In 1987 the month of March was officially designated as Women’s History Month. This year, the month – and International Women’s Day – was thrust into the spotlight when organizers from the Women’s March on Washington announced A Day Without a Woman.
This new strike was created to show the value females bring to our socio-economic system and promote the “equity, justice, and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people.”
As a woman, it is important for me to celebrate women’s achievements and societal advancements. Females and their leadership have been a part of my own growth and success. In fact, without the females that have mentored and taught me throughout my youth, schooling, and career, I would not have become the young professional, and person, I am today. To honor those women, I decided to reach out to a few and ask them to share their own journeys and the women who inspired them along the way.
It is my hope this post helps show the powerful impact women have on one another, as well as inspires some of you to continue this cycle of female empowerment by acting as leaders and mentors in the communities you live.
Dr. Jeanne Persuit
Dr. Persuit is an associate professor at my alma mater UNCW. She was the first person to introduce me, along with hundreds of other students, to the study and practice of integrated marketing communication. I pretty much took every, and any, class I could with her. She pushes the IMC program by bringing in real client projects, staring new ventures like student-run IMC firms, and continuing the conversation about IMC practices with the IMC Hawks blog her classes run. It was the experience of writing for that blog that prompted Savannah and I to start our own.
I wholeheartedly believe my college experience would not have been as rewarding if I had not had her as a teacher and professional example – not to mention her sense of humor cracks me up. Which is why I had to find out what women had inspired her to teach young adults in such a lively and impassioned way.
Dr. Persuit listed both of her great-grandmothers as her inspiration. One of her great-grandmothers, Irma D’Ascenzo, was the first woman on Pittsburgh’s City Council, serving from 1956-1970.
“Irma didn’t go to college, but she was appointed to fill a seat after serving on committees in the city. She was also an alternate delegate for the 1960 and 1968 Democratic National Convention. She’d speak in Italian and in English at speeches in the city and in the neighborhoods with lots of Italian immigrants. Her area of concern and expertise were parks, recreation, and children’s issues.”
“My other maternal great-grandmother, Ermalinda Marino, immigrated when she was 16 from Italy to the U.S. with her new husband. I just can’t imagine being 16-years-old and leaving your home and everything you know for a new life. She went on to raise three daughters, and one of them had three daughters, and one of those daughters is my mom. She knew everyone on her street and she was an integral part of the community.”
Dr. Persuit sent me a photo of Ermalinda coming over with her great grandfather. (It is below.) Ermalinda passed away when Dr. Persuit was 18, but Dr. Persuit remembers her as “one of the kindest, most generous people, with a beautiful garden, and who could cook like no other.”
“The influence of both of these women – strong in different ways – has made me, my siblings, and my cousins really turn toward public service and education in our jobs and in our volunteer roles. We are all civically active, we vote, we believe in democracy, and we think that immigration can lead to a better life because we’re products of people who were brave enough to do that. I think when you have really strong examples in your life like this, it makes you understand how important it is to be active in your community.”
Carrie King is the executive director of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival. I met Carrie when she accepted me as her summer college intern. At the time I didn’t realize I would meet someone who was not only one of the most influential people in my community, but also someone with one of the biggest hearts. She is a passionate leader who cares a lot about her city and giving everyone in it some free fun. As a boss she led fearlessly, teaching me to embrace new things and to never be scared of shaking things up.
When responding to my question of what women have personally inspired her, she said the earliest influence was her older sister Kim.
“After becoming a mom at the age of 17, she never let her situation define her outcome. She struggled through her challenges and pushed on as a single mother, business owner, and student. At the age of 32 she decided to go back to school and become a nurse – something we all knew she was destined to be. My sister has inspired me to never quit, to not care what others think, and to always be absolutely confident and FEARLESS!”
Before Carrie became the Dogwood Festival’s executive director she worked at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. It was during her time there that she learned some of the most valuable life lessons and was inspired to become an event planner for the community.
“Pat Ann Matthews was a very demanding and stubborn boss that would leave me notes written on a yellow legal pad in red ink, almost daily, of the things I did wrong the day before. Pat Ann certainly taught me to be a perfectionist with an eye for every detail. Her management style taught me to always think ahead of the situation and be prepared for various outcomes. The most important thing she passed on was how I should NOT treat someone that works with me or for me, and to always defer the success and accolades to the volunteers or higher management. Her behavior and managerial style certainly taught me to be action aggressive and not passive aggressive. “
Carrie’s last response reminds us that strong female influences also come from the people who you choose to be around.
“Now in my forty’s, I have a different perspective on life and the friends I choose to have in it. I’m so lucky to have 2 best friends, Mary Beth and Catina. Mary Beth taught me tolerance and to think before I speak. By example she has shown me how to be a listener and not a responder. Catina has shown me how to be a strong leader and to think through issues. She has taught me to have more compassion for people and animals. The two of them absolutely make me a better person, friend, wife and mother.”
I met Brittany when I was assigned to her as a sales agent. To be fully candid that move benefited me way more than it benefited her, as I always happened to be the last one off the phones making her stay an extra hour past close.
Brittany is a natural born leader and her energetic and quick-witted personality inspires everyone around her. As a manager she helped instill confidence in her agents, pushing them to meet their goals and reach further. She is an exemplary coach always making sure to listen, discuss, and inspire instead of tell. She was the reason I improved as an agent and eventually received a promotion.
No longer in sales, Brittany has become an entrepreneur and activist cofounding the Facebook page “Resist The Donald”, a page that works to foster political activism against Trump and his policies. As the youngest contributor to this post, and a fellow member of the millennial generation, I’m stoked to share her list of inspiring women.
“The first woman to inspire me was the first woman I ever saw – my mother. I realize that can be a clichéd answer, but I mean it. I don’t respect my mother as my mother; I respect her as a woman. She has always been an example of tenacity, integrity and strength. She lost her eyesight a few years ago due to a brain tumor and instead of letting her condition break her she turned it into a new career. She now writes books with the help of speech-text technology. My mother has never let an obstacle get in the way of her goals. She’s been a great role model to follow.”
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to know someone personally to be inspired by his or her work and achievements. That’s the great thing about inspiration. It can come from anywhere and from anybody, which is why I loved reading through Brittany’s next two picks.
“The second woman who inspires me is Shonda Rhimes. It has been my lifelong dream to be a screenwriter. She broke the mold when it comes to that profession. After being turned away from a studio for her first four scripts, she went back to the drawing board and created Grey’s Anatomy, launching a media empire. She once said, “Those who dream, dream. Those who do, achieve.” They have been words I’ve lived since I heard them over a decade ago.”
“Those who dream, dream. Those who do, achieve.”
“The last woman who inspires me is Wilma Rudolph. She was the first black woman to win 3 gold medals in a single Olympics. When she was born she had polio. She spent the first 8 years of her life unable to WALK properly, let alone run at an Olympic level. But she kept at the procedures needed to fix her legs, and once she could run she never stopped. I ran track competitively from the time I was 8 until I was in high school. I was once the 13th fastest 16-year-old in the entire nation. I got that fast by training. Every time I got tired or was in pain, I reminded myself that Wilma Rudolph did what I’m doing on polio-affected legs, and I kept going. She has been my inspiration since I was a child, reminding us all to keep pushing to the finish line.”
I wanted to conclude this post with Brittany’s summary of her inspirational choices because I feel it is applicable to all the women mentioned in this post, and is a takeaway for every woman reading this now.
“What all of these women have in common is their refusal to accept the word “no.” Far too often, especially in business, women do not go after promotions, suggest ideas for improvement, or speak out against failed ideas because they fear the word no. These women empowered me to not be afraid of obstacles that stand in my way. Their fearless examples have inspired me to always go after what I want, no matter what. If I encounter a hurdle, I find a way around it and I keep moving. This philosophy has allowed me to push harder and go farther than I could have ever dreamed because I’m no longer dreaming. I’m doing.”
What women inspire you? Did you celebrate Women’s History Month? If so, let us know how in a comment below.
*Some responses in this post have been edited for clarity.