To celebrate Women’s History Month this year, we want to spotlight the women of Paradigm. The theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge which aims to call out gender inequality and celebrate women’s achievements across the world.
We prompted our colleagues at Paradigm to tell us what (or who) inspires them, when they may have experienced a glass ceiling moment, and a glass ceiling they want to see broken by themselves or others.
We took over one of our weekly Town Halls for staff to speak openly on these prompts and received an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone who joined. We want to share some of those responses with the public because as the International Women’s Day foundation says, a challenged world is an aware world.
What or who inspires you?
Soumya Nettimi, CEO: My grandfather has always been a huge inspiration in my life — he was the first in his family to graduate from college and then went on to co-found a group of universities that changed the game around access to education in his hometown in India. And my mother, who pretty soon after immigrating to the US raised two daughters, while working a full time job and finishing school…and never once complained or did anything but express gratitude for all that she had been given.
Kristin O’Neill, VP of Customer Success: My parents were a huge inspiration to me growing up. My dad was sick for most of my life but he was so devoted to his family and his work. He never complained about work and often took his work home with him but was still so active in our lives. For my mom, she took care of all of us kids while also taking care of my dad and working part time. They knew what they needed to do to provide for their family and although I knew we struggled for years, they always made sure we were supported.
Sarah Schaaf, GM of Payments: I have been inspired by so many women and men during my lifetime. First and foremost, my mom, who is an attorney, and made it look easy to have a busy career and be a really present parent. My dad, also an attorney, who supported my mom’s career as much as his own, sometimes even more. It was always expected and encouraged that I would be a high achiever and not limit myself or my dreams — I can honestly say that I never knew sexism or a glass ceiling existing for women until I was older. As a parent of both a son and a daughter, I feel a deep responsibility to raise both of my children to live without gender limitations. Outside of my family, my biggest female inspirations are RBG and Kamala Harris. Seeing a woman become VP was an incredibly emotional and moving experience for me. My dream is to see a female US president in my lifetime. Half our country’s population is female, yet we’ve been completely unrepresented in America’s highest level of leadership to date. Let’s work together, women and male allies, to change this.
Jessica Anderson, Manager, Customer Success: An event that inspired and continues to inspire me is my journey into motherhood immediately after graduating from college. It was not a planned journey, but at 22 I had derailed my career aspirations of obtaining my Masters degree and becoming a Community College teacher to fulfill the honorable role of becoming a mother instead. I was thrown into the “real world” workforce at 23 years old, and just 3 months after my son was born. I felt so unprepared to be a working mother, and also ill-equipped to deal with the emotional and mental toll it takes on a person. I constantly felt like a burden. A prime example was needing to use the conference room (that had insufficient privacy) to be able to pump every few hours. I distinctly remember a time when I was taking my pump break, sitting in the corner of the conference room and in the dark (for privacy) and subsequently knocking over what I had just pumped. It was such a moment of defeat that can only be felt by an exhausted new mom who is trying so hard to be a good employee and good mother but unfortunately feels she is failing at both. The inspiration of this story is that it reminds me that we should stop the narrative that pressures women into thinking they can “have it all.” We should also have a better dialogue and understanding of what “have it all” even means for women. It inspires me to make sure that I always make working moms feel supported.
Yan Gao, Controller: I am fortunate enough to meet many great women in my life. Some of them are successful in their careers and some of them are great moms. They all inspire me in different ways but they all have some similarities. I believe the most common similarities are that they never give up in their dream and always keep the passion in their heart.
One of these great women in my life is Joanne, a local artist specializing in oil paintings. Many of her art pieces were displayed in different museums. Both my daughter and I used to go to her studio to learn how to oil paint. She once told me that the first time she touched a canvas was when she was 40. Before that, she was a CFO of a company but soon after she started oil painting, she realized that oil painting was her true love. She made the decision to retire from her CFO job and started teaching herself oil painting from books, online resources, and different seminars. She also travelled around the country to attend classes with different artists. I enjoy going to her studio not only because I learned how to paint, but the most important thing that I learned from her is that it is never too late to start a new journey and never stop learning.
Alca Sanchez, Assistant Controller: A lot of people have inspired me through my life and are constantly inspiring me, my parents, my husband, my coworkers too. The kindness of people inspires me.
Maleasa Cruddas, KYC Specialist: After my parents passed away, I learned two valuable lessons. First, not to take life for granted. Second, what energy I put into a goal is the same energy I should expect from my end result. For example, if I do not produce quality work then I should not expect a quality outcome.
Maeve Lavelle, Staff Accountant: A quote that inspires me is “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
Some motivation I’ve had over the years has come from the story of Dr. James Barry born circa 1790. Dr. James Barry was a high-ranking British Army Surgeon/General and one of the first to perform a cesarean section where both mother and child survived. A secret was exposed upon death, as Dr. Barry was actually Margaret Anne Buckley from Ireland. She took on her uncle’s identity to gain an education and career otherwise denied to her as women in Ireland would not be allowed access to a formal education until 1904.
Grace Transue, Product Designer: I was once told early in my career that I would do well because I’m “not girly”. Because I was already used to the conflict between being feminine and the pressure to keep up with men in society, this really set the tone for how I felt throughout my adult life, especially professionally. I was inspired upon reflecting on this moment in more recent years, and I have since been actively trying to unlearn the idea that being yourself as a feminine individual is somehow a sign of weakness.
Have you experienced a glass ceiling moment?
Soumya: I’ve almost always worked in male-dominated industries. From my first internship in college where I was the only woman in my entire group…to being the only female CEO in many settings today, it’s been a constant in my life. Like many other women, I’ve had instances of being talked over, having my ideas ignored, or not being taken seriously, most often by peers or strangers who “better fit the mold” of whatever room I’m in. On the flip side, I’ve had some truly incredible managers and mentors who have genuinely believed in me and pushed me to believe in myself. My approach has always been to focus on the latter and work around the former, and today my goal is to always be the latter for those around me.
Kristin: Basically growing up in the legal tech world, I’ve had my fair share of “glass ceiling” moments. Ironically, these moments were rarely from my managers. Walking in a room with mostly men to present a product idea or proposal was often met with skepticism and hesitation. I always felt like I had to fight 10x harder to gain the respect and be taken seriously because of my lack of education or background in legal.
Sarah: My biggest glass ceiling moments have been raising my first round of venture from a top-tier VC in Silicon Valley, having the company I co-founded go from idea to acquisition in 4 years. This is especially true as during those 4 years I also had children and broke through an even higher glass ceiling that exists for pregnant working women and moms. I also find it amazing that I was a female founder/CEO that had a female lead investor and was acquired by a female lead company.
Jessica: Not sure if this really counts, but at a certain point I decided to stop being ashamed of my motherhood trickling into the workforce. I broke my own “Barrier of Burden” when it comes to juggling mom life and work life. Sometimes they are going to intertwine and that is okay! I have been blessed to work at a couple companies in the past 8 years that have made this possible – but even more so at my current position. Being a working mom doesn’t have to be a roadblock to success if you have a company that supports you.
Alca: I haven’t experienced a glass ceiling moment on the first hand because I consciously (or not) have always worked in companies that had women CEO’s (PepsiCo, Booking.com, and Paradigm) and they have already carved the path for others.
Maleasa: Early in my career I experienced a glass ceiling when I was promoted to a general manager role. The majority of my counterparts were male, and I felt that my formal education and career experience were not valued in the same respects.
Grace: A glass ceiling moment in my life was when I became the first woman in my matriline to graduate from college and pursue a more “conventional” career. I was always academic and career-driven, and I felt as though I was defining what that means in my family — a woman raised in a new generation with more opportunities. I’m excited to eventually help raise the next generation in a way that normalizes being a professional woman.
Jennifer Christensen, Customer Success Specialist: The glass ceiling moment I’d like to share involves the music industry. While I was in college, I formed a band, and we went on to tour the east coast of the United States, as well as opening festivals for larger acts quite often, such as rock acts like Buckcherry, Saving Abel, Devildriver, etc. My first ‘real’ show with the band was a battle of the bands show in Boston. A promotional company was organizing the show and we were asked to sell tickets (which is customary in the industry). The idea was you sell some amount of tickets for $10 each, and for each ticket you sell, the band gets to keep $3 per ticket sold. It was the day of the show and I knew exactly how many tickets we sold and how much money we were owed. I walked up to the promoter to get our money and check in. He was already angry at someone on the phone, and he was very rude. I stood directly in front of him, waited patiently, and got his attention again. He said, “What do you want?” I explained who I was, how much money we were owed, how many tickets we sold. He essentially told me that he didn’t believe me, and that I must be trying to get away with something.
I was shocked and I didn’t know what to do. I was one of the only women performing in the show and I was 19 at the time — a bit younger than the other people in the venue. My band’s guitarist walked directly up to the promoter, said who he was, said how much money we were owed, and how many tickets we sold. The promoter smiled at him, put his phone down, and handed him a giant wad of cash, no questions asked. The two men had never met each other or spoken to each other before. I had a thought — is it going to be like this at every show? Do I really want to pursue music or performing if it’s going to be like this? Sharing this experience is important because it makes me wonder how many women have tried a new hobby or started out early in their career, only to leave because of obstacles like this, early on. Especially when they otherwise would have been very successful, if they had continued.
Kris Holz, Customer Success Manager: A major event for me when I was younger was having a first colleague as a mentor. I was working in retail and there were no other female managers for the organization I worked for. I wanted to run a department, but felt like it might not be attainable. I spoke to a colleague named Bruce who gave me a lot of solid guidance. He told me that no one knows what you want and the only way to let people know what you want is to tell them. I told him I wanted to be a manager and he let me know when the VP was going to be in town. I had to drive 3 hours to meet up with the manager and only got 10 minutes with him — but I was promoted within 3 months. This was a profound shift for me and I have given this advice many, many times since. I am very proud to be working in an organization with so many female leaders.
What is a glass ceiling you want to see broken?
Soumya: It’s really important to me that there are no limitations to women in our company being able to maximize their potential. It’s also important to me that we create an environment where women (and men) can achieve their professional dreams while also prioritizing their families, without the stigmas around parental leave, work/life balance, travel expectations, etc. that currently exist in so many workplaces.
Kristin: For me, I hope to see a continuation of female leaders rise to power. Over the last decade, there’s been a 50% increase in female representation in Congress but it’s still only at 27% today. There’s been a 45% increase in female representation in software developers but again only at 27.5% today.
Sarah: I want to see a female president in this country. We are one of the only first-world countries that has never had a female leader and it is shameful. Half of the population in the US are women — I think we should all be angry that we have never elected one as President. What kind of message does that send to our female citizens, our daughters, sisters and mothers? That they aren’t as valuable as men. We need male allies to get mad about this too — it’s embarrassing for all of us that this type of sexism exists at such a foundational level in our country.
Alca: I’m looking forward to a woman US President, that’s a ceiling that is way overdue.
Maleasa: Even though this happened months ago, I am very excited to witness the first female Vice President of the United States. I feel this action paves the way for many more female professionals being acknowledged for their outstanding contributions.
Maeve: I hope to see more women presidents — specifically in Wall Street/the stock market and the President of the United States. I would like to imagine diversity in these areas becoming a norm.
Grace: I’m always so excited to watch my colleagues who are working mothers breaking the glass ceiling of what it means to try to “have it all”. I don’t have children yet, but I’m inspired by watching other women pave the way so that women like myself can have a better future.
We are lucky to be a part of an organization that highlights such an amazing, diverse, and powerful group of women. It’s these moments when we recognize where we’ve come from but also where we’d like to go that puts so much of what we do and why we do it into perspective.
There are so many ways to celebrate and #ChooseToChallenge for this year’s Women’s History Month like shopping at women-owned businesses, being a mentor to other women, celebrating women making a difference, reading and listening to inspiring female books and podcasts, and more.
To all female leaders who break boundaries and barriers from past to present, we thank you!