Today’s Dame of the Day is Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (March 23, 1953-). As a student, Mazumdar-Shaw wanted to study medicine but did not receive a scholarship and could not afford the course. Instead, her father suggested she travel to Australia and study fermentation science. When she returned to India, she tried to find a job as a brewmaster but was told it was “a man’s job.” While working in Ireland, she met up with a biochem executive looking for a person with knowledge of enzymes to run the company’s India branch. Today, her company Biocon Biochemicals not only contributes innovative advances in biotech but also provides free and low-cost medical care to rural communities across India.
In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with writer and business analyst Jen Breach.
Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?
I‘m a 35 year-old Australian living in Brooklyn. I’m a writer – picture books and graphic novels – and have a day job as a business analyst for systems implementation projects at Barnard College.
When you were in your 20s…
What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?
Oof. So many. I truly thought that by 30, I would have a PhD in archaeology and my first novel published. I was raised with very unhealthy ideas about achievement and perfection. When I did get to 30, I had an abandoned master’s program and I’d not even finished, let alone pitched or published a book. Although I understood intellectually that it was okay not have met those unrealistic expectations, I still felt like a failure.
In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
I completely internalized the idea that young women should be pretty, quiet and compliant. How destructive is that? Those were expectations I could meet, though. For all the world, I seemed at ease but my own skin grated against me like sandpaper. Oh, to cause a ruckus.
What was your first job like?
I’ve always worked. I can’t even remember what the first one was. Cleaning houses with my brother? Or ironing business shirts for a neighbor? It was certainly shitty and poorly paid ☺
What was your first apartment like?
Apartments aren’t common in Australia. Most students and young people will live in a standalone multi-bedroom family home, sharing with other students. The first place I lived out of my parents’ house was a cute-as-a-button pale yellow weatherboard cottage in a Greek-and-Italian neighborhood in Melbourne. The whole bit: rose garden out the front, concrete back yard with a huge old nectarine tree that the nonna next door would precariously climb the fence to steal from. I shared the house with an alcoholic, a narcissist and a film student bodhran player. The arrangement fell apart is a spectacular way after two years but when I think back on it, the sun is shining on that house and the yellow looks lovely against a bright blue sky.
The first true apartment I had was in the East Village when I moved to NYC at 30. It was a third floor walk up, the smallest space I have ever occupied and completely awesome.
How did your relationships with your family change?
At 19, I came out as bisexual to my parents. Their response was a quoted bible passage and then we didn’t speak for six years. It was catastrophic. When we did speak again we didn’t have a single conversation about the estrangement. It took me another nine years for me to talk about it with them and to understand that while ideally a parent will love their child, it’s not always true.
The change, in all its big and tiny ways, was understanding and accepting that the fantasy that mine could be a close, loving, nurturing family was impossible.
In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
I grew up in rural Australia in the 80s. While Australia is a wealthy, educated Western country, attitudes are still very provincial, especially out of the cities. I did not even entertain the idea that I was attracted to women until I moved to the city for college at 18. Understanding that I was bi was like wearing a bespoke suit after two decades of ill-fitting hand-me-downs. When my parents saw my new suit and disowned me, I was really lost. In some ways I am oddly grateful for that catastrophe – it galvanized the way I saw myself. if I’d paid that enormous, painful price to understand and live my sexual identity, it didn’t make sense to be half assed about it.
The other change in identity came much later in my 20s when I shifted perspective from “I want to be a writer” to “I am a writer”. I went to the Emerging Writer’s Festival in Melbourne one sunny cold early winter day and had my idea of what it means to be a writer turned completely on its head. I had thought that it meant you had to be published, you had to make a living off it, you had to be a bestseller – you had to have soaring achievement that proves your “claim”. None of that is true. You’re a writer if you say so. I can’t remember the first time I actually said it out loud, but in my imagination I am timidly squeaking with a grimace and an apology. In the States I see people way more comfortable with calling themselves a writer, or illustrator, or designer or game maker – which is right. There’s a greater acceptance here of creative pursuit and activity, that you’re a professional if you say so regardless of how you pay your bills. In Australia creative pursuit is a hobby, not a career, especially in comics. It’s not true though – if you write, you’re a writer.
Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I don’t go in for regret. Aren’t we all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got in front of us? So how can a choice be wrong? There are always reasons – good or otherwise – for our choices, actions, or lack there of. Of course, some choices are bad and we misconstrue some reasons as excuses. But unless we know we are acting intentionally cruelly or unreasonably or evilly, then we could all stand to be a little kinder to ourselves about our choices and cut ourselves a break.
There’s such a disconnect between what we think a thing is and what it actually turns out to be. We make decisions based on what we know, what we feel and what we can imagine, not on the actual, real future outcome of a choice. How can we? If it turns out to be a bad choice then we have more information to work on to make new choices – either with forward momentum or backwards reflection to make amends for past wrongdoing.
Regret is an inability to see the threads of one’s life and an inability to act without shame or ego in the face of our own less-than-ideal choices. Conscious action of this kind is the hardest thing in the world to do, but it’s a better place to put energy than in regret.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Sheila Lirio Marcelo. Born in the Philippines, Marcelo grew up in an entrepreneurial family with stakes in the coconut, mango, and coal industries. As an adult, she attended Harvard Business School and put her skills into practice. While she struggled to find caregivers for her children and ailing father, Marcelo founded Care.com to help connect people with vetted care professionals. Today, Care.com has over 9.7 million members.
Let’s face it: the road to personal and professional success is not typically linear. Unlike previous generations, today’s workforce does not expect to hold one job for the entirety of their career. While this new-found flexibility may feel liberating for some, others may feel paralyzed by choice. With so many options, which one is the best? Especially in times of economic insecurity, the safest choice may seem optimal in the long term. But if you’re thinking about taking a bigger risk, how do you start?
Image courtesy of Ariane Hunter
Career coach Ariane Hunter feels your pain and wants to help. In her previous career, Hunter wrangled data and information systems in the healthcare industry. But as she advanced up the corporate ladder, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. 10 years ago, she mustered the courage to take a leap. Today, she helps others align their careers with their values so they can build lives that they love.
Image courtesy of Ariane Hunter
In addition to her coaching practice, Hunter launched a side project, #SheWentForHerDreams, as a way to take into the collective energy of other creative women. She interviewed entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, and strategists to pick their brains about their careers and glean advice for women eager to follow in their footsteps. Most recently, Hunter compiled these interviews into a free e-book. Want to get your hands on it? Visit the site and sign up for her e-mail list.
Image courtesy of Ariane Hunter
If you’re in need of a confidence boost, She Went For Her Dreams serves as a quick mentoring session you can carry in your pocket. Each nugget of advice paired with Hunter’s own photographs provides actionable steps instead of nebulous platitudes. The impetus behind the interviews is to connect readers with advice they can apply to their own lives and examples of success in a variety of sectors. With an inspiring collection of guidance and imagery, Hunter’s book can help readers power through a rough day or completely transition into a new career.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Chanda Kochhar (November 17, 1961-). After graduating with degrees in Cost Accountancy and Management, Kochhar worked her way up through the ranks at India’s top banks. Today, she is the Managing Director and CEO of India’s second largest bank. Under her supervision, Kochhar’s banks won awards for quality of service. For the past several years, Kochhar has featured prominently on lists of the world’s most powerful women.
Peruse the staff profiles of a typical venture capital firm and you’ll likely find a sea of white men stretching for miles in every direction. According to a 2014 report from the Center for Venture Research, 26% of U.S. angel investors are women and 8% are people of color. These numbers left Natalia Oberti Noguera, a Yale grad with degrees in Comparative Literature and Economics, grossly unsatisfied. In this real-life episode of Shark Tank, where were the women sharks?
Image courtesy of Pipeline Fellowship
In 2011, Oberti Noguera set out to change those numbers. Through the Pipeline Fellowship, she and her team aim to “increase the diversity in the U.S. angel investing community and create capital for women social entrepreneurs.” The organization currently operates out of 24 major cities across the country.
From now until June 15th, the Fellowship is accepting applications for their Fall 2015 cohort. There are three criteria for consideration. Applicants must:
- meet the U.S. government’s definition of accredited investor, i.e., earning US$200K in income or US$300K joint income with spouse for the past two years, or US$1M net worth
- possess an interest in the group learning model and
- have a passion for social entrepreneurship
The program meets twice a week for six months and combines education speakers, professional mentoring, and practical experience with the pitch process. Since the Fellowship’s launch in 2011, 100 women have graduated the program and 15 women-led for-profit social ventures have secured funding.
Image courtesy of Pipeline Fellowship
Got an idea that you believe deserves funding? If you fit the criteria, take the plunge and sign up to pitch at an upcoming summit. Want to dip a toe instead? Keep an eye on Pipeline Fellowship’s calendar and attend an event near you. Finally, make sure to follow Natalia on Twitter; she regularly shares outstanding insights that stretch well beyond the realm of finance.
Today’s Dame of the Day is Albina Ruiz. When she earned her bachelor’s degree, this Peruvian industrial engineer was the only woman the program. Ruiz went on to found Ciudad Saludable, a non-profit centered around community-managed waste collection. The Peruvian government consulted with Ruiz to develop a national plan for waste management and her efforts led to legislation regulating the country’s recycling procedures.
Difficult times are inherent to the human experience. It’s impossible to live a full life without wrestling with some kind of tragedy: the loss of a family member or friend or coping with a physical illness are both incredible common traumas that tend to leave the affected feeling isolated. Yet, with a strong support network, it’s possible to recover. But some life experiences carry accompanying stigmas that make it more challenging to bounce back. Histories of incarceration, substance abuse, or homelessness create additional barriers for women seeking to gain employment and reintegrate back into their communities.
Fortunately, organizations like Road Twenty-Two recognize that every person has a story and seeks to listen instead of judge women about their pasts. Fif Ghobadian and Alice Larkin Cahan started the San Francisco-based company as a way to empower women in their community. As a child, Ghobadian learned the power of a second chance when, at age 15, she and her family fled Iran after the fall of the shah. She watched her father lose confidence in himself as employers snubbed him.
Today, Ghobadian and Cahan channel that empathy into creating opportunities to women looking for a second chance. The company gets its name from the road that leads to Central California Women’s Facility, California’s largest all-women prison. Ultimately, Road Twenty-Two hopes to help women transition from the prison system to sustainable full-time employment and safe housing. The company is not only transparent about its products (all items are sourced and made in the USA), but it also encourages employees to share their stories. Kimberly, pictured above, lost her son to an act of gun violence and turned to selling drugs as a way to make ends meet. Eventually, she was arrested and incarcerated. But when she was released, Kimberly began working with Road Twenty-Two. Today, she has a steady job and a place of her own.
Kerrigan’s path to Road Twenty-Two was also paved with hardship. As a teen with little supervision, Kerrigan delved into drugs and alcohol and, at age 15, ended up on the streets. But during this dark period, she embraced her love of graffiti and visual arts. Today, she works as an in-house designer for the company; the logos on the tee shirts are her own designs.
In addition to ready-to-wear jewelry and tee shirts, the company also worked on commission to create tote bags and custom tees for the 2015 Democratic National Convention. Check them out on the web, pick up a shirt if you can, and follow them on social media to keep tabs on their progress. Big thanks to Monty for telling me about these amazing women!
Today’s Dame of the Day is Kenojuak Ashevak (October 3, 1927 – January 8, 2013). After Christian converts murdered her father, Ashevak and her family took over his hunting and fur trading business. While her relatives taught her traditional crafts, Ashevak became one of the first Inuit women to draw extensively. Her work appeared on Canadian stamps, coins, and even in the form of a stained glass window.
With a background in diplomacy, Citizen’s Mark CEO Cynthia Salim understands the importance of women’s professional wear. As a management consultant for the United Nations, Salim found it difficult to find fashion forward and ethically sourced pieces. Instead of lowering her standards, she raised the bar and developed her own line. After establishing its headquarters in WeWork’s Madison Avenue co-working space, the brand is proud to announce its launch.
Image courtesy of Citizen’s Mark
Salim officially founded Citizen’s Mark in January 2015, but the careful planning, relationship building and execution took over two years. Salim and her team collaborated with craftsman and factories to develop a workflow and product that was fashionable, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable for the workers who produced it. Ultimately, Salim created a garment for women making moves that helped the people who crafted it rise, too.
Image courtesy of Citizen’s Mark
A major tenant of the company’s philosophy is transparency. From Italian wool to upcycled Nepali horn buttons, Citizen’s Mark commits to using fairly trade materials. The Portuguese workers who sew the garments earn a living wage and receive health coverage and additional benefits from local business partnerships. At the beginning of May, the team traveled to Portugal to shoot a forthcoming video highlighting the factory’s daily workflow and the people who make it possible.
Image courtesy of Citizen’s Mark
This Thursday, May 21st, Citizen’s Mark celebrates the premiere of its first collection, a line of meticulously structured blazers in four distinct colors. Salim and her team love meeting their customers, so they’ve organized a party at Impact Hub New York. Space is still available but going fast, so RSVP today and get in on the ground floor.