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#BreakTheBias: Our favorite women who have changed the world

March 8, 2022 - 15 min read

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8 inspirational women leaders

Dig deeper with our favorite books or podcasts

Quotes that inspire us to do better

#BreakTheBias

A gender-equal world. 

It’s a simple mission with a complicated history — one full of leaders who have, brick by brick, begun to lay a path to equality. 

What it means to be a woman in the workforce is defined by more than just gender. The female experience is intersectional, uniquely molded by sexuality, race, ability, culture, and more. 

Bias bleeds into the female experience like ink in water.

Bias — subconscious or not — invades our daily interactions, our careers, our families, and our dreams. And if we’ve learned anything about bias, we know it discriminates. Not all women are starting from the same starting line. 

Still, we need to pave plenty of bricks ahead of us in order to reach gender equality. And to do so requires heightened awareness, allyship, and action. 

This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating those who have challenged the status quo and ultimately pursued their own path to greater purpose, clarity, and passion.

We asked our own BetterUppers to reflect on the bricklayers who came before us — and what it means to truly break the bias. 

“I spent many years of my career learning how to thrive within the bias. I let many things go with an acceptance that I can't change the world and I was strong enough to survive it. I was raising a daughter by the time I realized that thriving within the bias was actually helping no one. Breaking the bias is about knowing the difference, helping others see the difference, and taking steps to create a better world for my daughter and the next generation of women leaders." 

Hailey Herleman, vice president, Client Partnerships 

8 women leaders who fought to break the bias

We asked our BetterUppers one question: Who is the first woman that comes to mind when you think of inspirational leadership? 

1. Stacey Abrams 

For Evan Sinar, head of Assessments, BetterUp, the first inspirational woman that comes to mind is Stacey Abrams.  "Her tenacity and selflessness are truly incredible.” 

A politician, lawyer, author, and activist, Stacey Abrams continues to show up and advocate for those in her community in impactful yet humbling ways.

One of my personal favorites is her work with Fair Fight, which she founded in 2018. She served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 11 years. 

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2. Malala Yousafzai

At the young age of eleven, Malala began her fight for education. Born in Pakistan in a region ruled by the Taliban, Malala was destined for a life void of education. 

Instead, she fought for her right, and every girl’s right, to formal education. Her advocacy for women and girls has led Malala to a life of activism and leadership. She’s the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and co-founder of the nonprofit Malala Fund.

3. Mildred Loving

After marrying Richard Loving in 1958, the state of Virginia deemed Mildred Loving’s marriage unconstitutional because of the color of her skin. That injustice started her long battle against the ban on mixed-race marriage.

In 1963, Mildred enlisted the help of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)., The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where, in 1967, the Court ruled unanimously that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statutes were unconstitutional.

4. Abby Finkenauer 

Preeya Voss, VP, North America Sales, BetterUp, is inspired by former US Representative Abby Finkenauer, the founder of the bipartisan House Endometriosis Caucus

March is also Endometriosis Awareness Month, a disease that affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide. On average, it takes 7.5 years for women to receive an accurate diagnosis.

“For me, it took nearly 10 years of specialists, hospitalizations, and hiding my pain at work before I found a specialist to help me find a better way to live. I’m inspired by Abby Finkenauer for taking action to give voice to a disease that is so common yet lacking dialogue, research, or funding. So many women suffer in silence or worse, told their pain was not real. Abby Finkenauer’s efforts created not only awareness but a path forward for hope."

Preeya Voss, vice president, North America Sales 

5. Audre Lorde 

A poet, author, and activist, Audre Lorde used writing to raise awareness of her own experience as a Black, lesbian, and mother. Her voice was strong in the women and LGBTQ rights movement, her poetry and writing delving into what it means to find your identity. 

Sara Sugar-Anyanwu, SEO content strategist, BetterUp, looks to Audre Lorde as both a trailblazer and a role model. “She’s one of the first women who come to mind when I think of inspirational female leaders.” 

6. Marsha P. Johnson 

A Black, transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson was the nucleus of the gay liberation movement. An activist, Marsha was often on the frontlines of protests and helped to found one of the country’s first safe places for transgender and homeless youth.

She also fought for the rights of sex workers, prisoners, and people living with HIV/AIDS. Marsha was a key leader during the Stonewall Inn riots and has been commemorated as a leader in fighting police brutality. 

7. Megan Rapinoe 

While also known for her fancy footwork skills, Megan Rapinoe has been a compelling and relentless advocate for equal pay for the US Women’s National Soccer team. She’s led the conversation around pay equity — and the value and potential of women. 

“I hope in the not-too-distant future, we’ll have gender pay equality. We should be able to celebrate the vital contributions that women all over the world make with equal and fair compensation. It’s surreal that a gender pay gap exists in so many sectors, industries, and geographies in 2022.”

Meg Lyons, BetterUp Fellow Coach  

8. Indra Nooyi

An accomplished trailblazer in so many ways, Indra Nooyi transformed PepsiCo's business. As the former chairperson and CEO, Indra serves as an inspiration to Shonna Waters, VP, Strategic Alliances & Partnerships.

What truly inspired me however was that she wrote personalized letters thanking the parents of her direct reports and direct reports for the gift of their child at PepsiCo. That act showed so much character and I was touched by the personal and multi-generational impact that thoughtful gesture had.

Shonna Waters, P.hD, VP, Strategic Alliances & Partnerships 

Dig deeper with our favorite podcasts and books

Girl Woman Other

1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo 

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. This novel chronicles the experience of Black womanhood in Britain through twelve different characters. Evaristo unveils the intersectionality of the female experience — showing how gender, sexuality, and class are inexplicably tied to race and socio-political struggles. 

Evaristo answers questions like these: 

  • What does it mean to be a woman of color in today’s society? 
  • What is privilege? 
  • How can I get privilege? 

The novel illustrates the resiliency, strength, and complexity of Black womanhood. 

women race and class

2. Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis 

Adam Wood, Senior Content Marketing Manager at BetterUp, named Angela Davis as one of his most inspirational and influential female leaders.

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

Angela Davis, author 

In her book Women, Race & Class, Angela Davis writes about the powerful history of the social and political influence of whiteness in feminism. She shows readers the stark inequalities between Black and white women against the backdrop of the civil and women’s rights movement.

 

rational choice

3. Rational Choice in an Uncertain World by Reid Hastie and Robyn Dawes 

“The books that helped me best understand the idea of bias were books about how humans categorize information and why. Once I understood more about why bias exists, I was able to see my role as a woman breaking biases differently.” 

Hailey Herleman, vice president, Client Partnerships 

This book, which Hailey proclaims “super nerdy and heavy,” is worth the read. It starts with being intentional about understanding what bias is and why our brains do it. This book examines theories, research, and the science behind judgment and decision-making

criminal

4. Criminal by Phoebe Judge 

This podcast came recommended by Evan Sinar, head of Assessments, BetterUp. An award-winning true crime story, Criminal tells “stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.”

Our favorite quotes that inspire us to be better

Words wield influence. We asked some of our BetterUppers what powerful words have stuck with them in this fight for gender equality.

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1. "Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways." - Glennon Doyle Melton 

Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of three books including her memoir, Carry On, Warrior. She also founded a nonprofit organization called Together Rising, which supports women, families, and children in crisis. 

“I like this quote because I think many women, including myself, worry too much about if we are enough. If we can do the things we want to do, create the world we imagine, reach the goals we set for ourselves." 

 Hailey Herleman, vice president, Client Partnerships  

2. "Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou 

Maya Angelou is full of inspiration. But for Meg Lyons, BetterUp Fellow Coach, this quote encompasses what it means to be human.

“That we're always learning and able to change and adapt, for the sake of becoming better people. There's compassion there because it allows for imperfection. There's a call to courage to then act with the knowledge and wisdom we gain along the way.”

 Meg Lyons, BetterUp Fellow Coach 

3. “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

What inspires me about RBG is her courage, persistence, intelligence, and pure grit. But beyond that, RBG was clever enough to get traction in the fight for equality by making a compelling case that inequality truly hurt everyone, including those in the majority. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg serves as an icon of the female experience — and what one can accomplish with inclusive leadership

Preeya Voss, vice president, North America Sales, is hopeful that the female experience in our future is one where women are empowered. 

“Breaking the bias means that we will live in a world where women are seen as and treated as individuals who have the same access to opportunity and choice. We know we’ve been successful when we don’t refer to women who are courageous and bold as ‘breaking the mold.’ A mold implies the status quo or stereotype still exists — and we need to eradicate the mold for all women in our society.”

Preeya Voss, vice president, North America Sales   

#BreakTheBias 

How are you committing to an equal path forward? 

In what ways have you experienced bias? How has it shaped your perspective, your tenacity, and your pursuit of purpose, clarity, and passion

At BetterUp, we’re here to help people everywhere reach their full potential. Imagine what change you can create in this world. We’re cheering you on, every step of the way.

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Published March 8, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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