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Ready For Anything

15 Women Leaders on Risk, Mentorship and Following Your Dreams

Get inspired for the fourth annual Women's Entrepreneurship Week.
15 Women Leaders on Risk, Mentorship and Following Your Dreams
Image credit: YouTube
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
7 min read

Universities across the country and all over the world this week are celebrating the fourth annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Week (WEW).

The initiative was first launched at Montclair State University in New Jersey in 2014 with just four New Jersey universities. Four years later, it has steadily caught on with nonprofits and academic institutions, with 74 organizations in 15 countries and 22 states all holding events to celebrate the work of female entrepreneurs. This is among a climate that sees men outnumber women as business owners two to one and only 17 percent of venture backed founders are women.

Sharon Waters, the manager of WEW and program manager at Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State, says that the initiative's aim is visibility and inspiration.

Related: 8 Women Leaders Who Are Disrupting Entrepreneurship

“Universities want their young women who are students to be able to see the positive role models up on stage that are telling their entrepreneurial journey and how they got to where they are,” Waters says. “As long as women are underrepresented as entrepreneurs, I think the need for this type of celebration remains.”

In honor of WEW, read on for 15 quotes about leadership from female founders and executives at the top of their game.

Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck
Image credit: Courtesy of Sallie Krawcheck

“The biggest risk is not taking any career risk. We all need to be pushing ourselves in different directions, otherwise we risk having the world just pass us by.”

Sallie Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest

Cindy Whitehead

Cindy Whitehead
Image credit: Courtesy of Cindy Whitehead

“I never had a mentor, not in a formal way. What I learned is to find mentors to my left and my right. Everybody has something to teach you.”

Cindy Whitehead, founder of the Pink Ceiling

Sarah Robb O’Hagan

Sarah Robb O’Hagan
Image credit: Dylan Coulter

“You actually have to get out there and really do things to experience for yourself where you thrive, where you shine, what you love and frankly where you're not good. I think once we really commit to getting in there and try and experience that is when you start to discover your unique strengths”

Sarah Robb O’Hagan, CEO of Flywheel

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison
Image credit: Courtesy of Mae Jemison

“[When I make decisions] I think about what my younger self would have advised me to do. You get wisdom when you get older but sometimes you also get a little bit of trepidation. You may not take those those risks that are actually really good for you to take. And the other thing I rely on is I've always been a quick study. I think I rely on my innate ability and the confidence I have in myself. If no one has ever done it before, I can give it a try.”

Mae Jemison, astronaut and principal of 100 Year Starship

Julia Hartz

Julia Hartz
Image credit: Eventbrite

“I think entrepreneurship is combining a passion with the tenacity to problem-solve and the fearlessness to fail. The thing that I [would want to tell] people who are say, in a graduate business school class about entrepreneurship and expect that they'll just go out and start a successful company, is that being a successful entrepreneur is basically being the person who fails the least. It is just an exercise in a lot of different trial-and-error moments and failures. You have to assume that things are not always going to go the way you intended. But somehow, you have to adopt an unyielding sense of optimism.”

Julia Hartz, co-founder and CEO of Eventbrite

Eurie Kim

Eurie Kim
Image credit: Forerunner Ventures

“When things get really hard, are you going to be excited? If you quit because it gets hard, then we all fail. It's not just about being smart and identifying opportunity. Do you realize how many years you're going to have to dedicate to this and maybe fail anyway? So why would you do this if you weren't super passionate?”

 - Eurie Kim, general partner of Forerunner Ventures

Marie Tillman

Marie Tillman
Image credit: Courtesy of Marie Tillman

“I think passion goes a long way. Especially when you're starting something, because that's what carries you. First and foremost I think you have to be passionate about what you're doing. And I think it's about bringing in people who have expertise in certain areas that you don't. Understanding where your strengths and weaknesses are and bringing in people to help you in the areas that you're not a strong. But passion, particularly in the early days, goes a long way.”

 - Marie Tillman, founder of Mac & Mia

Tilane Jones

Tilane Jones
Image credit: Ray Tamara

“You can't always change the world, but you can change yourself -- which is going to change your vision of the world. I'm always trying to not be afraid of change and not be afraid of experiencing new things. [Whether an experience is] good or bad, I can always make my world better.”

Tilane Jones, executive director of ARRAY

Shireen Yates

Shireen Yates
Image credit: Courtesy of Shireen Yates

“Just keep asking why until you're satisfied, and [don’t be] easily satisfied. There will be so many obstacles along the way. There are going to be people that you think are just the absolute experts in something. They might say, 'No, it's impossible,' or 'You can't do it.' But you just have to keep asking why until it makes sense to you.”

 - Shireen Yates, co-founder and CEO of Nima

Emily Best

Emily Best
Image credit: Courtesy of Emily Best

“[If you’re starting a company] I think all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and build a great base of mentors you deeply trust and listen to them -- except when your gut tells you not to.”

Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed&Spark

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani
Image credit: Adrian Kinloch

“Never give up. People will always discount you and you'll always get rejected. But set your sights high. Be boldly ambitious. Be relentless and never give up.”

Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO Girls Who Code

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy
Image credit: Courtesy of Sukhinder Singh Cassidy

“I would generally call myself an impatient person and that probably hasn't changed. But what has changed is early in my career, I fundamentally felt like I could orchestrate any outcome, like I was in control of my destiny, 100 percent [of the time]. I really feel like over the course of the past 20 years I've actually learned that the leadership mantra I should be following -- and I try my best to follow it -- is in fact you're not in control of the outcome. You're only in control of the input.”

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of theBoardList  

Sana Amanat

Sana Amanat
Image credit: Judith Stephens

“Be OK with criticism. But understanding how to react to criticism and knowing who to trust to offer you criticism is a big thing. Sometimes people can give you criticism and they have no idea what they are talking about. But knowing the people that you feel have something to offer that you respect, I think is an incredibly important. Because if you don't have that criticism, you don't know how to collaborate.”

Sana Amanat, the director of content and character development at Marvel

Kristi Knaack Riordan

Kristi Knaack Riordan
Image credit: Courtesy of Kristi Knaack Riordan

“A word that is thrown around a lot is transparency. I have actually tried to strike that word in exchange for trust. Because I think that what people really mean when they say transparency is they want to have a trusted relationship, which means they have an opportunity to ask the questions they want to ask. They believe the answers they're getting back are truthful and are candid, and that there's actually a desire to develop the organization together in a collaborative fashion. We seek to develop a lot of trust in the organization in everything that we do.”

Kristi Knaack Riordan, COO of the Flatiron School


Erika Ender

Erika Ender
Image credit: Nicolas Felizola

“I've learned you have to be authentic. You have to persevere. As much as you can. You cannot leave the track. No matter what happens. And you have to be open and humble in order to evolve, first as a human being and then as an artist. I think that [the one affects the other] in order for you to maintain and keep improving on your career. If not, it's going to be like a five-minute career.”

Erika Ender, songwriter, musician and founder of Puertas Abiertas

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