14 History-Making Women on Self-Empowerment

It’s Women’s History Month, and what better time to showcase the women making history happen right now in business, technology, and especially in the empowerment of others. The themes of breaking the glass ceiling and gender inequality in the workplace might be what Hollywood and the advertising world are currently addressing (see Always’ #LikeAGirl, Covergirl’s #GirlsCan#LeanIn, Patricia Arquette’s Oscars’ speech), but the Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women (#LeadOnCa) held last week in Santa Clara, CA focused on speakers who discussed issues such as a woman’s self-empowerment and having the courage to be authentic.

This inaugural event put on by Watermark, a community of the Greater Bay Area’s foremost women executives, gathered 5000 female (and maybe 100 male) attendees to get a dose of deeply personal and professional development presentations. The event presented over 100 amazing speakers, and here’s a look at some of the best advice from 14 women making history today:


Diane von Fürstenberg, Fashion icon 


Diane von Furstenberg


“No matter what stage you are in your life, you always have challenges, and the challenges change.” She acknowledged that she was “lucky” because she had “the right product at the right time. But it’s never easy.” Creating and running your own business is a journey filled with highs and lows, and as an entrepreneur, “you’re in control of your career and your mistakes. [And you have the choice to] own and learn from those mistakes.”

Jessica Herrin, Stella & Dot CEO and founder 


Jessica Herrin

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve never felt discriminated. There were barriers around me; I just chose to ignore them. You should proceed in the world thinking the world is awaiting your success!” Herrin proclaimed.



Candy Chang, Artist and creator of the Before I Die project 


Candy Chang


“It’s far too easy to neglect our self.” With all of the noise in the world, paths to pave or follow, and tasks at hand, she asked: “do you have the bravery to deconstruct your identity to explore who you are?”

Chang’s presentation showcased images of her worldwide public art installations which provoke civic engagement and emotional introspection, and she concluded by sharing that this conference is another “reminder that we are not alone as we try to make sense of ourselves, our lives, and our communities.”

“What you might consider your weaknesses can become your strengths.”

Janine Driver, New York Times bestselling author of You Can’t Lie to Me

Janine Driver


Women need to be brave because you’re “twice as likely to be remembered if you extend your hand for the handshake.”

Cindy Solomon, speaker and author of Creating a Culture of Courage

Cindy Solomon

Being brave does not exclude fear;courage is the ability to take action in spite of fear,” Solomon affirmed.

Dr. Brené Brown, Ted Talk presenter on ‘The Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown

Dr. Brown’s Ted Talk is one of the most popular Ted Talks of all time (with over 18 Million views!). She shared with the audience stories of her childhood and how she intentionally stayed off the radar by being small. There “is nothing comfortable about being brave,” she said. To be a leader you must “choose between having courage or being comfortable on a daily basis.” Having courage means that you can fall, but you can also get back up. We need to own the stories of our falls; “when we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write the ending.”

“There is no greater threat to cynics, critics, and fear-mongers than a woman who is willing to fall, because she has learned how to stand back up. And not because it’s easy, but because the light in her is greater than the darkness she had to walk through.”

“When you have fallen and you can only see my ankles, from down there, just know that my hand is coming soon. We fall together, we rise together.”

Jill Abramson, first woman to serve as Washington bureau chief

Jill Abramson

“A barrier to me is a delicious challenge.”

“Have a fierce passion for the work you do and go about doing it as excellent as you can.”

Gloria Banks, motivational speaker and author of Quantum Leaps

Gloria Banks

“Women are overwhelmed because they don’t have enough help. Surround yourself with help.”


Ginna Raahauge, senior vice president & CIO, Riverbed Technology

Ginna Raahauge


“You have to understand the stigmas around you, but don’t let them define you.”

Darla Anderson, senior producer, Pixar 

Darla Anderson

“The definition of courage is that you feel the fear but walk through it anyway.”


Carla Harris, Wall Street powerhouse and author, Expect to Win

Carla Harris

“If you want to maximize your success you must strategize to win! Success does not just happen. You must be intentional.”


Danae Ringelmann, CDO and founder, Indiegogo

Danae Ringelmann

 “In terms of having it all, the answer isn’t out there; it’s from within.”


Marcy Blair, vice president, Americas Services Partner Sales, Cisco Systems

Marcy Blair


“Figure out who you want to be. Don’t brand yourself on someone else’s expectations of you.”





Hillary Clinton, Former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate

The highlight for the majority of attendees and speakers alike was to hear Hillary Clinton’s motivating and empowering speech:

Hilary Clinton 1

Clinton’s speech recognized the progress made by women in technology as well as the unfortunate current gender inequalities in the tech industry. “On the Forbes list of the top 100 venture investors in tech, only four are women. Just 11 percent of executives in Silicon Valley, and only about 20 percent of software developers overall are women…So to borrow a familiar phrase, it’s time to think different.”

Through stories of her personal family history, accomplishments made with the Clinton Foundation (No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project), and experiences with women in technology locally and abroad, Clinton presented a clear message for all women: “The more we stand with each other the more obstacles we can overcome, the more we will be able to shape our own destiny.”

It’s time to support each other in our endeavors and to break the glass ceiling, as well as become who we are individually meant to be. “The time to start is now,” she said. ”I’m excited about what we can do together, and I believe that all of us can certainly show the way as we lead on to the kind of future we want.”

“We have a special obligation to make things better for each other, ourselves and others across the globe.”



And with that motivating impression, the questions that arose throughout the convention center was what kind of future do we want? And how are we going to achieve our dreams individually and together?

Throughout the engaging day, the themes of having courage, finding and following your true calling (being authentic), and supporting each other shined bright. Now that current female leaders have bestowed lessons upon us, it’s up to us to move forward. We are all human, and thus we’ll face challenges, but if we don’t focus on what’s meaningful, do more of what matters and be open to our own vulnerabilities, we won’t achieve what we’re capable of. Do you have the courage to believe in your dreams and make a difference in the world?



All images: Credit We Are Watermark


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Samantha has been a long time contributor to Tech Cocktail, and runs SLS Consulting, a marketing and partnerships practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow Samantha at @sfsam22.
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