7 Lessons from Resilient Women Who Choose To Challenge

International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the progress women have made in the push for global equity. Over the past year we’ve seen women around the world step up in new ways, step into new roles, and step out against injustice. 

This March also marks one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, which we know has had an outsized impact on women and communities of color. Many of us have taken on new roles and stresses – yet despite the new challenges, we’re inspired by the many ways women and allies have come together to aid, support and share.

To further that spirit of sharing, here are 7 lessons women in our orbit have shared with the Docusign community this year. I hope they inspire you just as they’ve done for me. 

1) Let Your Curiosity Guide You 

If Docusign CFO Cynthia Gaylor has one super power – beyond her financial wizardry, of course – it’s asking questions. In her role, Gaylor often chooses to challenge norms by questioning why things are done a certain way. This is not to be confrontational, but rather to make sure we’re thinking broadly and challenging ourselves to find the best outcome. 

Gaylor’s example pushes all of us to think strategically and operate to the highest standard. This kind of thinking has improved both our processes and our culture at Docusign. Asking questions and challenging the status quo help to reframe situations, consider new perspectives, and push the boundaries of what’s possible. Inside the working world and out, don’t assume that current processes are perfect. A better idea or process may only be a few questions away. 

2) Find Your Broader Purpose

Not only is Mellody Hobson a respected financial leader, she’s also an incredibly active community partner and philanthropist, not to mention a prominent voice when it comes to social justice. Here some of us struggle to find time to run errands, Hobson manages to chair or serve on the boards of dozens of respected organizations on top of her already packed schedule.

Speaking to Docusign, she offered this lesson: Find a broader purpose, even if you’re not sure of the immediate payoff. Make a choice to allocate your time to include activities that are meaningful to you. Sometimes we focus so singularly on getting our work done that we lose sight of the world around us. Hobson has a demanding workload, yet makes time to engage in activities to drive social change. Her drive and clear purpose have helped her succeed in both her business and extracurricular lives. 

3) Take Time to Listen  

As Docusign’s Chief People Officer, Joan Burke has built an employee-first organization. What I’ve learned from her is the importance of listening. Burke seeks understanding and collects input from all sides before making decisions. At work, that may mean employee surveys, the responses to which she truly takes to heart and shares with CEO Dan Springer and the executive leadership team. She fights battles on behalf of employees based on what she hears.

As a result, Docusign is leading the charge when it comes to employee retention. The statistics showing women leaving the workforce this year are incredibly disheartening, yet Burke’s employee-first approach has created a culture where people feel heard. Our inclusive environment and strong retention rates are a result of her efforts to listen to every employee and convey that each of them is valued.  

4) Get Involved

The Chairperson of Docusign’s Board, Maggie Wilderotter, chooses to challenge the role of the Board itself. Corporate boards typically focus on governance and strategy, keeping the company forging ahead and making sound decisions. While many boards do that by reviewing data, forecasts, and reports, Wilderotter takes a decidedly more hands-on approach. 

Rather than keeping the board at an arm’s length from the company itself, Wilderotter develops relationships with as many internal leaders as she can. She intentionally builds and deepens her network and stays plugged in to the day-to-day company experiences. This closeness gives her a deep understanding of the company and its people. She’s earned a lot of respect for her leadership style, and much appreciation from employees she’s mentored along the way.  

5) Add your voice in a way that’s authentic 

This remote working world has transformed our business norms. Where employees once totally compartmentalized their work and home lives, now they’re completely blurred. People are more vulnerable and looking for leaders to step up in a more authentic way. 

That’s been a real change for some of the women in our orbit – like Docusign’s General Counsel Trâm Phi. Trâm is the first to point out her normally introverted nature, and focusing on work comes much more instinctively to her. However, with the remote working environment created by COVID-19, she’s pushed herself to actively develop stronger relationships and to create a more open, collaborative environment across the company. Trâm began to share her opinions, advice, and suggestions – both proactively and where sought – and was gratified at how much she enjoyed serving as a resource and helping others. 

Trâm also is the executive sponsor of Docusign’s Asian American ERG – a large and active group dedicated to community and inclusion. By finding and using her voice, Trâm has encouraged hundreds of women in her orbit to do the same.

6) Never Give Up Your Passion

Conservation leader Jane Goodall has so much energy and passion. She chose to challenge the norms decades ago as both a wildlife warrior and a woman of science. Since then she’s created a remarkable legacy of conservation and environmental thought leadership. Even during the pandemic as she’s “happily stuck in her childhood home,” every day is full, and she’s still getting her message out via web events and podcasts.

Goodall’s personal passion and conviction are obvious to anyone who knows her. At 75, she’s certainly at a point in her life when she could be slowing down, yet she keeps her schedule as busy as ever. May we all reach deeply to identify what we care deeply about – and use it as our North Star. 

7) Turn Failure into Fuel 

Speaking together, Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle offered this advice for difficult times: Turn your failures into fuel. That may sound strange coming from two wildly successful women, but both have experienced hardships, tackling them in different ways.  

Wambach is a soccer icon and gold medalist who has become a vocal activist for equality and inclusion. Outwardly competitive, Wambach channels her rage to drive action and change. Doyle, on the other hand, is a best-selling author who pushes herself to succeed. She’s learned to open herself up, be vulnerable, and take chances in order to find happiness and success. Both say they’ve turned their competitive natures into strengths; when they encounter hardships or prejudice, they use them as the motivation they need to work for change. 

Share Your Lessons in Honor of International Women’s Day

What lessons have you learned this year from the women in your orbit? And, how do you #ChooseToChallenge? I’d love to hear – Find me on Twitter at @RobinJoy. I’ve also shared a few practical tips to support women in the workplace; find it here on LinkedIn.

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