January 18, 2016 — In the 1940s my great-grandmother boarded a bus from South Carolina to New York City and never looked back. In an effort to escape the harsh realities of the Jim Crow era, she was set on fulfilling the dream that she had for her family: to relocate and thrive in a new city, and build a foundation of opportunity. She had a dream that she, her daughters, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren would have opportunities beyond the roles that her parents had as sharecroppers and housemaids. Decades later, I made it a point to bring her vision to fruition by becoming the first person in my family to graduate from college.
My great-grandmother was a woman with a dream that echoed the thoughts that Dr. Martin Luther King shared while delivering his famed I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. before thousands of people. And she is not alone—there are many women in business and in our society who, like my great-grandmother, have had dreams to create a better tomorrow for the next generation, and have dedicated their careers to raising the bar, breaking stereotypes, and making change.
As I build my own career at Catalyst, the global expert on gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, I’m inspired by our organization’s mission to accelerate progress for women of all backgrounds—work I know my great-grandmother would be proud of. And I’m inspired by the many leaders in business and other fields who are not only showing that #WomenCan, but who embody MLK’s dream of inclusion in their own everyday lives and who are inspirational role models for what is possible. Women like:
Rosalind Brewer, President and CEO, Sam’s Club, for making sure leadership teams and those of vendor suppliers are truly diverse.
Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO, Xerox, for breaking barriers and being impatient with the status quo.
Mary T. Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors, for promoting change in the auto industry.
Leslie Morris, Founder of Women of the Dream, for creating a nonprofit organization designed to mentor and guide girls who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
Tsukiko Tsukahara, VP, Catalyst Japan, for helping to break barriers for women in corporate Japan.
Dnika Travis, VP, Women of Color Research and Center Leader, Catalyst Research Center for Corporate Practice, for driving organizational change through research and promoting workplace diversity.
Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, for using her platform to do what is right for the people and the planet.
Malala Yousafzai, advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner for being dedicated to making sure that every girl in the world has the right to go to school.
Misty Copeland, first African American principal dancer, American Ballet Theater, for breaking barriers for African American women in the realm of dance and showing young black girls that a career in ballet is possible despite the stereotypes.
Tennis champion Serena Williams for showing strength on the court and off—through illness, racism, sexism, and cruel comments about her body.
Becky Hammon, Assistant Coach for the San Antonio Spurs, for changing the face of leadership in men’s sports.
I thank them for being role models for all of us and showing that those dreams are in reach.