On the first day, I was introduced to a top executive who casually said he was looking forward to hearing my plan on how to turn around the big customer pain point I was hired to fix. I heard nothing for a couple of weeks, but then one Friday just before lunch, I was asked by a senior stakeholder if I wanted to have lunch before the meeting in which I was supposed to present my plan. It turns out that only the executives had the meeting in their diaries—not me! For a second I contemplated whether I should spend the remaining hour making panic-slides or just take his offer for lunch, pick his brain, and then improvise using a whiteboard. You can imagine what I did, and it resulted in me getting the go-ahead for a digitization initiative that would become both successful and impactful.

So my one piece of advice to you is to trust your inner ‘cowboy’ to draw fast and aim well when the situation calls for it. Remember that you are awesome and you know what to do—your gut instinct and confidence is often worth more than hundreds of hours spent on preparations!”

Rachel Weekes, Global CMI Director: Data Driven Marketing, Unilever

“I realized that I didn’t have to do everything myself and that I could not only allow help, but welcome and embrace it. That it wasn’t a sign of weakness or failure, but, in fact, the complete opposite.

I’d love to tell my younger self that it’s not better to take on everything alone, and that I didn’t need to exist in my own echo chamber. By allowing different perspectives into the way I thought and strategized, it only made the final decisions and outcomes stronger. Asking and allowing help also comes with a bonus side effect: It strengthens your level of empathy and allows yourself, as a leader to feel how others feel, see things the way they do, and breaks you out of a very one-dimensional world.

I’ve been very fortunate to work in naturally collaborative and supportive environments where people want each other to learn, develop, and thrive. I’ve learned that when help and advice is offered, it isn’t because others think you will fail, but rather that they want you to succeed. A subtle difference in perspective has made a huge difference in outcome for me, and I only wish I would have realized it years ago.”