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Reflections on women who inspire us

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, we asked The Trade Desk’s women in leadership to talk about who inspires them and why.

This year’s International Women’s Day is especially meaningful. It arrives one year into the pandemic, which continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods around the globe. And while the virus has impacted everyone, women around the world have been disproportionately affected by unemployment, an increased domestic workload, and the challenges of childcare while schools remained closed. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women have suffered the most pandemic-related job losses, accounting for 55 percent of overall net job loss since February 2020.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.” According to UN Women, it celebrates the tremendous effort around the world toward shaping a more equal future and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that “women’s full and effective participation and leadership in all areas of life drives progress for everyone.”

And while there’s still much to be done, there’s also much to be celebrated. In the United States, Kamala Harris made history after becoming the first female, first black and first Asian American vice president. Women scientists around the globe were at the forefront of developing a vaccine for Covid-19, including Kizzmekia Corbett in the United States and Dr. Özlem Türeci in Europe. In the world of the arts, Billie Eilish became the first woman to sweep the “big four” categories at The Grammys. In sports, tennis star Naomi Osaka used her platform at the US Open to wear several different masks to highlight Black American victims of violence.

As we reflect on this year of challenges and triumphs, we turn to three of the women in leadership roles here at The Trade Desk — Michelle Hulst, chief operating officer; Vina Leite, chief people officer; Susan Vobejda, chief marketing officer — to ask each of them which women have proved an inspiration in their own lives. They also shared some pearls of wisdom to hand on to the next generation of women leaders: Be purposeful. Start with gratitude. Dream big.

Michelle Hulst, chief operating officer, The Trade Desk

Who inspires you?
Michelle Obama has been very inspirational over the years. She's just such a great role model for girls being able to see somebody like them in a position of power.

She's somebody that really understands how to use her power to advocate for others and is very purposeful about that. It's so important to be thoughtful and purposeful and recognize we all have power and we can all use that power in ways to benefit others. Really thinking through what is important is something that I see that she does.

As a leader, what piece of advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?
Be open to new opportunities, because you never know where they will lead.

Speak up! Make sure that your voice is heard, and if you are in a room and you know that it’s not a comfort zone for somebody else, but they have something to say, and you're comfortable making space for people, make space for them so their voice can be heard.

Don't necessarily wait for somebody to advocate for you. You really need to advocate for yourself.

What's one thing you do every day that has proved key to your success in both work and life?
Prioritization. For work, prioritization is very important because I feel like I need to go into the office — whether it's in a virtual situation or actually into an office—and know I’m working on the most important things that are going to lead to the highest impact. I have to be super ruthless about that prioritization and it means saying ‘no’ to a lot of stuff which is really hard sometimes. I think it helps drive success, and so I would advise others to think that through.

The prioritization is also important in my personal life as well. Family is very important to me and making sure that I'm prioritizing time for that, as well as interests and hobbies that help make me happy and fill me up.

Be very purposeful about what is important to you. Even write it down if you want, but that will help you as you're thinking it through.

End your day and ask: ‘Did I focus on those things that were most important to me?’ And if you didn't, go start over the next day and try again because the way that you're going to get there is by practicing.

Vina Leite, chief people officer, The Trade Desk

Who inspires you?
I love Oprah. I've always admired her. When you listen to her life story—the trauma that she had as a young child and not having her mom, her story of her hard work and perseverance to become self-made—it’s just amazing. She's always been a light for me.

She was one of the first black successful female professionals in media, starting out as an anchor in Chicago. She has great empathy and embraced so many people's differences when she had her show for 20 years. She drove inclusion because many people, especially middle-aged women, from all different backgrounds would watch. I think she was probably the first person in media that really had such an inclusive view of the world and shared those stories. From my perspective, she supported compassion and generosity for people's differences by just sharing those stories.

All of my career has been in tech, a very male dominated industry. And whenever I felt defeated or my confidence was down, she's that sparkling light. All that she's gone through, a different industry but likewise white male dominated, she was able to just have that grit. I think when you see other women, like Vice President Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama, who’ve have been the first and overcome so many challenges and barriers to success, and have become superstar, successful women, you know you can do it. What's standing in my way?

As a leader, what piece of advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?
I have this journal. It says, "empowered women empower women." Every day I try to write in it five things that I'm grateful for and five accomplishments, and then a thought of a day. And Oprah inspired me to do this at one of her vision sessions that I attended. We have no choice but to lift as we climb and support other women, mentor other women.

What's one thing you do every day that has proved key to your success in both work and life?
This is kind of my mantra: Start with gratitude, live and work with integrity and purpose. Make time for family, friends, enjoy your day, reflect on your accomplishments. And I always say, make sure your cup is full before you give to others; make sure that you're taking care of yourself through exercise, through meditation or prayer or whatever way you can to decompress. And then you can give to others. Because if you are not in a good place and healthy, it's very challenging for you to support others with that purpose.

Susan Vobejda, chief marketing officer, The Trade Desk

Who inspires you?
One person I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is a college classmate named Cynthia Kierscht. Cynthia and I were on the same floor our freshman year, and I remember her as kind, smart and cool. A few weeks ago, Cynthia was sworn in to be the next Ambassador to Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa.

Mauritania is an authoritarian country that has a known history of human rights violations, gender discrimination, female genital mutilation and many other issues. I am blown away and tremendously proud of my classmate who is taking on this position as a woman and American. She is sure to make a tremendous difference with her example in this post.

It has me thinking about how careers are built. How impact is built. It’s day by day, experience by experience, meeting by meeting. When you are young, you might think being an ambassador is an impossible dream. That making a difference for women around the world is impossible. But if that is your goal, you can build toward it every day. Each of us matters.

As a leader, what piece of advice do you have for the next generation of women leaders?
Dream big and don’t be shy about your ambition.

What is one thing you do every day that has proved key to your success in work and life?
I try to lift someone’s day every day. I will go into meetings thinking how can I make the other person excited, happy or motivated. Acknowledgement is everything to people, and I try and do this as a leader whenever possible.