Reflecting on International Women's Day 2017

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On March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Though it’s not particularly well known in the US, it started here in 1909 as a labor protest. Observed all over the world,  International Women’s Day is a day of action, in which organizations all over the world hold themed events to honor women’s contributions. This year, the UN’s theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work.” And an International Women’s Day coalition of businesses is themed #BeBoldForChange.

Sharon, CEO Pepperlane:

Today, I want to tell you about some of the women in my life that have inspired me with their strength, their drive, and their kindness. I want you to know who inspired me to change the work world to fit my and other women’s needs, and inspired me to bold action. After many years as a serial entrepreneur, I realized the traditional workplace did not work with my life. I needed more flexibility, more focus on what I loved to do, and a more supportive community. My co founders and I  created Pepperlane, in which we are changing the contours of the world of work in our community. We are building a unique community where mothers like me and you are connected through our business and the shared experience of being women and mothers. 

Instead of telling you about one woman who inspired me, I’m going to tell you about a chain of women, three generations in my family, who-together-inspired me to persevere, to believe in dreams, in kindness and in joy, and to learn from everyone I encounter. This unbroken chain, my grandmother, mother, and two daughters, cannot be taken apart and have the same effect.

The first woman who inspired me is my step-grandmother, Hava. She was born in Hungary, and like most Hungarian Jews, was deported by the Nazis in 1944 to Auschwitz, where most of her family was killed. She was tortured, but she survived. She emigrated to Palestine after the war, helping to found Israel in 1948. Despite her experiences, she persevered. When I came into her life many years later, she encouraged me to focus on building a life full of joy and purpose. She inspired me daily with her emotional strength, her ability to focus on the present, and her unconditional love.

The second woman in the chain of strength is my mother, Tammy. Her mother died when Tammy was very young, and Tammy found herself navigating the world alone. Her father was lost in grief and in his work building the new country. Though women had few career options, she remained in the Army after her mandatory service and climbed the ranks quickly. She was the first woman to be part of the cabinet of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and served during four wars. Her emotional strength continues to be my anchor. She taught me how to envision the future and pursue my dreams with drive and vigor.

My inspiration chain continues with my daughters Leia and Siena, both born here in Boston. Fifteen year old Leia is dedicated to helping women achieve equality, and doing it with love, grace, and profound kindness. She continues to teach me with her example, and reminds me to learn from the people I encounter. Siena, who is ten, has been a fighter since she had to battle to live when she was born. Her inner strength shines bright, and she knows exactly what she wants, and isn’t afraid to demand it. She inspires me daily with her clarity of purpose and her ability to speak her truth.

All these women, together, have inspired me to create the world of work that I have been imagining for years. My grandmother’s perseverance, my mother’s emotional strength, my elder daughter’s kindness, and my younger daughter’s clarity of purpose inspire me daily. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the strength and drive to create Pepperlane.

On this International Women’s Day, I wish for every woman and girl to be able to harness the strength of her foremothers and her children to change the world with perseverance, strength, kindness, and clarity of purpose.

I would love to hear about your inspirations. If you wish, please comment below to say who has inspired you, and what you take with you into the world from their example.

Written by Sharon Kan

Sharon is a mother of two daughters. She built 4 startups that were acquired by Oracle, Microsoft, Infor and Barnes & Noble. She co-founded WIN, the Women Innovating Now Lab at Babson College to help female entrepreneurs start their businesses. Over the course of her career, Sharon has mentored over 150 female CEOs and business owners. One fact about Sharon that you won't guess: she loves to skateboard when no one is watching.

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