ANGELA FLOURNOY is the author of The Turner House, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times notable book of the year. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has taught at the University of Iowa, The New School, and Columbia University.
Which woman inspires you most? I am inspired by my mother, who has been working since she was 17 years old, and is one of the most genuine and intellectually curious people I know. She is confident and gracious no matter the situation, which is something I strive very hard to embody. What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? I care about many issues, but if I had to pick one, I’d say equal, affordable and comprehensive access to healthcare for women and girls. Do you feel that women are presented fairly in society? Society still has a long way to go as far as gender equality goes, particularly in regards to the rights and representation of women of color, trans and queer women. Until we are compensated equally in the workplace, and the threats to our physical and mental well-being are taken seriously, there will always be work to do.
What is something you’ve learned in your experiences that you wish someone would have told you? I wish someone would have told me about the kindness I would encounter from so many people I hardly know. This past year has shown me that there are many people who genuinely want to support new writers, and are willing to share resources and opportunities with no other agenda outside of fostering community. I wish I had known about these generous souls when I was doubting myself and my abilities years prior.
What words of advice would you give other women pursuing your career path? Do not let others undersell you, or convince you to settle for less than what you know in your heart you deserve. Listen to the advice of older women writers, they know what they’re talking about. Never stop being a fan of literature and writing—if you like someone’s work, never be too cool or too shy to tell them!
Was there a defining moment you felt was your ‘big break’ in your career? There have been so many magical, humbling moments this past year, but I will never forget heading out to do laundry the morning the nominations for the National Book Award were announced, and getting Twitter notifications that my book was on the longlist. I dropped my laundry bag and screamed!
What are your future goals? I plan on writing more books. I am looking forward to opportunities to mentor young writers of color. I would also love to see one of my novels adapted for film.
What was your best decision to date? And worst? My best decision was to take a variety of odd jobs, sleep very little, and commit myself to finishing my novel. My worst decision is probably saying “yes” to too many commitments at once. I’m getting better at “no,” though.
What book or article do you consider ‘required reading’? Why? Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel Prize lecture is an all-time favorite. She discusses the power of language, the responsibilities of those who use it, and the possibilities for understanding that it provides.
If you could only bring one item on a deserted island, what would it be? Is it a tropical island? Sunscreen would be smart to bring, but I’d probably bring a notebook.
MIKI AGRAWAL is the CEO and Co-Founder of THINX, a high-tech, underwear solution for women to wear during their periods. She was named 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the World Technology Awards and her company THINX was named TIME Magazine’s “25 Best New Inventions of 2015.
”Which woman inspires you most? My sisters and my THINX team inspire me the most. Badass feminists all day!
What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? Gender equality. Reproductive rights. Women’s health in general.
Do you feel that women are presented fairly in society? No. Only 7% of women-led start-ups get funded per year. Women in media are expected to meet unrealistic standards of beauty and their intellect is largely not respected. The list goes on.
What is something you’ve learned in your experiences that you wish someone would have told you? Overnight success happens 10 years in.
What are your future goals? To impact billions of women and build a multi-billion dollar business in the process.
What words of advice would you give other women pursuing your career path? Take a positive action every single day towards your business to get things going—make a routine or ritual of it, like brushing your teeth.
Was there a defining moment you felt was your ‘big break’ in your career? The moment I believed in myself enough to take the leap from a safe, traditional career path into entrepreneurship (when I set off to open WILD, 11 years ago).
What was your best decision to date? And worst? Best: to never give up on the projects we believed in, no matter how many obstacles we faced. Worst: to spend too much time tolerating things that didn’t serve me or my businesses.
What book or article do you consider ‘required reading’? Why? Besides Do Cool Sh*t? … Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. It awakens the creative possibilities within you.
If you could only bring one item on a deserted island, what would it be? Swiss Army knife. And something to spark a flame!
SARAH TULIN Co-Founder and CEO at Oxie Innovations, Inc., the first smart, neck-worn air purifier.
Which woman inspires you most? Sheryl Sandberg [COO, Facebook].
What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? The wage gap. Even though I am proud to be from a country [Israel] where I do believe women are presently fairly, the wage gap amongst women continues to exist.
Do you feel that women are presented fairly in society? I believe it depends on the place or country. Here in Israel, I do feel women are presented fairly in society. I have never once felt that I was at a disadvantage for being a woman.
What is something you’ve learned in your experiences that you wish someone would have told you? I wish someone had warned me about the emotional rollercoaster ride involved in starting a company. One day you might be on a high from success and the next day you might feel like you have lost everything. The emotional rollercoaster involved in starting a company is something that everyone experiences, that I could never have prepared for.
What words of advice would you give other women pursuing your career path? “Go for it.” No matter what people tell you, if you have confidence in yourself and your idea, then you should go for it. Countless times throughout my career I have been told that I was attempting the impossible and had no chance at success. It was my self-confidence that has saved me time and time again from becoming unmotivated and letting the opinions of others get to me.
Was there a defining moment you felt was your ‘big break’ in your career? Yes. I had the idea for Oxie when I was in the middle of my studies and had to make the decision to either finish my degree or drop everything for Oxie. After receiving encouragement from my school’s Dean to pursue Oxie, I put my degree on hold. I knew that putting my degree on hold would be a big risk and potential disappointment to my parents, but I am thankful everyday for making this decision and have no regrets.
What are your future goals? My future goals are not only provide better air quality for the masses, but also to travel and create a positive impact on as many individual lives as possible, be it through mentoring, volunteering, or another social endeavor.
What was your best decision to date? And worst? My best decision to date was to pursue Oxie and not be afraid of building a hardware company from scratch. I do not have a defined “worst decision,” as I believe everything happens for a reason and if a bad decision does come up along the way, there is always a lesson to be learned.
What book or article do you consider ‘required reading’? Why? The Hard Thing About Hard Thing by Ben Horowitz. Many business books out there are based on success stories or how to reach success fast, while Horowitz takes a different approach and gives straight forward, “what to expect,” honest advice for a wide variety of scenarios that all business managers face. He tells is straight and does not sugar coat anything.
If you could only bring one item on a deserted island, what would it be? My glasses.
TIFFANY GAINES is the Founder of Lovability Condoms, Promoting female empowerment and safe sex.
Which woman inspires you most? Pam Gaines, my mother, is the most inspiring woman I have yet to meet. Not only has she built two successful companies from the ground up, she has taught me that being a woman in business can be a huge advantage. Growing up, I would see her utilize her femininity, empathy, and grace when making business deals. Her social and emotional intelligence made her an excellent negotiator, and her authentic feminine charm made people want to collaborate and work with her. In addition, my mom was the first person to support my venture, Lovability Inc. She encouraged me to use my company as a force for good, not only by challenging gender stereotypes in regards to sex, but by setting an example for other woman by revolutionizing a male dominated industry.
What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? I’m a firm believer that there shouldn’t be an elephant in the womb. In other words, I think it’s essential that the government does not limit women’s access to the tools and resources to have control over their health, bodies, and future. When the government limits our ability to access birth control, or choose an abortion, they are disempowering us. I am tremendously passionate about getting condoms into the hands of women for this reason. We are more likely to achieve our greatest potential when tools like condoms help us mindfully dictate our future.
Do you feel that women are presented fairly in society? Thanks to social media, the societal representation of women is now largely in the hands of women. I’m aware that in the mainstream media industry there are huge problems with sexism. A vast majority of the stories we view in mainstream media are written and directed by men. In most cases females are idolized for beauty, rather than strength. As of late, there has been a backlash against this limited representation, but now, more inspiring stories are being told that shine light on the true power and potential of women. Also, because of our ability to gain large followings through social media, I think every woman has an opportunity to be a positive female archetype and influence our societal presentation at large. I try to live by the motto, “Be who you needed to look up to when you were younger.”
What is something you’ve learned in your experiences that you wish someone would have told you? Building a business can often feel like one step forward, and two steps back. Failure is often on the same trajectory as success. Just because you haven’t succeeded yet does not mean that your success isn’t a few miles down that same road. Every time you fail it’s an opportunity to learn and iterate. Also, your projects, failures, or successes do not define who you are, but rather, your character does. Finally, work with people that you like, and respect. As an entrepreneur you have the gift of choosing who you spend your days working with. Choose someone who shares your values and gives you energy; choose wisely.
What words of advice would you give other women pursuing your career path? Separate yourself from your ego. Do this by using your business as a way to serve others rather than yourself. Also, start before you’re ready, and fail quickly, learn, and move on. Oh, and stop worrying about what other people think of you! Nobody cares.
Was there a defining moment you felt was your ‘big break’ in your career? That question makes me laugh because for a long time I was desperately awaiting my “big break.” Was it going to happen when I was contacted to make a reality TV show? Nope. When we finally scored that Cosmopolitan feature? Nope. When a luxury department store finally agreed to sell our condoms? Nope. After about 10 “false alarms,” it soon became clear that it’s not about a big break, it’s about creating a well-structured, reliable, automated system that follows a sustainable business model! I’ve learned that true success usually doesn’t’ come in the form of a sexy product press feature, but rather in the form of streamlined backend logistics!
What are your future goals? I’d like to scale Lovability so that more women feel proudly prepared with condoms and take responsibility for their sexual health. I’d like to create fun, entertaining, modern sexed materials that make people laugh. I’d like to build a forum for women to open up about their emotional and physical insecurities in regards to sex, so that they realize that they are not alone and that we can confront these issues together.
What was your best decision to date? And worst? Last summer, my business was at an all time high. We had just finished shipping out thousands of condom orders worldwide in response to our viral crowd-funding campaign. Then, my world was rattled and my mom was diagnosed with a very aggressive case of Ovarian Cancer. The best decision I’ve ever made was to stop business immediately and relocate to San Diego. I gave my business partner the reigns of the business and we slowed down production hibernated for a while. I spent about six months disconnected from my business and I am so glad that I did. The worst decision I made in regards to my venture was trying to go at it alone for too long. My parents never had business partners, so I grew up thinking that a business was less complicated if it was led by one person. However, I spent a year and half struggling while running my business before Claire Courtney became my partner. Her fresh ideas and energy took things to a whole new level.
What book or article do you consider ‘required reading’? Why? Sacred Success by Barbara Stanny is a must read. It’s a financial guidebook that uniquely blends the practical, psychological, and spiritual work of wealth.
If you could only bring one item on a deserted island, what would it be? Condoms. Because there’s always a chance Richard Branson will show up and want to buy the island. I’d want to make sure I could pitch him as an investor when we cross paths. Virgin Condoms? It could happen!