Presence Matters and Other Leadership Lessons From Inspirational Women

Whether they’re connected through family, industry or somewhere in between, the inspirational women these leaders look up to can teach us all a lesson in bringing our best selves to the workplace.
Written by Kim Conway
March 9, 2022Updated: April 5, 2024

Working in an industry dominated by men makes it difficult for women to find inspiration for their own careers — and as a result, many have taken to creating their own support systems by lifting each other up in the workplace. But that’s not to say there aren’t history-defining women whose stories serve a similar purpose. 

Passion was something Efrat Ravid was exposed to at a young age, working at a plant nursery in Israel alongside the woman who would one day come to inspire her as a leader in tech: her grandmother. Today, as chief marketing officer for Quantum Metric, Ravid applies much of what she learned about caring for plants from her grandmother to supporting her team and customers. “There are no days off when tending to plants,” she said. “Even when no one is in the shop, they need constant water and care.” To foster better professional relationships, she sees value in staying engaged through daily interactions. 

In recognition of International Women’s Day, Built In Colorado sat down with Ravid and Lovati — along with leading women from VIZIO, Granicus, ezCater, Red Canary, Tilled and Nylas — to learn who they turn to for inspiration and how they reflect that wisdom and guidance back into their own careers. Ranging from familial connections to leadership and industry icons, these sources of inspiration can spark something for us all. 

VIZIO team out at a restaurant
VIZIO

 

Angie Reed
Director of Program Management • VIZIO

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you? 

My grandmother was a great inspiration to me, and she is someone I attempt to emulate in my life and career. She was driven to attend Indiana University during a time when it was rare for women to receive a college education. She was a strong, modern renaissance woman working outside the home, assisting with my grandfather’s farming business and raising three successful children — and she accomplished this without the modern necessities I take for granted today. 

Motivated by love and dedication to her family and disciplined by the trying times of the 20th century, my grandmother proved to be very industrious with her time and resources. Thinking back on not only my life and career path, but also what it took for me to get here, it’s evident that my grandmother’s faith, strength and tenacity set the stage for me to aspire to become a successful woman. She recognized my abilities and encouraged me to expand my mind and experiences, whether by gifting me books or advising me to take on additional classes. My grandmother was a very loving, intelligent, strong and resilient woman, and in reflection, those characteristics have defined who I am.

Disciplined by the trying times of the 20th century, my grandmother proved to be very industrious with her time and resources.”

 

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

My grandmother taught me how to live life and handle different challenges, how important it is to learn from both your successes and failures, and where to apply hard lessons in life. She taught me how to set goals, regardless of how minor or far-reaching they are. Although my grandmother was far removed from technological professions, she advised me to know my own self-worth as a woman and to not be afraid of challenging the status quo. As a woman in a male-dominated industry — which can be intimidating — this advice has been motivating and energizing. Having been encouraged to pursue a challenging career path in IT, I’ve found the ability to recognize the growth and opportunities available to me. If I believe in and stay true to myself, anything is possible, and everything is worthwhile.

 

 

Nicole Blake Johnson
Managing Editor of GovLoop • Granicus LLC

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you?

My longest friendship and coach-mentor relationship has been with my mom. Her life, love and encouragement not only inspire me, but also fuel me to put action behind my dreams. I’ve seen my mom persevere in extreme circumstances and rise above challenges that could have held her down. As a former certified nursing assistant and lifelong caregiver with decades of healthcare experience, she has ushered newborns into the world, stood by bedsides comforting patients as they took their last breaths, and uplifted colleagues and families with life-giving words of hope. Everyone needs someone in their corner who will pray with and for them and be the person they need on their worst day. My mom is that person for me and countless others.

Rather than allowing the apathy of some to dim her light, her joy and spirit positively influenced the workplace.”

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

My mom always embodies integrity and a spirit of excellence. She is driven by a passion to serve others. She was often asked to care for patients when others could not or did not want to serve them. At times, that meant speaking truth to power and advocating for patients, even when it was an unpopular stance. That takes courage and requires you to love your job enough to lose it, which was a huge risk for a single parent. Rather than allowing the apathy of some to dim her light, her joy and spirit positively influenced the workplace. 

I incorporate lessons and achievements from my mom by approaching my life and career with this guiding statement: Do what’s right because it’s right, and do it right. What I bring to my role exceeds what’s required of me in my job description because I’m driven by a desire to serve the government community and colleagues entrusted to me. That’s compelled me to use my expertise and passion to improve how GovLoop serves others through content and foster belonging and psychological safety for those on my team and companywide. My mom instilled the value of lifelong learning in me, which has been critical to my growth and success.

 

 

 

Efrat Ravid

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you?

I got to work with the most influential woman in my career when I was just four years old. My grandmother owned a nursery in Israel, and I would go and help her in the afternoons. It was a very demanding job, both physically — lifting heavy plants and supplies — and mentally, as she focused on building and leading a business at a time when not a lot of women were doing so. Working there with her throughout my childhood, I learned that nothing is too hard to manage, and if I want something, there is nothing that can stop me — except for myself. 

My grandmother immigrated to Israel after facing years of persecution and antisemitism in Germany. In spite of all she experienced, she made sure her business was an inclusive space for her employees. She hired people regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities. If they had a green thumb, a passion for plants and a willingness to serve customers, they were hired. She focused on the passion in people, because passion is what makes a good team great. 

My grandmother focused on the passion in people, because passion is what makes a good team great.”

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

Her care for her business, employees and customers is something I’ve carried with me throughout my career. Just as there are no days off when tending to plants, the same could be said for our customers, teams and selves. For these relationships to grow, I can’t just put in time during quarterly meetings or reviews. I need to be engaged every single day — this can be small things, like commenting on a customer’s LinkedIn post or sending a member of my team a personal happy birthday message. Or it could be checking in with someone when I know they are facing a tough deadline. 

My grandmother’s focus on passion has also stayed with me. As we build our team here at Quantum Metric, I am always looking for people who are extremely passionate. To keep that passion burning, I not only need to build a space where everyone feels comfortable being themselves, but I also need to take risks in order to innovate and grow. Failure is something women specifically have been told to fear. I try to break this stigma down within my organization and the teams I lead. When we have room to try and fail, we also create space to try and excel. 

 

 

Erin DeCesare
CTO • ezCater

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you?

While so many women I have worked for and with have shaped who I am, there is one woman who changed how I think about leadership. I was fortunate to have attended Anese Cavanaugh’s Intentional Energetic Presence training just as my scope was starting to significantly increase. Anese bravely speaks about topics — like how are you feeling and how are you making others feel — that are often ignored at leadership tables. Her program helped me understand how much impact a leader has on the overall well-being of their teams. I learned how self care and awareness of my own emotional state are critical for me to show up the way my teams need me to. Anese models how to be productive and honest with yourself when your energy is low or you’ve had a bad day. All of these lessons served me well as I navigated the ongoing challenges of leading teams through the pandemic.

Anese bravely speaks about topics that are often ignored at leadership tables.”

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

I have shared Anese’s perspective with my extended leadership team. We now regularly talk through not only technical strategy and operations, but also how people are feeling. When we prepare for meetings, we explore how the way we show up in them matters — this includes little things such as making sure we’re not distracted on Slack when we’re together, as well as more complex issues such as being mindful about who is getting a chance to speak. 

As leaders, we regularly receive feedback or flat-out complaints that are tough to hear. Because it’s easy to let these sentiments bring out the worst in us, we spend peer coaching time on learning how to be more resilient to feedback. One of my favorite lessons from Anese was “only take what serves you,” — meaning only respond to the feedback that provides insight to make things better, and let any snark or unwarranted critique fall to the floor. But that takes practice. I’m grateful to be working with a team that values this lesson and often talks through feedback together, helping one another become open and comfortable exploring even the most challenging criticism.

 

 

Katie Nickels
Director of Intelligence • Red Canary

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you? 

Many women have inspired me throughout my career, and lately I’ve been particularly inspired by the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Jen Easterly. She has an impressive resume, including more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, as well as tours at the White House and NSA. She hasn’t just been in the government, though; she held a leadership role at Morgan Stanley prior to joining CISA. 

It’s not Ms. Easterly’s career accomplishments that impress me most, though — I’m inspired by how she handles her leadership role in an authentic way. She doesn’t shy away from showing her personality as she leads CISA, such as regularly showing off her expert Rubik’s Cube-solving skills. Ms. Easterly has also continued to lead CISA toward increasing public-private cooperation, which is necessary to improve the cybersecurity landscape overall. She has a natural way of communicating — whether to journalists or Congress — that I find inspirational.

By taking notes on how she communicated in an authentic, passionate way, I felt more confident about my own communication style.”

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

As I’ve grown in my career, I’ve tried to embrace my authentic leadership style, which is often emotional — not commonly the first word someone associates with a leader. Seeing how Ms. Easterly has been so authentic gives me confidence that I’m on the right track, and I can be who I truly am while still being professional. When I was preparing for a recent press interview, I watched one of her interviews and studied how she so clearly conveyed her key message about multifactor authentication. By taking notes on how she communicated in an authentic, passionate way, I felt more confident about my own communication style in that interview.

 

 

Christine Spang
Founder & CTO • Nylas

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you?

I look less to public figures and more to my family for inspiration from women. My grandmother Brynhild grew up in Norway in the 1940s and 50s, had a child out of wedlock at a young age who had to be birthed in secret and then put up for adoption, then faithfully followed her husband to Canada for his job as a chemical engineer working in mining. When he struck out on his own and the family was grown, she worked in the business and kept things running as well. Now in her 80s, she still lives independently in rural Ontario where she grows a huge garden, cross country skis, is a prolific award-winning quilter and cuts her own firewood in the Canadian bush. Her balance of duty and care to family, honor to inner self, and love for simple living are reasons I still look up to her.

Her balance of duty and care to family, honor to inner self, and love for simple living are reasons I still look up to her.”

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

I owe my family for the quality of being a rock and knowing what to worry about and what too shall pass. When I have to live with something less than ideal, I can hear my grandmother’s voice telling me, “Well, so be it,” like she always says. She also gave me the desire to build and bring things into the world. I helped raise a barn on my grandparents’ property when I was a kid, and I remember the joy of seeing it come together and getting to clamber on the big beams to hammer in nails. They didn’t worry too much about safety — if you smashed a finger, it was a lesson. Today I harness that spirit of adventure and problem solving in entrepreneurship and still make sure to get outside to keep my mind and body strong.

 

 

Kara Fagan
VP of Marketing • Tilled

 

Looking back on your career so far, is there a woman who has consistently inspired you?

My older sister, Kylie Whitman, has paved a path for both of us — not as just women in leadership roles, but inside the tech industry as well. From the start of my career, I’ve always looked up to Kylie as a role model for how to carry myself in both personal and professional settings. When it comes to getting the job done in a male-dominated industry, Kylie is a force to be reckoned with, but she does it all with style and grace. To say I’m consistently inspired by her might even be an understatement.

When it comes to getting the job done in a male-dominated industry, Kylie is a force to be reckoned with, but she does it all with style and grace.”

 

How have you incorporated the lessons and achievements from her life and career into your own? 

No matter the obstacle, Kylie has persisted forward at all costs. As sisters — and especially as women — we learned early on that you have to be able to provide for yourself, never settle and shoot for the stars. Year over year, Kylie has done just that. She continues to grow and inspire me every day. Recently, as I’ve stepped into a VP role where I have more responsibility than ever before, Kylie has been my mentor day after day. She shows me how to advocate not only for myself, but for my entire team. Kylie is a servant leader who shares influence, puts the needs of her team first, and helps people develop and perform at their highest levels. I challenge myself to incorporate those skills every day into my work at Tilled. 

 

 

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