When I think about the women who have inspired me, there is not a single figure I attribute this to – there are hundreds.  Maya Angelou, who I found and cherished during my college years and whose quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” has dictated the way I treat and care for others.  Brene Brown who (after reading all but one of her books in a week span) taught me to forgive myself and that being vulnerable is the most courageous thing we can do.  My mother, who empowered me to go after every one of my dreams.

I am surrounded by women I admire, who have changed my life, who empower me and others, who have done incredible things, beat the odds and overcome great adversity.  

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I am sharing some of their stories.  One simple question brought to life the memories and inspirations of these powerful women:

Who has inspired you to become the woman that you are?

Below is the collection of beautiful answers I received.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Maya Angelou

Mandana Salehi

Founder & CEO,  Ziba Hub 

My mom is both my personal inspiration and the inspiration behind my business. I’ve known few people who’ve experienced the level of loss and hardship that my mom has endured in her life with so much resilience and grace. From growing up without a mother of her own, to leaving the security of her homeland to give my brother and me a shot at a better life, my mom has always put the needs of others ahead of her own and led our family with relentless determination. 

A master planner, my mom went to cosmetology school as our family prepared to escape the war in Iran, to acquire a universally recognized skillset that would empower her to provide for our family regardless of where our immigration journey would lead. More than thirty years later, she has a loyal customer base who seek out her nurturing skincare services and lament the thought of her retirement.

ZibaHub is my love letter to my mom. After years of working in the tech industry I realized that beauty professionals lacked the same tech-enabled career tools I had been using for over a decade. After watching my mom struggle with finding new spaces to lease to provide her services and at the same time worrying about losing her clients with each move, I decided to build a platform where beauty professionals can connect with employers and customers through a central portfolio in a mobile app. Today, the Ziba app is available for iOS and Android devices and beauty professionals, like my mom, can use it to find industry jobs or spaces to lease, and consumers can use it to find inclusive services providers like my mom based on their skills, product affiliations, and social values.

If you’re in the market for an incredible facial, you can use the Ziba app to find a fabulous local provider or you can just contact me for my mom’s number!

Sommer Martin

CEO & Founder, Sommer Camp Productions, LLC.

That’s easy, Oprah Winfrey! Oprah was the initial woman to inspire me to dream. I struggled with communicating my feelings in my childhood and oftentimes felt like a misfit. I discovered the Oprah Winfrey Show, and my love for media happened almost immediately. I studied Oprah, the intentional way she spoke, how she listened, and her ability to make her guests feel comfortable to share their stories, and the icing on the cake; she looked like me. Because of Oprah Winfrey, I learned how to express myself and explore the possibilities of being a conduit to help people share their stories. Launching Sommer Camp Productions is a full circle moment, and I am forever grateful to Oprah for being brave and setting a great example for the little weirdos like me.

Maggie Hubbell 

COO & Co-Founder, Shift

A social worker and entrepreneur, my grandmother who, among other things, founded Meals on Wheels.

Wendy Morgan 

CEO & Founder, Shift

Celeste Edman and Kristina Payne. Of all the people I spoke to when I was deciding if I should start a business, these two amazing women looked me in the eyes and said, “You have something amazing! Just go do it.” Because of them, I took the leap.

Blaire G. Hervey
CEO & Head Strategist, The Corporate Strategist

I have been inspired by the self care of Harriet Tubman who chose to free herself before returning to rescue hundreds more. I am inspired by the work of Stacey Abrams, who saw injustice and did something about it by galvanizing the city of Atlanta to register 800,000 voters to ensure their voices were heard on the ballot. Observing the career progression of Bozoma St. John from PepsiCo to Apple to Uber to Netflix inspires me to think big and work to earn my seat in the C-suite at a transformational organization. My journey has been inspired by their relentlessness to succeed and share in that success with the people around them. 

Nicole Early

Founder, EARLY PR

I’m inspired by Black women like Nina Simone, Josephine Baker and Nikki Giovanni. These are women who speak their mind, fearlessly pursue their passions, and affirm their power through action, community and creativity.

Lisa Fitzpatrick 

CEO & Founder, Xcelable

The main person who inspired me was my mom. She was a nurse in Vietnam and continued a lifelong career in nursing while raising a family and running a home. In her late 40s, she was assigned a position as Executive Director of Women and Children Services and helped start the Family Birth Place in South Bend, IN at St. Joseph Medical Center. The Center was instrumental in helping women understand menopause and encouraging women to get their mammograms in a female-friendly environment. After leaving this position, she traveled around the world teaching Leadership Training for corporations such as Nestle and John Paul Mitchell. She not only taught different leadership styles to corporations but also embodied the teachings in her home life which we still all use today. Her work ethic, ability to help others, and her overall leadership style inspired me to branch out on my own, leave a stable secure job 20 years ago, and venture out on my own to become the person I am today.

Reeba Daniel

Founder & CEO, R&ARIE 

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Maya Angelou at a live interview years ago. I was inspired by her kindness, awareness and the way her confidence filled the room and made you feel proud. It inspires me to help others to find the key to opening their own cages.

Mallory Smith

Co-Founder, Sunday School Wine

Ok, this isn’t just because I’m a wine educator (and I am teaching our class on the Badass Ladies of Champagne tomorrow), but honestly any time I get discouraged, I think Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin. She always blows my mind. Her story always puts me in my place. When I think of her, I realize I have no reason not to suck it up and keep going. Her story is the ultimate lesson in persistence. She took over her husband’s failing Champagne company after he died in 1805. Very long story short, she spent almost a decade investing her entire livelihood (emotionally, mentally, financially) into the business. She faced every type of obstacle you could imagine, (the Napoleonic Wars didn’t make it any easier). In 1814, the business’ revenue was down 80% from its already dire state in 1805. But she persisted. Finally, she took the biggest risk of her career: illegally shipping $3 million dollars worth of Champagne to Russia. This was her make or break moment. Either she would land herself in prison, ruin her social reputation, lose everything her business had left, and she would be done for, or it would work. It worked. She went on to contribute many other innovations to the Champagne industry—including the process that made production more efficient allowing Champagne to be accessible, for the first time, to the middle class, not just the aristocracy. She made Veuve Clicquot one of the most successful luxury brands in existence and she is often considered the first woman “CEO” of a multi-national corporation in history. Her business partner (who came on much later, after the established success of Clicquot) was worth $10 billion in today’s money. She was a lady, so her net worth was never calculated.

Kaitlin Christine

CEO & Founder, Gabbi 

My Momma. She created her own path–the road less traveled and was strong AF.

Donna London

Mary Trotter, my mom. Growing up it was just me and my mom. I had older siblings but they had already left the house. My mom inspired me with her will and determination to have a better life. 1. She was one of the few black women in the small town I grew up in to own her own home. 2. In her 50’s she went back to school to get her GED so she could get credentialed to work at HeadStart. (She had to drop out of school at age 14 to have surgery on her club foot and because of Polio). 3. She was driven and had a great work ethic and was an entrepreneur. She was a hair stylist and worked out of our home (before Head Start). I remember when she raised her prices for a press and curl from 50c to 1 dollar! All of these things and so many others impacted me growing up and made me who I am today. The way she lived her life showed me that one is never to sick and never to old to change their life. If I had a desire to do something I never hesitated..I just did it. Somethings worked out and somethings didn’t and that was okay. The most important thing she taught me was to be fearless regardless of the outcome!

Laura Moulton

Founder, Street Books

I’m inspired by the writer Grace Paley who managed to be a mother, professor, writer and still make time to protest against injustice.

Jennifer Byrne

Founder, Jenn Byrne Creative LLC / Way Up West LLC

Arianna Huffington has been an inspiration to me throughout my career. She is courageous, bright and impactful with her words and work. 

Is there a woman who has inspired or influenced your journey? I encourage you to reach out and tell them.

Women – wherever you are, whatever you are trying to overcome or achieve – I celebrate you.  You’re stronger than you think, and YES – you can do that thing you’re scared of.