5 Powerful Women Share The Advice They'd Give Their Younger Selves

It's yet to be seen whether America's offices will be reshaped indefinitely in the era of #TimesUp, but one thing is certain — the search for solutions is on.

While questions of how to create more equitable workplaces for women have been around for decades, a kind of urgency has set in as sexual harassment claims pile up. But, safer workplaces are far from the only thing women care about. To explore these issues, the business website Quartz is launching a yearlong editorial project called How We'll Win. (Full disclosure: I was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic, which is owned by the same media company that owns Quartz.)

"We were thinking about the challenge of representing women in business. So much of management reporting in the mainstream outlets really focuses on men's contribution and include women in a tokenizing way or as an afterthought," says Leah Fessler, Quartz’s management and leadership reporter.

Launching today are 50 interviews with women who have big ideas on how to change their industries. The list includes U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth; Emily Weiss, founder & CEO, Glossier Inc.; Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors; and Priyamvada Natarajan, professor and theoretical astrophysicist at Yale. Fessler says the interviews are an "unfiltered curation of ideas" aimed at bringing the same level of complexity to female leaders as profiles on prominent male leaders, such as Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.

"We decided we would cap it at 50, but the list could go on forever. If we had it my way, we would be able to have hundreds of these women sharing their insights."

Ahead, a sampling from the series.

Courtesy of Quartz

Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO, GM



What’s your big idea that other people aren't thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
That an almost supercentenarian company can change the world.

At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
When asked for advice on how to get ahead, Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of saying, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” If I could offer some advice to my younger self, this idea of embracing new and different opportunities would be a good place to start.
Courtesy of Quartz

Tracy Chou, founding advisor, Project Include



What’s your big idea that other people aren't thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
This “big idea” is one that many of us have been repeating ad nauseam for years, and some for decades, but unfortunately is still struggling for traction in the tech industry: Diversity and inclusion is important, and it’s worth the investment. There is the very human moral case, and there’s also the business case. The quality, relevance, and impact of the products and services output by the technology sector can only be improved by having the people who are building them be demographically representative of the people who are using them. We can only do better to have our teams more informed, creative, and critically engaged, all of which are research-proven benefits of diversity in an innovation context. And yet the tech industry’s efforts toward diversity and inclusion continue to be lackluster and ineffective.

At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
I wish I had known how unfair and insidious the power structures of society and business are. I unquestioningly bought into the meritocracy and all the false markers of qualification and success that Silicon Valley obsesses over: Ivy League pedigree, time at Google or Facebook, connectivity to the heroes of tech and venture. It hardly hurt me to believe these myths; I had the "right" credentials, and they opened countless doors for me. It's easy to believe in a system that tells you that you are winning because you are the best and you deserve all of your success.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the organizations and institutions that believe themselves to be the most meritocratic are often the least, because they are the least vigilant about examining and mitigating inevitable bias. I had an embarrassingly belated and slow awakening to these issues, and for a long time participated in the tech industry's pervasive gatekeeping to filter out those who didn't have the kinds of credentials I had. (It's a small consolation, but I try to remind myself that if I weren't embarrassed by where I was five to 10 years ago, I wouldn't be making enough progress!)
Courtesy of Quartz

Anna Holmes, SVP, Topic/First Look Media



What’s your big idea that other people aren't thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
With respect to the media: that the idea that digital audiences want to be told what to think or what’s important — to be subject to rapid­-fire reactions and takes and explainers and analyses and pronouncements — is perhaps less compelling, less constructive, and less-forward­ looking right now than the idea of media companies, brands, and personalities making explorations into questions, nuances, and contradictions; to embracing the messiness of the contemporary climate today, and sitting with it.

At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
I wish I’d known that it was okay that I didn’t have a grand plan, that I hadn’t planned out my future year by year, decade by decade, and that perhaps there wasn’t an obvious “path” for me to take because there isn’t for anyone. I think I also wish I’d known how much toxicity some workplaces are tolerant of, just how entrenched office politics can be, and that it is okay, ­maybe even preferable, ­to not be particularly good at them.

I wish I hadn’t believed that life is basically a meritocracy. I wish I hadn't believed that just because someone is in a position of power means that he/she knows what he/she is doing. That’s been both a depressing and freeing realization that I only made in my mid-to-late thirties.
Courtesy of Quartz

Gloria Allred, victims’ rights attorney



What’s your big idea that other people aren't thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
It is time to eliminate all statutes of limitations for both criminal and civil cases involving rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and sexual harassment.

At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
That many, many changes are needed in the justice system in order to provide true justice for women and minorities.
Courtesy of Quartz

Janet Mock, writer and producer



What’s your big idea that other people aren't thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
We are multiplicities, and none of us live single identity lives. We must resist the pressures of others to soundbite our complicated, nuanced experiences. We cannot and should not be reduced to just one sliver of ourselves, as it skews the truth of our lived experiences.

At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known?
I wish I'd known that it was not my job to convince people that I belonged or that I was worthy or qualified. The space I was taking up was not theirs to offer to me; it was mine.
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