High school student Maya Sharma, who between her studies wrote the book Paving: Conversations with Incredible Women Who Are Shaping Our World, reports on Leadership Lessons from Pioneering Women for Women Love Tech.
When I was in 8th grade, I started interviewing women in leadership positions for my school newspaper column. Each interview inspired me to do another one and I kept going for 2 years. Then, it dawned on me that these inspiring interviews needed a bigger platform outside of my school so, I started putting together a book – Paving: Conversations with Incredible Women who are Shaping our World. The 25 wonder women I got the opportunity to speak with, are truly amazing. Their leadership in respective fields have inspired and motivated boys, girls, men, and women all around the world.
These women have shattered many barriers and achieved many singular Firsts in their respective domains. I wanted to share some lessons I gleaned from my conversations with these pioneering women.
Pursue Your Passions
In high school, Dr. Janet Yellen was drawn to STEM classes like math, science, and chemistry. Once she discovered economics, she loved it because there was lots of math involved and it also included human welfare. She was curious about fields that use rigorous thinking and analytic tools like math. When I asked her about her struggles on her path to becoming the first female Fed Chair, she said, “It’s very hard to become the Federal Chair and it’s something that would be hard to aspire to because very few people will get to do it. I knew that I would be fighting the perception that you can’t trust women.” But, because Dr. Yellen was curious and passionate about economics, she didn’t let anyone stop her and fortunately for our country, she became the first female Fed Chair and was recently nominated as the Treasury Secretary paving the way for millions of young girls.
Empathy and Respect for Others
Jacinda Ardern is the current prime minister of New Zealand. Every good leader must have qualities like empathy and respect for others. Ardern has used these qualities to get her through the dark days her country faces. In 2019, there were two consecutive mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The world watched Ardern’s compassion as she mourned with the relatives and friends of the victims from the worst mass killing in New Zealand’s modern history. When I asked about it, Ardern said, “there is a real simplicity in remembering that we are all humans who experience pain, grief, and hope in the same way.” I asked the Prime Minister what key leadership principles she lives by. Ms. Ardern summarized, “Evidence based decision making, kindness, and empathy, and the principle of guardianship that we have to hand this world over to the next generation.” I hope all our leaders have this moral core.
Don’t Take No for an Answer
Ashley Parker is someone who never takes no for an answer. She is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist at The Washington Post and a familiar face on TV. When journalists like Parker start out, they face a ton of rejection each day. Whether it’s for an article idea, interview requests, or getting into the field, a good leader must be able to handle rejection and use it as a motivator and a feedback mechanism to produce something better. It’s important that journalists go the extra mile just to get that last bit of information for their stories. Parker never takes no for an answer, as such, she is able to produce incredible stories each day at the Washington Post. When I asked for her advice to young journalists, she said, “Be hard working and persistent. Take the assignments that no one else wants to take.”
Beth Comstock is the former Vice Chair of GE, the first female to occupy the office. She was listed as the world’s 100 most powerful women in both 2015 and 2016. I asked her, what leadership principles does she live by? She said, “Make room for discovery, open up to what’s next, and new and assume the best in others. Your definition of success will change over time.” That’s a very important thing to keep in mind so that you are always challenging yourself, trying new things, and aiming higher.
Lindsey Vonn is one of the most incredible Olympians in the country. At a young age, Vonn’s father used to push her to always do better and gave her the drive to become the champion that she is. Each medal at each competition pushed her to challenge herself to get a medal at an even tougher competition. Aiming higher is what challenges you and makes you a great leader rather than giving up or having the same goals. When I asked her, what advice would you give to your younger self, she replied, “I would tell my younger self that all setbacks she faces are driving her to a bigger goal.”
Be the Change You Want to See
Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian American to be elected to the US Congress. Jayapal ran for Congress because she felt that there needed to be more people that represented the issues and the experiences that she came from as a woman of color and an immigrant. She didn’t feel like there was enough diversity, so she wanted to change the way politics was expressed by having more women, people of color, and young citizens engaged in democracy, which is just what she did.
I hope you found these women leaders as inspiring as I did.
Maya Sharma is a Senior in High School and author of Paving: Conversations with Incredible Women Who Are Shaping Our World. www.mayasharma.com