by: Diana O’Brien, Chief Marketing Officer at Deloitte

In the early 1900s, the small number of women who worked outside the home could only aspire to be teachers, nurses, cooks, and a few other jobs available to women at that time.  For two of my great grandmothers, working wasn’t a choice – they were both widows raising young children.  But they didn’t allow themselves to be defined or limited by the conventions of the day or the opinions of others. They followed their passions, and they claimed ownership over their lives.

Even though careers in finance were not available to women, my great grandma Radabaugh was driven by her love for math.  She eventually persuaded the president of a bank to hire her as a teller where she remained as a full-time employee into her sixties.  Instead of being a teacher, my great grandma Westerman channeled her love of fashion into a business, eventually opening a successful millinery shop in the city where she bought her own home.

These women faced tremendous hardships, but they didn’t complain or wallow in their problems.  While they were fueled by necessity, they weren’t paralyzed by pain or fear.  Instead, they channeled their passion into creating something better for themselves and their families – beyond what they should have hoped for or imagined at that time. My great-grandmothers taught me that your passion will lead you to your best work.

As women today, we may not face the same constraints as my great grandmothers, but that doesn’t mean that gender inequality isn’t real. Of all illiterate people in the world, more than 60% are female1, and over 130 million girls are not in school right now2.  Women make less than men3 around the world, and even in the U.S., women make 75 cents to every dollar made by a man.4

I know we can do better. Why? Because last week in India, I had the privilege to participate in an effort to build desks for local schools. The effort was led by an elementary student, Aarshia Karthik who helped us understand the need and used her passion to engage the Deloitte community to help her community thrive.

It only takes one person to break a boundary; only one “first” to forge a path for others. My great grandmothers created new opportunities for women in the early 1900s, Aarshia is creating opportunities for young students today, and I owe it to them to do the same. My greatest hope is that, like them, I can be an example of living without hesitation, owning my life, and creating opportunities for others.

From this day forward, let’s reimagine what is possible for women everywhere and work together to make it so. Follow your passion, use your gifts, and be bold.






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