Christina Blacken grew up as what she describes as an extreme minority. “Growing up in Utah as a black woman – racially, religiously, and politically, I was on the outskirts of the majority,” she said.
But she used her differences to propel her forward. “Since I would always stick out in a group or crowd, I started to own it, love it, and become fearless in entering any room with any type of person and stand in confidence of who I am, because there was no hiding,” she said.
Now, as the founder and chief story strategist at The New Quo, it’s her superpower. “I’m able to make genuine connections with anyone of any background easily because I understand the power of confidence in your own identity regardless of other people’s hang-ups or prejudices,” she said.
Like Blacken, many women have experienced feeling different, whether because of their racial or ethnic background, ability, less traditional career path, or something else.
Blacken and 14 other female founders and leaders shared that while their differences may have at times felt like a setback, they have ultimately become an incredible advantage, providing them with unique perspectives, experiences, and tools they use in their work and lives.
The following stories beautifully illustrate that it’s about what you do with your differences that truly matters.
1. Maiko Sakai
Founder and owner, Airtight Concepts
The ways I’ve felt different: Being an immigrant and a woman of colour in the cutthroat NY market has held me back for some time. “Say what?” “Come again?” – these innocent and harmless questions, even in daily conversations, used to shatter my confidence and led me to believe that my accent was getting in the way of conveying my point of view and thus not being taken seriously.
How they have made me more successful: My definition of success is “to be heard exactly how it is intended to be heard so that I can contribute to others’ successes.”
My advice for someone in my shoes: Stop wasting time shaming yourself, leverage your differences by bringing it all upfront, and enjoy the ride. Once you go all-in with making the decision that you will own your identity to the fullest, everything will start shifting in your favour.
2. Lorrie King
Cofounder, The Future Happens Every Day
The ways I’ve felt different: I’m half Chinese American and half African American. My Hawaiian-born mother met my New Jersey-raised father at Columbia University in the 1960s. After being disowned, my mum immersed her children in her new New Jersey black-American community as she believed this community would be the most accepting of her biracial children. This was true, but, as you might imagine, not always, and I experienced extensive bullying as a result. There were still comments around my biracial makeup, what I looked like or didn’t, how smart I was or not.
How they have made me more successful: My mother’s fearless personality set a great stage for us. As the eldest of three, I wanted to be “seen” as smart and good like her but didn’t know what that could mean. In fourth grade, inspiration struck, and I sold homemade sandwiches to the teachers at school every day. I loved being acknowledged as a young entrepreneur. To this day, I still enjoy being “seen” for creating things that others can enjoy in their daily lives. And perhaps it’s not a surprise that I’m in beauty, as I have thought about what I “look” like and what beauty looks like my entire life.
My advice for someone in my shoes: You should identify your differences, both internal and external and celebrate them. I also believe it is important in life to seek out people who will recognise and partner with you in elevating your differences – people that make you hopeful, especially in this time of great change.
3. Jackie Ghedine
Cofounder and coach, The Resting Mind
The ways I’ve felt different: I’m adopted, and I was teased terribly as a child. I’m sure you can imagine the hurtful things the kids said to me.
How they have made me more successful: Throughout my life and into my career, I would find ways to address difficult situations in the most benign but direct way, keeping other people’s feelings top of mind. By mastering my language, it allows me, as a coach, to create safe but productive client/coach environments.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Learn what you can from situations that make you feel lesser than, and then go out into the world and do the complete opposite. You have the power to take your learnings and better people by sharing them.
4. Simmone Taitt
Founder and CEO, Poppy Seed Health
The ways I’ve felt different: I’m a black woman in tech, and for some people that counts as being “different,” but for me, it’s just me moving through the world as the person that I am. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t come with challenges. Early in my career, I would scratch my head trying to figure out if I was given opportunities or not given opportunities because of my gender, race, or both.
Later in my career, it became very clear during an executive morning meeting when our CTO threw a tantrum over my (and my female founder’s) laptop stickers having the word “girls” in the hashtag. He couldn’t help but to hotly debate that the company, in fact, was not built by women and what if he had a laptop sticker that said, “built by white men.” I left that company three weeks later.
How they have made me more successful: My “different” view of the world has rewarded me the best tools to make business decisions that have resulted in multimillion-dollar revenue gains, hiring diverse teams, and making tough business decisions. It’s also the reason why I’ve dedicated my next chapter to fixing the deficits as it relates to transforming healthcare for womxn, with a focus on maternal health, because the “differences” are what make us strong but also invisible.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Show up as your most authentic self. Finding the confidence to hold space while being exactly who you are is the key to success. There’s nothing more powerful than being unapologetically yourself.
5. Trisha Okubo
Founder and creative director, Maison Miru Jewellery
The ways I’ve felt different: I’m one-half a creative and one-half a business-tech person: I have dual degrees in management science and engineering and fashion design, and I’ve had two parallel careers: one in tech, and one as a creative director. I’ve never felt fully comfortable living wholly in either world – it always felt like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
How they have made me more successful: Ultimately, this drove me to start my own company, Maison Miru Jewellery, where I have a role that fits the whole, authentic me. I can combine my natural gravitation towards systems thinking with my love of design, both on the business side as well as on the product side.
My advice for someone in my shoes: You create your own luck; if life doesn’t give you what you need, don’t be afraid to create your own opportunity. When you start your own company, one of the things that investors look for is what gives you an unfair advantage over the competition. Your unique gifts – your point of view, what you’re drawn to, your personal expertise – that’s your unfair advantage.
6. Madelin Woods
Founder and CEO, Hello Walden
The ways I’ve felt different: I spent the majority of my career working as a female engineer on mostly male teams. I never thought twice about this until one day someone asked me, “How does it feel to be a female engineer?” They probably had the best intentions, but I internalized it as being called out like I was made to feel different.
How they have made me more successful: Instead of trying to conform to the social rules around me, I chose to stand out, which gave me more confidence, helped me land more interesting projects, and led to becoming an internal thought leader for building a more inclusive workplace.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Work with people who celebrate your differences, and establish trust by finding common ground.
7. Priya Virmani
Founder and chief stylist, Privée By Priya
The ways I’ve felt different: When I first thought of starting my personal-styling business, I thought no one would want a minority immigrant to style them.
How they have made me more successful: I realised I am a minority who is Indian having grown up in Oman, a Francophone who has lived in France, and in my 40s. I have conviction, and I have impeccable style. My internationalism has given me strength.
My advice for someone in my shoes: You can find your passion and pursue it at any age. Get out of your own way.
8. Chedva Kleinhandler
Co-founder and CEO, Emerj
The ways I’ve felt different: I grew up between Brooklyn and Bnei Brak, a small religious town in Israel. I’ve experienced being different in a few ways: being an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman in the tech industry, where my community usually doesn’t participate – especially not women, and especially not as startup founders – growing up with alopecia, and of course, just being a female founder.
How they have made me more successful: One example of many is that I was the only female founder in an accelerator for entrepreneurs from my community. The fact that I was the only person in a dress and that my communication style was different cemented my access to their attention spans. I managed to get to meet the GM of a world-leading internet company, and that shortly led to landing out first client – one we didn’t think we’d get in years – which led to our next clients, and to us being refundable.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Practice diversity. As a diverse founder, I’ve found that I’m lucky to have access to amazing talent. Women, people from the LGBTQ+ community, and other underrepresented people who already have incredible experience and skills have reached out to us from day one because they believe not only in our business and tech vision, but also in the way we do things. One thing I keep in mind is to also make sure our own team has diversity of thought, backgrounds, and other factors because I truly believe that’s the path to success.
9. Amy Kalokerinos
Chief operator, AKalaid
The ways I’ve felt different: Starting my career selling software on Wall Street at 21, I was one of the only women. I was certainly the youngest. I realised very quickly I didn’t fit in with the male executives to which I was selling. Due to my age and gender, I wasn’t taken seriously.
How they have made me more successful: Because I wasn’t taken seriously, I also wasn’t a threat. I now had an executive at every firm who wanted me to listen to them speak about their challenges and strategies. Mentally collecting all this data meant I had a particular view of the marketplace that others didn’t have. When some of those executives started to catch on to my “difference,” they realised I was an asset. A few years into selling, not only was I taken seriously – I started to get job proposals.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Being different means you have an edge – you just have to discover it. Sometimes your difference turns out to be your biggest asset and your best friend. Once you realise it, your edge will be your best source of confidence.
10. Kirsten Baumberger
The ways I’ve felt different: As a senior in high school, I decided to not pursue college. Traditional education is a fit for some people, but I personally didn’t thrive in a classroom setting.
How they have made me more successful: Now, at 22, I can honestly say it was the best decision I have ever made. While my peers were on campus and beginning their professional journeys, I spent the past five years getting real-world experience by working hands-on in my industry, first working as a social media/digital consultant and now as the founder of a company.
I now feel light years ahead of where I would have been otherwise – living in New York, running a company with my fiancé, with an amazing team and an incredibly supportive network of professionals and friends. I ultimately spent my time building relationships rather than reading textbooks, and I couldn’t be more proud of where I am now.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Don’t feel bad about not following the same path as your peers. If you have a dream, chase it. As long as you give it your all, it will lead you to success.
11. Deborah Nall
Founder and CEO, Cultivate+
The ways I’ve felt different: For most of my career, I looked (and sometimes acted) a lot younger than I was. Part of this was my approach to life, and later I realised was also affected by my later-in-life-diagnosed ADD.
How they have made me more successful: I started my own company and made more money in 2019 than I ever did in my career working at a very full-time corporate job. Being my own boss also allowed me to prioritise my health while travelling around the world and working a fraction of the time.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Focus on your career. Then read “The 4-Hour Work Week,” get honest about what you really enjoy, and be resourceful.
12. Jennifer Yousem
Owner, Supporting Strategies
The ways I’ve felt different: I am very direct, honest to a fault, the friend that tells you your jeans don’t look good on you when you ask for my opinion. In business, however, my tendency was to conform, try not to show emotions, put my head down, do great work, and wait to be recognised.
How they have made me more successful: The truth is, I have found my greatest successes come when I am true to myself and raise my voice to state my opinion, even if it’s not the most popular view in the room.
My advice for someone in my shoes: It’s a cliché for a reason, but be yourself. It takes so much time and energy to pretend to be what you think people want, that you barely have anything left to do the actual work.
13. Jena Booher
The ways I’ve felt different: My career background includes a decade of Wall Street front-office trading, a five-year PhD in mental health counselling, and doctoral research focused on employee innovation and the role of employee accountability.
How they have made me more successful: My professional history is eclectic but is a strong point of differentiation. Because of my nonlinear career path, I am able to provide more creative solutions to my clients that yield better outcomes.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Career changes can set you apart from others in the field. However, you have to make sure your story makes sense and isn’t disjointed. Working with a business coach can help with that.
14. Cynthia Okimoto
CEO, New York Dog Nanny
The ways I’ve felt different: I was one of the trailblazers in bringing pet reiki to the mainstream in NY.
How they have made me more successful: Since this is an “off-beat” service, it has gotten us write-ups and features in Time Out NY, Huffington Post, and AM New York, which not only helped normalize alternative treatments but also helped get us, new clients.
My advice for someone in my shoes: Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Your differentiator could be the thing that launches your business to the front line.
Read the original article on Business Insider
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