How these 9 female executives cracked the c-suite

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·12-min read

Monday, March 8 marks International Women's Day, and this year's theme is #choosetochallenge;

"A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change," reads the official catchcry.

Helen Souness, Lybra Clemons, Gordana Redzovski. Photo: supplied.
Top of their game: Helen Souness, CEO, RMIT Online, Lybra Clemons, Lybra Clemons, Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Officer, Twilio and Gordana Redzovski, Vice President APAC, Vend. Photo: supplied.

Here are nine women who are challenging expectations and stereotypes while soaring to the top of their game in the corporate world.

We asked them just three simple questions about career-defining moments, role models and advice for up-and-comers — their answers might just be the nudge you need to choose your own challenge.

RELATED:

Peggy de Lange VP of International Expansion, Fiverr. Photo: supplied.
Peggy de Lange VP of International Expansion, Fiverr. Photo: supplied.

Peggy de Lange, VP of International Expansion, Fiverr

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

My parents, particularly my Mom! They married at a very young age with little to no education and a baby on the way and struggled to make ends meet. Times were different back then and she wasn’t able to pursue her dreams, so when I grew up I told myself I didn’t want to end up in a similar situation which inspired me to pursue my passions.

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

Be a great example for other young female (and male) people that are at the start of their career. Teach them that everything in life is possible and for them to focus on themselves rather than others.

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

Jane Goodall- her “walk” and work in life in primatology amazes me as it was a male-dominated field at the time, today this field is equally made up between male and females which is partially due to her and her encouragement to women to join the field. Her passion for animals and nature is a great inspiration to me and something I share, hence why I started my own NGO for special needs animals- the Kindness For All Animals Foundation.

Marybeth Sheppard, Senior Vice President Marketing at SevenRooms. Photo: supplied.
Marybeth Sheppard, Senior Vice President Marketing at SevenRooms. Photo: supplied.

Marybeth Sheppard, Senior Vice President Marketing at SevenRooms

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

Growing up, I admired Amelia Earhart, an American aviation pioneer, author and the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. When I was in elementary school, I actually dressed up as her for Halloween one year – surprisingly none of the other kids knew who I was. However, it was the same year I got my first article published in the newspaper. I wrote an essay that I was going to be the first female air force bomber pilot. Evidently, this didn’t go to plan! But my admiration of Amelia helped me to become the strong, independent leader I am today, and I am forever grateful. 

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders? 

For us to fully enable women to thrive as leaders, we need to acknowledge and support women’s entire roles — not just as colleagues, but as family members, mothers, wives, sisters, caretakers, and individuals with their own passions and interests. We must continue to speak about their success and encourage others to do the same. To other women, I would say don’t choose a path that pigeonholes you; pursue with vigour everything you’re passionate about, whether that’s work, family or personal interests.

Lybra Clemons, Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Officer, Twilio. Photo: supplied.
Lybra Clemons, Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Officer, Twilio. Photo: supplied.

Lybra Clemons, Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Officer, Twilio

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

International Women’s Day is truly a global celebration of all women, everywhere. My advice for all women is to no matter what, continue to focus on the fight for equality — whether it be in their careers with the fight for equal pay and consideration or their personal lives.

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

My mum is my role model. She worked as a professor, started her PhD, and took over my family's landscaping business, all in her early 40s (with two kids and a working husband!). A black woman working in a male-dominated landscaping industry in the 1980s was no easy feat.

Suzanne Mitchell, Senior Director of Marketing, GoDaddy Australia. Photo: supplied.
Suzanne Mitchell, Senior Director of Marketing, GoDaddy Australia. Photo: supplied.

Suzanne Mitchell, Senior Director of Marketing, GoDaddy Australia

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

Without a doubt my smartest move was focusing my energy on the internet industry - rather than consumer brands - and working for eBay when it was still relatively unknown in Australia. That was the beginning of my journey, and getting in early helped me develop the experience and skills to move across many big brands in the online space, including today, GoDaddy. Recently, in addition to working in bigger global organisations, I’ve made a conscious commitment to work in startup businesses to experience both the culture and different styles of working. Both environments have shaped my professional outlook.

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

I would advise all women, irrespective of their industry or career aspirations, to use their emotional intelligence to connect, build relationships and inspire others. Careers are defined not only by the work we do but the people we meet, the people we inspire and the people we’re inspired by along the way. 

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

I have been inspired by many female leaders, from many walks of life, but Brené Brown - a lecturer, professor and author - really stands out. She epitomises my 'people-first' approach and I’ve always been inspired by her real, authentic voice. I greatly enjoyed seeing her in Sydney in 2019 and would recommend her books to anyone. I also watch my daughters carefully as they have a very refreshing approach - they provide a simpler way of thinking and executing, whilst still achieving their outcomes. I take a lot from them.

Gordana Redzovski, Vice President APAC, Vend. Photo: supplied.
Gordana Redzovski, Vice President APAC, Vend. Photo: supplied.

Gordana Redzovski, Vice President APAC, Vend

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

For me, making the move from working in traditional, corporate environments to the high growth, high-velocity tech startup scene back in 2012. I’ve learnt so much over the ensuing years and met many inspiring women, all of which has helped shape who I am - and where I am - today.    

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

Be true to yourself. Don't change or compromise who you are or what you want to achieve based on someone else's expectations of you or women in the workplace or society. Find strong mentors and role models and don’t be afraid to ask for their help, support and guidance in achieving your personal and professional goals.  

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

It’s impossible to name only one! Right now, I'm inspired by women in leadership roles in politics like Jacinda Ardern - who is decisive, empathetic and handles herself with grace and humility, without fail - and at Vend our amazing leaders across multiple areas of the business - our CEO, Chief Product Officer, Director of Product and Chief People Officer are all women. The last 12 months have been unprecedented, but it’s been so reassuring to know that, in the shape of our female leaders, we’re in safe hands.

Helen Souness, CEO, RMIT Online. Photo: supplied.
Helen Souness, CEO, RMIT Online. Photo: supplied.

Helen Souness, CEO, RMIT Online

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

“Apart from a precocious childhood, where my goal was to be the President of New Zealand, change the political system and get elected, it was in my mid-career where I was told by a manager, “You are too 'expressive' to be a senior executive". I really read that as, "You are not a stuffy, navy-suit-wearer and you, therefore, don’t fit in”. It made me determined to reach leadership roles. I wanted to be a more ‘diverse’ role model, not just as a woman, but as a creative and passionate person, of what commercially successful and even powerful leaders could look like.”

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

"’You can have it all, you just can't do it all’. Share the home and workload with trusted family, friends and colleagues. Then go for it, change the world for the better.”

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

“This might sound a bit cheesy, but my mum. She was a small business owner whom I worked alongside from a young age. She was very focussed on the numbers, but her number one priority was always seeing her customers happy and brilliantly served in her fashion boutique. In my role now as CEO of RMIT Online, I still get my greatest satisfaction from seeing specific learners change their lives and their careers for the better through our industry and 'Future Skills' focused courses.”

Aliky Kouroupis, Client Success Director, MuleSoft. Photo: supplied.
Aliky Kouroupis, Client Success Director, MuleSoft. Photo: supplied.

Aliky Kouroupis, Client Success Director, MuleSoft

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

“Moving from Australia with a one way ticket to the U.S for 10 years to pursue a career in technology, which turned into a catalyst for so many momentous experiences in my life, including becoming a mother. The experience of being a working mum has further fueled my desire to support and lead colleagues and the people around me to make a positive impact.”

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

“You know more than you think you do. Stay true to your experience and goals, and value your unique strengths along the way.”

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

“I don’t think about role models, I prefer to consider those who I’m inspired by. Placing people on pedestals implies that matters are unattainable or outside of oneself. I often learn from great people who have values aligned to my own. I then learn from them, practice, and master in action in combination with my own strengths.”

Georgia de Pont, Head of Quality Engineering, Dovetail. Photo: supplied.
Georgia de Pont, Head of Quality Engineering, Dovetail. Photo: supplied.

Georgia de Pont, Head of Quality Engineering, Dovetail

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

When I took on my first leadership role, I was in the second trimester of my pregnancy. I trusted that my lead and the leadership team I’d joined would support and guide me as I grew into the role and would help me learn from my missteps, which enabled me to take on the role fearlessly.

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

Find, create, and rely on your support team. Every time I think back on new challenges I've tackled - whether it’s been a new role, my first conference talk, or how to approach a difficult conversation - what springs to mind is the people supporting and encouraging me to go for it. I owe a lot of my success to the men and women who have listened to me practice endlessly, reviewed my prep for an interview, provided honest and practical feedback, or put me forward for new opportunities.

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

Kate Andrews, Head of Technology at Domain. She is such a strong technical leader and always demonstrating empathy for her team. I learned so much from working with her and I hope I can be a leader like her one day.

Lyra Mackay, Evangelist, Zoho Corporation. Photo: supplied.
Lyra Mackay, Evangelist, Zoho Corporation. Photo: supplied.

Lyra Mackay, Evangelist, Zoho Corporation

What is the one moment or situation that had a hand leading you on your career path/defining today’s successes?

While I believe many factors have contributed to where I am today, there is one moment specifically that comes to mind. When I was a university student, my lecturer approached me with an opportunity to interview for a position with a company called Zoho. One Skype interview and one flight to Sydney later, I found myself working at this major global technology company - one I may not have otherwise had the opportunity to pursue. My lecturer’s belief in my abilities, combined with a leap of faith, had a huge impact on where I am today.

What’s the one piece of advice you would share to today’s aspiring female executive leaders?

My top advice for aspiring female leaders is approach every opportunity without fear of failure. Be grateful for the opportunities that are available to you, and don’t be downtrodden in the event of failure or rejection; those moments will only help further guide you on the path you’re meant to be on.

Can you name one person who you look up to as a role model?

My mum has been the strongest female role model in my life. From a young age she instilled in me a belief that almost anything is possible if you’re passionate, and willing to put in the work. I watched her make this statement true in her own life, raising me and my brother as a single mother at a young age while putting herself through vet school. Her undeniable courage, drive and determination in everything she did in my earlier years has had an incredible impact on me and my own career path.

Never miss a thing. Sign up to Yahoo Lifestyle’s daily newsletter.

Or if you have a story idea, email us at lifestyle.tips@verizonmedia.com.