From an early age I have been encouraged by the women in my life. My mother, my sister, my female teachers — they were strong, fiercely independent, they pushed me to challenge limits, stand up for what was right, and honed my desire to help others express their full selves. I am truly a better man because of these remarkable women. 

Now, later in life, I continue to be surrounded by women who push, challenge and inspire. I reached out to five women below, as friends, colleagues and mentors, asking them to reflect on the steps towards continuing gender equality, womanhood and how it all relates to this day in their thoughtful words.

I hope you are able to meditate on these words as I have. While we have a way to go to realize full female potential in our society, these women are wonderful examples of the many paving the way for future generations and to that I say Happy International Women’s Day!


Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, CEO of Xero

On how to manage it all with grace:

To fellow working moms, I think the only …. key piece of advice is to do what works for you and what you love and try and manage the guilt as best you can. I always see women who are guilty about what they’re missing at home while they’re at work, and guilty about what they can’t contribute to at work while they’re home, myself included. But I try to cut myself some slack, and I’m getting good at living with the guilt, or better yet, what I strive for: being able to let it go.

Stephanie Tilenius, CEO and Founder of Vida Health

On leadership through kindness:

Behind every smile is a struggle, it is important to recognize that someone may be carrying a lot of pain they are masking in the workforce. Trying to understand their concerns, their fears and most importantly their dreams. Leadership is all about helping people achieve their dreams.

Allison Pickens, Investor, Board Director @ dbt Labs
On rewarding and recognizing the value of femininity:

Every woman’s experience of womanhood is different. Reflecting on my own experiences, I hope that in the coming years we will see broad recognition of the value of femininity. Growing up, I thought of certain traits like nurturance, sensitivity, supportiveness, gentleness, warmth, expressiveness, and helpfulness as being feminine only in a stereotypical sense. I also saw them as traits to be avoided if you were a woman wanting to fulfill your potential and be successful in our society. Today I see that society has unfairly penalized these traits and that we have all suffered as a result. What would the world look like if we somehow rewarded women (and others) for expressing these characteristics?

Abby West, Co-Founder and COO of Thatch Travel

On high expectations and tools to achieve them through great social resources:

I grew up believing that I could and should achieve big things for two reasons: one, parents had the same - high - expectations for me as they did for my brothers.  Two, the women in my family had successful careers before me.  We need to earnestly believe in young women and give them examples of success in their own homes and across business, arts, academia, science, and politics.

We can only achieve this if we make sure today’s women can be successful, by supporting them with great social services - a healthcare system that understands them, affordable childcare, great public schools, and thriving community spaces. 

Annie Tirschwell, Partner at Type A Projects

On how development firms in NYC are starting a movement towards minority and gender equality:

My firm is one of very few women-owned real estate development firms in NYC.  Despite the size of the industry, you can count us.  This reality is confusing and troubling as women do fill the ranks of city and state agencies….run not for profit housing and service organizations and hold executive roles at financial services firms.  So where is the disconnect?  Access to capital and a lack of mentorship at the highest levels have stalled many of my female colleagues from taking the step from sector leaders to achieving an ownership stake in the industry.  

A bright disrupter in this grim picture are the NYC’S own housing and economic development agencies (NYC HPD and EDC) who advance the inclusion of minority and women owned firms when awarding city owned land for development.  HPD runs a course that introduces minority and women owned firms to the intricacies of real estate development in NYC and connects them to industry leaders to provide deep technical assistance to emerging firms. It is programs like these that put Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises in the driver’s seat and ensure that our city’s growth is inclusive.

One of our city’s Council Members (Francisco Moya) set the table for inclusion:  “If we are truly to level the playing field for women- and minority-owned businesses to build wealth, we need to ensure that they are included and reflected in the work that advances our communities.”

I support International Women’s Day by acknowledging that my city is leading the way in creating a more equitable path for women and minority firms in the delivery of our built environment.  

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I have, all the best,

David Lesser