Recently, I joined with 15 other women who were recognized as Trailblazers at the Women's Executive Network (WXN)'s 2017 Canada's Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Awards. This is an annual awards event that recognizes and honours Canada's leading female executives who have raised their voices, overturned obstacles, empowered the voiceless and paved a path for the next generation.
I was honoured and humbled to join with my fellow award recipients who were recognized. When I started my company 15 years ago, I never thought of myself as a trailblazer. Back track a few years earlier when I was a single mother at 18, I never imagined that my life would take me to where I am today.
Needless to say, the award means a great deal to me. Although I'm so very grateful, I always hope/wonder if I am truly deserving of such an honour. It did make me think about some of the trailblazers, far more accomplished, who have influenced and inspired me. But first, what does it mean to be a trailblazer? The dictionary defines a trailblazer as someone who "makes a new track through wild country."
Look at trailblazers throughout history and all exhibit that singular, obsessive focus to create something entirely new and unique, changing the world for the better in the process. As Kelli Richards' writes in4 characteristics of trailblazing entrepreneurs, all trailblazers have four key traits. They are ingenious, visionary, relentless and collaborative. I totally agree, particularly the need to be relentless and collaborative.
"First comes the shy wish. Then you must have the heart to have the dream. Then, you work and work." Estée Lauder.
When I think of trailblazers, I think of women like Estée Lauder. Born into an entrepreneurial family, Lauder channeled her company from its humble beginnings in 1946 to a global brand of skincare, makeup, fragrance and hair care products that employs 46,000 people. She never lost that original vision that every woman could be beautiful.
Fashion designer Coco Chanel is another trailblazer to me.Not only was she a brilliant fashion designer, she was an astute businesswoman who built a global empire that thrives to this day. Chanel has been widely credited for liberating women from the constraints of the corseted silhouette and popularizing a new, modern feminine standard of style. She's also the only fashion designer listed on TIME magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the 20th century.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman ahead of her time. Expanding her position as the First Lady to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was a tireless activist, speaker and writer. The causes she undertook are extensive, dedicating herself to advancing civil, labour, women, youth and refugee rights. Nicknamed the 'First Lady of the World' Roosevelt was the highest example of a woman who empowered the voiceless.
Oprah is another strong influence for me. I remember watching her show in its early days and I was in awe how open and courageous she was, not afraid to tackle any issue. Oprah motivated me then (as she does now) to be more curious and compassionate about our world and to develop my skills as a communicator to shine a spotlight on stories and issues that matter.
If you delve deeper into these women's stories, you'll learn about the many obstacles and challenges they encountered but their tenacity and unbreakable resolve kept them going. I respect how they never gave up or lost faith in their vision and purpose. They also had that unique ability to anticipate change and create new opportunities, breaking barriers and creating real innovation. Each of these women have inspired so many, including me, to follow her own passion and forge her own leadership path.
"The best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they'll know it's possible." Gloria Steinem
I remember just starting out in my career, when I moved to New York in my early 20s. I had lots of self-doubt and fear about making such a big move. But I forced myself to work through my fear. I approached my work like a sponge, learning and absorbing everything I could. I accepted that I needed to experience conflict and make mistakes because it was the only way to truly learn and grow.
When I was starting out in my career, my personal list of trailblazers was a short one. Thankfully, I think that's changing and now there are more and more women who are making profound strides in many fields. With their success, they are inspiring thousands of young girls and women to reach higher than they ever thought possible.
"When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back." Michelle Obama
As I reflect on this award, the most satisfying part for me is the forum it provides to inspire other women. We all need strong role models and mentors who inspire us to follow our own vision, achieve success, be leaders and better our world. Since the WXN awards started in 2003, just over 1,000 women have been recognized. Not to take away from each women's achievements but when you consider that Canada has 18.5 million women and girls, that's an extremely small percentage. I look forward to attending the WXN Awards in the years to come when the number of trailblazers and innovators is in the hundreds of thousands, recognizing so many incredible women who are carving out new paths and creating opportunities for the people behind them.
Thank you WXN for this incredible honour.
Who are the trailblazers that have inspired you? Tweet me @NatashaNKPR or leave a comment below.