15 MIN READ
In preparation for Women's History Month, we asked the women of Team XYPN to reflect on their own experiences and share their insights to three questions. As we end our monthlong celebration, we're sharing their words in their entirety with you. We hope their messages leave you inspired to celebrate and advocate for women all year long.
Q1: The "Choose to Challenge" theme focuses on individual responsibility and the ability to call out gender bias and inequity in everyday situations. What does this theme mean to you?
Sara Williams: When I hear the phrase “calling someone out,” I think of how easily the conversation can be interpreted as a scolding, bringing about feelings of embarrassment and shame, which may lead to dissociation, blaming, and further resentment and anger. What the “Choose to Challenge” theme means to me is that in challenging others and calling out gender biases, we can also choose to approach each other with kindness, to lean into others and get curious, to give each other the time and the space we all deserve to be heard—no matter how hurt we may be. It’s an opportunity to be vulnerable, to gracefully listen to one another, and to move forward in the perpetual fight against gender bias and inequality.
Taylor Deardorff: Choose to challenge, to me, means putting others (and your future self) before your own comfort. Inaction and complacency is always the path of least resistance. Choosing to move past that and challenge the internal dialogue that’s holding you back from doing what you know is right for you and others is what can make our workplaces and world better for everyone.
Stephanie Foster: How do you change the world? One person at a time. Choose To Challenge means that I will make a conscious effort to speak on behalf of the women who have yet to find their voice in the workplace. I also challenge people managers, senior leaders, founders, and CEOs to join me in this challenge and call out gender bias and inequity.
Arlene Moss: Choose to Challenge seems on the surface to be to challenge that bias as you see it in the world, but as I reflect, I realize I must choose every day to challenge myself. As I entered adult life, there was a mixture of women who were going to have it all and those who were coming from a more traditional upbringing. I was definitely the latter. I was on the MRS track in college, so I had some catching up to do when I met a mister who thought that was hilarious and old-fashioned. It took a while to realize I could do so much more. In the 80s, when faced with horrific sexism in the financial industry, I didn’t fight the good fight; I bailed and went into high tech, which at the time before the personal computer influence, was very friendly to women. Fast forward 30 years, and I have found my voice and my value, but some old stereotypes will pop in, and I keep learning and fighting those issues from the past.
I want every person to embrace this theme in the way appropriate for them. If that means internal challenge, 1:1 challenge, or being at a place where you speak to a larger audience, it is fine. We are all in different places on our journey, and we need to Choose to Challenge in a way that moves our society forward. There’s room for variety.
Manju Rajendran: Some see a challenge as an obstacle. I see a challenge as an opportunity. Taking up a challenge always leads to change, and it is up to you to decide if that change is in the right direction or not. Trust your gut, and the change from the challenge will throw away unacceptable practices of today to make way to a brighter tomorrow!
Lindsey White: To me, the “Choose to Challenge” theme encourages us all to speak up when we see something that isn’t right. Sometimes it feels easier to turn away from a difficult situation or conversation when in reality, these are the moments where we need to speak up to continue to push the needle in the right direction. As women, it is so important to work together to lift one another up and take time to celebrate each other’s achievements.
Katie DeMars: We don’t need to wait for a huge movement to enact change. Real change comes in the small interactions you have throughout your day. It’s the language you use, like replacing “you guys” with “you all” or not deferring to masculine pronouns for objects or characters. It is recognizing women for the holistic contributions they are making to society—not just those that come with a paycheck. It’s choosing to lift up other women knowing their success doesn’t diminish ours. And it’s putting my son in a “Strong like Mom” shirt to normalize women being seen in that light.
Tami Renner: To me, this theme is actually not so much about choosing to “challenge” but rather choosing to collaborate. When the word “challenge” is used, it tends to have a negative or confrontational connotation to it. Many people become uncomfortable when they feel the beliefs and standards they have held their whole life are being questioned, and there is a natural tendency to shut down and become defensive, which is never a good recipe for bringing about positive change. When we choose to collaborate, both parties want and choose to be involved and are focused on achieving the common goal. Working together to achieve a common goal is what brings people closer together. So to me, this theme is about taking on the individual responsibility and accountability of celebrating unique differences and respecting people while working to collaborate with them on the positive change we hope to see and be in the world. To me, the “Choose to Challenge” theme is about choosing to challenge yourself to take on this responsibility.
Kassy Betterley: Choosing to challenge means that I not only had to be alert to instances of gender bias and inequality in external situations such as those in my work and personal lives but also being aware of the internal monologue that I might be following and correcting it for the better.
Pearl Michalson: Choose to challenge: as women, we wake up every day and continue showing up for our families, friends, and colleagues. Doing so means that we don't often speak up for or know women who speak up for themselves. Gender bias and inequality are somethings we see every day in various situations around the world. It is our duty to want the best for ourselves and our fellow sisters by speaking up in support of equal pay, opportunities, safe environments, rights, access, and to not just be listened to, but to be heard.
BB Webb: As women, we wake up every day and continue showing up for our families, friends, and colleagues. Doing so means that we don't often speak up for or know women who speak up for themselves. Gender bias and inequality are somethings we see every day in various situations around the world. It is our duty to want the best for ourselves and our fellow sisters by speaking up in support of equal pay, opportunities, safe environments, rights, access, and to not just be listened to but to be heard.
To me, the ‘Choose to Challenge’ theme is a call for greater consciousness, awareness of what is and what might be, not just around gender bias and inequality, but in all of our many learned biases that keep us apart from one another. Sexual orientation, age, social status, our politics, gender, weight, the way we look, our IQ, the way we dress or speak, any number of differences is called to task here.
My greatest lessons have come from being called out on where I might have been more aware in any given situation or the importance of developing mindfulness or skillset (certainly as an entrepreneur) that might have helped me serve my clientele, team, family, or community more wisely.
Yet, isn’t that our work to do as humans? Living on the edge of growth calls for both a tenacity to move through our unconscious biases, fears, and hurts to get to a more loving, compassionate, wiser, more yielding perspective. Yes, teach me and give me the compassionate tools to make you, too, equally aware. I’m here for it!
With this initiative, my hope is that we all might heed the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who shared:
“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
It’s tempting too, once consciousness comes, to assert hubris and disdain for those not yet awake, a state as concerning as someone deeply asleep to the vibration of compassion. Mother Teresa spoke to that reality as well:
"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway."
So to the many shades of "awakeness" or "asleepness," might we all embrace the importance of asserting loving kindness to the ‘all’ of the human condition. Our Nobel Peace Prize recipient goes on to assert:
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."
And we do belong to each other—we the people, different, yet the same, common and exquisite in our colors, languages, preferences, born from a single source, birthed with splendid uniqueness and most importantly, with value.
This is a peace movement we need to embrace with firm and loving kindness, compassion, and self-awareness. Waging love inclusively is perhaps the most noble and difficult of missions any of us might embrace. And oh, the difference together we can make! Yes, I’m here for it, and with you on the journey!
Q2: It can be hard to challenge a difficult person or voice your dissent when something doesn’t feel right. Do you have any advice on ways people can do this effectively?
Sara Williams: When challenging a difficult person or voicing dissent, it’s important to remember that you are only in control of you, which—admittedly—is vague. However, in the anxious times leading up to a difficult conversation, I find solace in knowing that I am in control of myself and I can choose my actions. My feelings and my experiences are my truth, and no amount of arguing, gaslighting, or defensive comments from the other person can take that away from me. My other word of advice is to stay true to yourself, recognize when you’re getting triggered, and know that it is okay to walk away if the conversation isn’t serving you. Even if the conversation didn’t happen the way you wanted, the important thing is that you took that chance and stood up for what you believe is right.
Taylor Deardorff: I think it's common for women to question whether their feelings about a situation are valid. Women have long been labeled as "overly emotional,” but I'm starting to view my emotions as a strength. I deeply care about my work and who I work with; it's not a weakness that leads me to make bad decisions. But regardless, speaking up can still cause you to doubt yourself and if your feelings are valid, especially if no one else is taking action. Without your own self-trust and sense of what you do and do not deserve in a given situation, you can’t assert yourself and draw clear boundaries. If both your gut and your own personal boundaries are telling you to act, that’s a pretty clear go-ahead.
Stephanie Foster: Always trust your gut. If I witness a situation where a person is being stereotyped, or they are visibly uncomfortable, I call out the offender and ask them how they would feel if they (or their mother, wife, daughter, girlfriend, niece, important woman in their life) were at the other end of those comments.
Arlene Moss: Each of us has to be true to our personality and our comfort. I can’t make people be like me, just as I can’t make myself be as bold as Sonya Dreizler or Minda Harts—at least not just yet. You won’t find me being out in front of a crowd, but I take my challenges in the moment and with a gentle instructional tone, mostly one on one. If you know me, you know I thread humor into almost any lesson. I do this to soften the impact of difficult topics so that people feel comfortable enough to truly look at what they are doing or saying. I want people to be able to create that critical space between hearing feedback and reacting. Humor helps give a moment to make that space.
Manju Rajendran: Dealing with a difficult person comes in life more often than you like. I have noticed that, first and foremost, I need to take away my personal feelings out of the equations. Once I accomplish that, I get a clear picture of why this person is acting like this. It is kind of figuring out the source of why this person is difficult towards me. That ultimately shows me how to make a truce with this person, to achieve the goals set in front of me without going into a duel.
Lindsey White: Speaking up can be hard, but oftentimes these conversations end up being some of the most powerful. I know personally, during difficult situations, it can be easy to become stressed, overwhelmed, or angry. One of the most impactful things I have learned is to take a moment and step back to remove any emotion from the conversation. By removing emotion and speaking confidently, the conversation ends up being much more productive and becomes an opportunity where learning can truly take place. If speaking up feels uncomfortable, it is also okay to welcome someone else into the conversation to help.
Katie DeMars: I love the quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” My communication style is very direct, so I always lean to the side of being straightforward. I think when you’re unclear in your message, it can lead to misunderstandings that flame emotions. To RBG’s words—there is a level of tact you need to employ. If you attack someone personally, you shut down any chance of conversation and thereby the opportunity for growth and change.
Tami Renner: Respond versus react. Reacting is the “knee-jerk” initial reaction you feel in the heat of the moment, while a response is similar to the “count to 10” approach. When you respond, you take into account the other person’s perspective, you take the time to walk in their shoes first and then formulate a respectful but well-thought-out response accordingly. When you react, there is no time to calm down or filter your thoughts, and most reactions (when given into) end in regret or thoughts of “hindsight being 20/20, I could have handled that much better than I did.” I believe that staying respectful and calm and actively listening to the other person before voicing your thoughts is key to opening the door to a constructive and collaborative conversation about difficult topics. Take a moment and remember to remain open-minded; there are always two sides to every story, and it is important to hear both of them.
Kassy Betterley: It always us vs. the behavior, never us vs. them! Reframe the conversation to be about the actions/language/etc. that caused the issue rather than making it a personality issue. This allows everyone to be curious about the “why” and helps lower defenses.
Pearl Michalson: In challenging situations, I've found it best to acknowledge what is happening and respond with reasons for why a situation feels uncomfortable and how this situation is not okay because not only does it affect me but my future relationship with the person or the situation I find myself in. Choose positive mental health over everything if you feel trapped in a situation. Sometimes you have to walk away from things that no longer serve you or your highest good. Never compromise your integrity or ethics.
BB Webb: Often we don’t know the circumstance that has made an individual speak the way they do or where hurt has prompted a defensiveness and hatred sadly pointed in one misguided direction or another. It might stem from ignorance or pure malice. How easy for us all to make assumptions and take things personally. The Toltec Principles are a helpful guide to me when I’m triggered in one way or another, below translated through the lens of Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, The Four Agreements:
Agreement 1: Be Impeccable With Your Word.
Agreement 2: Don't Take Anything Personally.
Agreement 3: Don't Make Assumptions.
Agreement 4: Always Do Your Best.
When I feel the assault of another’s perception, words, or actions, I try to speak in terms of my feelings and the impact the words or actions have on me, rather than "you" statements which disempower me and which promote defensiveness in the other. Consider always the source and if the unkindness was meant or if a gentle guiding to a new awareness might be better fitting. Might sharing your feelings around what was expressed be a more kind and effective communication as you sort out the prompting source from what was said. Might such a gesture help guide someone to a new and more compassionate way of thinking and behaving? Reacting with scorn rarely draws out the awareness we hope another might find.
Sitting with my feelings and writing a response from a less emotional space also gives the other person and me a greater chance to connect and resolve. Not always. Taking offense and giving offense are sparring partners. Coming to a place of greater compassion is key. To me, vigilance, compassion, and speaking honestly from the heart rule the day.
Q3: Women’s History Month is largely about celebrating other women. Who are some women that you admire or are inspired by?
Sara Williams: I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being surrounded by some of the smartest, most courageous, and kindest women— from my best girlfriends who are always there to listen to my terrible day to my counselor who continues to push me outside of my own gender-based notions. However, one woman that I absolutely admire and am inspired by is my sister-in-law. From the day I met her, I could see her drive, passion, and wit is unique. She is one of the most resilient fighters I’ve known to date and stands up for what she believes in. It goes without saying that she is far from perfect, but I admire the fact that she embraces her faults rather than shies away. While she sets the bar high, I strive to match her ability to elevate women, to take the time to listen and respond with compassion, and to celebrate in all achievements. I adore her, and I am proud to have such a strong woman on my side.
Taylor Deardorff: Greta Thunberg comes to mind immediately. She's stood up and spoken out eloquently for global warming and the causes she believes in despite having SO many critics at such a young age. She shows me it's truly possible one woman can have a huge impact on our entire world. Day to day (and I promise they’re not bribing me to say this!), I’m privileged to work with so many inspiring women. One of the things I love about XYPN is our core value of “Be Well Being You”—we’ve created a space for all of our teammates to show up to work as who they really are and be valued for exactly that. There’s no one “right way” to show up to work as a woman at XYPN.
Stephanie Foster: My all-time hero, whom I have always admired, is my mother. She came to this country with nothing and worked hard to build a good life for our family. She is my biggest inspiration and has always been my biggest cheerleader from daycare to the woman I am today.
Arlene Moss: Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama—actually so many first ladies. I find I am drawn to women who are in a role with traditional boundaries, and they take that role into a new, more modern direction. As a first lady, there are so many expectations (poor Hilary Clinton and the ill-advised cookie baking comment comes to mind), and I love the women that navigate that while showing women do more than just host parties and organize stunning decor.
Manju Rajendran: The woman I admire most is my grandma. If she were alive, she would be 110 now. She broke all norms of growing up in a small village in India in the early 1900s and building a strong career without compromising a large, loving family. She moved around in the state due to her job's nature, all the while keeping her children close, giving them the best education possible. Kudos to the two men in her life—her dad and her husband. One was adamant in providing his daughter with the proper education and while the other supported his wife's career even when it was so out of the ordinary in that era. All the while, she stayed humble, hardworking, and helping the less fortunate. There was not a soul in that area who didn't respect her.
Lindsey White: There are many women I admire and am inspired by, including my sister-in-law, Kayla Franklin, who graduated college and began her nursing career in the middle of the pandemic, my childhood friend, Daphne Nichols, who reminds me to always follow my heart, and my good friend, Cassie Jackson, who founded a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing Montana suicide rates and shifting the stigma around mental health.
Katie DeMars: This is such a tough question. Professionally, I am in awe of the amazing women I work with at XYPN. We tout that we hire superstars—that is 100% fact. Throughout my career, I have been blessed to work on several women-dominant teams, including leading an all-female web team rolling up into an all-women systems department. Personally, I have an amazing network of family and friends who are showing up every day for their careers, their families, their communities—it’s really incredible the contributions they make day in and day out. I give a lot of credit to my mom for her strong personality, drive, and the unwavering support she gave my sister and me growing up. My niece continually inspires me to do better and make this world a better place for her. If you want to talk about famous figures—Serena Williams because she is the ultimate badass.
Tami Renner: There are so many amazing choices that it is difficult to narrow down! I love history, and some of my favorite historical female inspirations are:
- Florence Nightingale
- Harriet Tubman
- Helen Keller
- Jane Addams
Kassy Betterley: I am lucky to be a member of a professional network wherein I get to interact with peers and leaders in all industries. They're a diverse group of people with have great variety in their viewpoints, and I frequently find myself in awe of them. It's great to admire or be inspired by women at a distance in roles like authors, public servants, etc., but it's 1000x better to connect with them in the real world.
Pearl Michalson: The women I admire and I am inspired by are the woman of the Southern Pacific Railroad during WWII due to a shortage of men because they dealt with wage and job discrimination but fought against that for better treatment, conditions, and pay. I would also like to highlight Junko Tabei—the first woman to reach the peak of Mount Everest only to go on and become the first woman to climb the highest mountain on every continent. To me, that speaks metaphorically to our strengths and our abilities as women. We are strong together like the women of the Southern Pacific Railroad and as well as on our own in the face of what seems impossible due to criticism or disbelief until we make it possible.
BB Webb: A half dozen inspiring women come to mind.
From the state in which I now reside, how proud I am of the trailblazer Jeannette Rankin was. She was a women's rights advocate and the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana in 1916, and again in 1940. I was happy to support a non-profit organization in Georgia built and named for her legacy to help educate and empower less privileged women to take charge of their lives.
The activism and bravery of both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are an inspiration to me. Jane Fonda is an American actress, political activist, fitness trailblazer, and environmentalist. Mary Jean "Lily" Tomlin is an American actress, comedian, writer, singer, and producer. Tomlin started her career as a stand-up comedian as well as performing Off-Broadway during the 1960s.
Joni Mitchell’s struggles, talent, vision, activism, all captured within her music and painting stirs my heart and imagination. She is a masterful poet and musician with an ability to help others connect and feel what is inside them. Rolling Stone called her "one of the greatest songwriters ever,” and AllMusic has stated, "When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century."
Pema Chödrön is my "go-to" author as I traverse my own journey. She is an American Tibetan Buddhist and an ordained nun. Her writing inspires my own introspection and growth. Being in my 6th decade on the planet, I am inspired at how all of the above-mentioned women were/are role models in how to explore fresh, vibrant thinking and creativity. Their aliveness through their many ups and downs in life and into their 60s, 70s, and 80s is inspiring!
Young women forging brave new narratives are an equal and profound inspiration to me, Malala Yousafzai certainly leading the charge. She is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Pakistani Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.
We set aside March each year as a time to celebrate and recognize the extraordinary women all around us. The above answers from our team serve to highlight the diversity and richness of women's experiences and perspectives. We hope you can take inspiration and ideas from our teammates to further enrich your own life, experiences, and the lives of those around you. We encourage you to join us in celebrating women all year round—they certainly deserve it.