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3 Lessons Learned from the Likes of Joanna Coles, Shonda Rhimes, Beth Comstock, and More

A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to attend Hubspot’s Inbound event, which gathered over 24,000 industry professionals to learn about inbound marketing, growing a business, and cultivating an inclusive future. During my time there, I heard from Beth Comstock, Shonda Rhimes, and Joanna Coles, all of whom were deeply impressive and shared incisive perspective on how they got to where they are today.

Fast forward about a month and a half – my coworker won tickets to the Forbes Under 30 Summit and I was lucky enough to be her plus one. Our tickets were for the Women at Forbes full-day event, and I was thrilled to listen to panels about increasing diversity amongst founders and funders. The female and male speakers offered valuable insight into the steps that need to be taken in order to propel women and people of color into leadership roles.

After reflecting on both events, there were clear synergies between what the panelists and keynote speakers were advocating and sharing. Here are the lessons I learned from some of the most fearless female leaders I’ve had the pleasure of fangirling/listening to:

Take the leap into what makes you uncomfortable

During their keynotes at Inbound, Beth Comstock and Shonda Rhimes both highlighted the fact that they started off as introverts. Beth remarked that she was previously a wallflower and Shonda shared that she had been famous for saying no to things. Although their tendencies toward shyness could have been debilitating, they realized that it would hold them back from creating change in their respective industries.

Beth said, “I overcame the obstacle of being an introvert. I had to give myself permission to go after what was holding me back.” Shonda came to her realization when her sister remarked that Shonda never said yes to things, and decided to embark on a “Year of Yes”, where she said “yes” to every opportunity that came her way. I’d say that this worked out well for both of them, with Beth as the first female Vice Chair for GE and author of Imagine it Forward and Shonda as a Hollywood powerhouse who’s the executive producer, writer, and creator of shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”. After listening to these two, I was certainly inspired to push the boundaries of my comfort zone.

Know your worth

At the Forbes Under 30 Summit, Catt Sadler, Wade Davis, Jenny Han, and Emery Whalen discussed how women and people of color should take ownership of whatever table they’re sitting at and use their voices to enact change. Catt Sadler told the story of when she was a host at E! and learned that her male co-host was being paid twice what she was being paid. Catt knew her worth, so when she confronted the network and it declined to pay her more, she quit.

Shonda Rhimes discussed the necessity of knowing one’s worth and coming to the negotiation table knowing the point where you’d walk away. Both of these women have obviously been hugely influential in their industries, but it’s important to remember that even if you’re not the owner of a production company or the face of a hit TV show, you add value to your company and to your position. We need to own our seats at the table and realize what we’re worth in order to propel our careers forward.

Your surroundings are sources of inspiration – pay attention

In her keynote, Joanna Coles, one of the most powerful media moguls in the world, urged the audience to take time away from their phones every day. She said that some of the best ideas are lying in plain sight, and that if we pay attention to the things in life that we take for granted, we may find clues for how we can expand our lives next. Beth Comstock echoed this sentiment in her keynote, saying that change is now part of everyone’s jobs. In order to adapt and progress, you have to make the world your classroom.

This lesson underscores the importance of representation. In the “Funding the Funders” session of the Women at Forbes event, the panelists discussed how crucial it is to have women and people of color represented amongst funders and founders because they’re the ones who shape what the future of business looks like. If people are sourcing ideas from those around them, there should be diversity in the voices offering up the ideas. Without that, true and complete innovation won’t be possible.


Overall, both events were eye opening and inspiring. We have a lot to learn from women who’ve paved the path before us, and I hope to take these lessons to become a changemaker myself.


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