Thrive Global on Campus//

What I Learned From Interviewing 100 Prominent Women

Their pursuits and determination have resulted in creating companies, educating the next generation, and shaping the culture around us.

Courtesy of the author
Courtesy of the author

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As a 16-year-old girl, I find myself fascinated by what it means and takes to be a successful woman. When we hear about women in leadership positions, we automatically regard them as successful due to the title they hold. However, job titles, especially for women, obscure the adversity that they overcame to achieve success. We don’t see the sacrifices that she made. We are unaware of her journey. In order to shed light on these experiences, I embarked on a year-long quest to interview impactful women with the intent of publishing a book about my experience and the insight that I gained. Ignoring the intimidation that came with contacting business professionals, I cold emailed several women whom I have admired and read about. About 100 out of 130 women that I reached out to responded to my direct note and agreed to talk to me; I was pleasantly surprised by this rate of success. A few women even invited me to their office for lunch. As the interviews evolved into powerful conversations, I felt inspired and encouraged by their genuine kindness and elaborate recollections of their professional and personal experiences. 

My quest has taught me to not shy away from asking for what I want, believe in myself regardless of the circumstance, and view my challenges as opportunities, not as obstacles. Not only have I grown as a young woman, but I have also gained wisdom that has shaped my perspective on education, career opportunities, and most importantly, life. It’s impossible to encapsulate all the advice each woman imparted in the following paragraphs, but I intend to share more of their wisdom and stories in the future. 

Here are some of the amazing women I had the privilege to interview:

  • Louise Pentland,  Chief Business Affairs & Legal Officer at PayPal 
  • Annie Young-Scrivner, Chief Executive Officer at Godiva Chocolatier
  • Jo Boaler, Founder of YouCubed and Mathematics Professor at Stanford University
  • Stephanie Cohen, Chief Strategy Officer at Goldman Sachs
  • Georgie Greville, Co-founder of Milk Makeup
  • Jenna Abdou, Co-founder of 33Voices
  • Blair Shane, Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Sequoia Capital
  • Priscilla Tsai, CEO and Founder of Cocokind
  • Alli Webb, Founder of DryBar
  • Kerry Cooper, Chief Operating Officer at Rothy’s 
  • Sandy Speicher, Chief Executive Officer at IDEO
  • Tina Seelig, Professor at Stanford University
  • Dara Treseder, Chief Marketing Officer at Carbon
  • Lauren Gross, Chief Operating Officer at Founders Fund
  • Kerith Burke, Reporter for the Golden State Warriors 
  • Heidi Zak, Co-founder, and Co-CEO at ThirdLove
  • Kate Cutler, Co-founder and Head of Strategy at BKR
  • Carly De Castro, Co-founder of Pressed Juicery

One key takeaway from interviewing these women was that it never hurts to ask for support; the first obstacle to overcome is self-doubt. The worst outcome is that the person declines. Through my experience, the vast majority of my questions were answered, and most people happily offered more than I asked for. Previously, I had heard this sentiment from others, but never really believed it. Sometimes truths cannot be fully accepted until you witness them firsthand. I am so overjoyed that they cared to inspire and share their learnings with the world and the next generation of female leaders.

When I started this project, I was unsure if I would be able to handle focusing on my schoolwork and on my other commitments and extracurriculars. Nevertheless, I decided to enter this journey which was guided by my curiosity. I decided that I would have to prioritize my activities and balance my schedule accordingly. During my conversation with Heidi Zak, the Co-CEO and Co-founder of ThirdLove, she expressed, “There is never going to be the perfect moment to start something. There will always be reasons why this is not a good time. Do not wait for the perfect moment as it will never come.” Her advice resonated with me because it aligned with my personal journey of undertaking this book. 

Through the interviews, my perspective on failure evolved. Society tends to emphasize and celebrate successes, not failures. When I had failed, I looked back and obsessed over what I could have done instead to avoid any mistakes. I always carried a fear of failure with me. As a teen girl, I always strive for perfection in an attempt to conform, which can result in failure; our pursuits are often flawed because of our imperfections. However, it is important to remember that failure is an inevitable byproduct of risk-taking. One prominent woman, Tina Seeling, a Professor at Stanford University, shared, “When you do something wrong, it gives you great insight and forces you to sit back and say, ‘What happened here?’… It forces yourself to unpack the situation.” 

Throughout this experience, I have gained invaluable advice and understanding of the paths women have carved to reach heightened destinations. Their pursuits and determination have resulted in creating companies, educating the next generation, and shaping the culture around us. 

I would like to thank my mentors: Jenna Abdou, Professor Sydney Finkelstein, Mr. Stephen Brooks, Mrs. Katherine Olson, S. Elizabeth Deiwert, Rohun Shroff, Mariana Antaya, Adnan Iqbal, Claire Chu, and Michael Dunworth. This project would not exist without your help and support. 

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More Thrive on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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