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4 Lessons from 4 History-Making Female Leaders

International Women’s Day is March 8. Recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of women highlights characteristics we can all emulate as we strive for success. Here’s what we can learn from the stories of four history-making female leaders.

Lesson 1: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), first lady from 1933 to 1945, captured America with her outspoken personality. She was passionate about human rights and women’s issues, and used her platform to advocate for these causes.

Instrumental in the political career of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she changed the dynamic of the first-lady role. For example, when her husband became president in 1933, she compiled a list of qualified women for executive-level appointments, and pushed his administration to hire them. Throughout his presidency, she held press conferences covered by women reporters to ensure information reached women voters. Her tactics were criticized at times, but Mrs. Roosevelt continued to advocate for women’s inclusion and equal rights, as she had well before her time in the White House.

Roosevelt’s body of work helped lay the foundation for equal rights for women, and her life demonstrates the importance of confidently striving for what you believe is right.

Lesson 2: You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” – Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) was the first African-American U.S. congresswoman and is remembered for her support for education and social justice.

Elected in 1968, she represented a U.S. House district in Brooklyn, New York. And when Chisholm was elected to the New York State legislature, she was the second African-American woman to serve in Albany. She informed the House that she had “no intention of just sitting quietly and observing.”

During her political career, she overcame race- and gender-based hurdles, but her passion drove her mission for social justice. Chisholm’s story illustrates how one person’s passion can create change – even against daunting odds.

Lesson 3: “I’m a very firm believer in listening and learning from others.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-present) was the second woman to be appointed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. She is an advocate for fair treatment of women and has achieved many firsts in the face of adversity.

Before her service as a justice, she earned her bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University. Then she attended Harvard Law School as one of nine females in a class of more than 500, becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

After graduating, Ginsburg worked as a U.S. district judge’s clerk and taught at Rutgers University Law School and at Columbia, where she became the first female tenured professor.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980, and 13 years later, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. As a judge, she favors gender equality, workers’ rights and the separation of church and state. Her style is diplomatic – fair, with a firm belief that everyone deserves equal rights. Her legacy exemplifies purpose in all she does, and she’s not done yet.

Lesson 4: “You are only limited to what you push yourself to. You can always get better.” – Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn (1984-present) is an American Alpine skier and three-time Olympic medalist. She has represented the USA in four Olympic games, has won four World Cup overall titles (one of only two women ever to do so) and, with 81 World Cup victories, holds the record for most World Cup wins by a woman.

Vonn recently made a comeback at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, winning the bronze medal in the downhill, which made her the third American Alpine skier to win three Olympic medals and the oldest woman to place in an Alpine event.

Vonn’s journey illustrates persistence in the pursuit of excellence. She has sought challenge after challenge in her athletic career, and her resilience and grit even after multiple injuries embodies a core element of success.

To learn more, join Paycom’s podcast, HR Break Room, for a special International Women’s Day episode. Harvard Business Review associate editor and co-host of the Women at Work podcast, Nicole Torres will discuss the benefits of women in leadership within your organization; how you can go above and beyond to promote an inclusive culture, and how to identify and develop women who are already leading within the organization.