What professional and career advice would you give to your younger self?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Saemoon Yoon, Community Lead, Technology Pioneers, World Economic Forum, Hannah Ransom, Community Specialist, Global Innovators, World Economic Forum & Michelle Watt, Engagement Lead, Global Innovators, World Economic Forum

  • The world celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8.
  • The theme for this year’s IWD is ‘Break the bias‘.
  • We asked 11 women CEOs what they’d advise their younger selves.

If you could go back in time and take all your lived experiences with you – what career advice would you give to your younger self? This is the question that we asked 11 women CEOs who are leading the companies of tomorrow on International Women’s Day.

Anna-Katrina Shedletsky – CEO and Founder, Instrumental

Embrace the reality that nothing in the plan you make for yourself may happen the way you anticipated. That’s okay, there’s no need to stress. There will be beautiful discoveries to be made on the way that may take you far off track — and there are wonderful futures down those paths too.

Learn about negotiation. When I first learned about shadow negotiations in a business school class years after I had started working, I realized it explained so much of what was going on around me that hadn’t been apparent before. That understanding made me more effective as a team member and, later, as a leader.

Ellison Anne Williams – CEO and Founder, Enveil

Don’t be a student of the school of hard knocks. Ask for help and seek experienced insights early and often – you don’t have to learn all of the lessons on your own. I’m blessed to have been surrounded by a number of fantastic mentors and colleagues who have helped me achieve more than I could have by myself.

Careers are nonlinear. At each step, choose opportunities based more on what you think you will learn from it than on where you think that it might take you. A diverse set of experiences is invaluable in building a rich career.

View challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Areas where I haven’t been able to take a straight path from point A to point B, which is pretty much my entire career, ultimately tended to be the most interesting and rewarding.

Ponsi Trivisvavet – CEO, Inari

First, I would tell myself to never settle. You can find something that you love and that creates a broader impact; those two things are not mutually exclusive. I am passionate about global agriculture, and I am grateful that my work at Inari allows me the unique opportunity to contribute to the global food system.

The other piece of advice I would give my younger self is that it’s smart – not cliche – to dream big and really go for it. When you have big goals it doesn’t matter how hard or how many times you fall down. Your purpose will get you on your feet again and your drive will keep propelling you forward so you can achieve great things.

I’d tell my younger self that it’s smart, not cliché, to dream big and really go for it.—Ponsi Trivisvavet

Diana Paredes – CEO and Co-Founder, Suade

There are 3 main things that this journey has taught me:

  • Worrying is a waste of life: There is not a single thing that I can think of that was aided or prevented because I worried about it. You have to trust yourself and know that when the moment comes, you will take action and that spending any headspace on random possible negative scenarios NEVER helps. Preparing yourself for an event is very different from worrying about it.
  • Good enough is often better than perfect: It is much more important to get things out of the door 80% ready than to aim for 100% perfection. The concept of ‘minimum viable product’ is there for a reason, lean in to that and embrace the unknown. You will be fine.
  • Be present: Being an entrepreneur and leading a team is the best job in the world, so enjoy it! It’s a privilege that people have taken the leap and decided to follow you into battle so be grateful. Be present to how lucky you are. As you stop worrying and accept things for what they are, you start executing at your best. Don’t dwell on the lows and make sure to celebrate successes. The best way to be fearless is to clear your headspace and be in the moment, wherever you are as part of your journey.

Netta Korin – Co-Founder, Orbs

Above all else, dare. Do not let fear get in the way of your success or of your choices. Do not look at your role models and wonder if, or fear that – you are not enough, or that you do not have what it takes.

Those who are more successful than you really only have one thing that you don’t have (yet) – experience. What separates you from them, if you work hard and dedicate yourself to the cause, is only the time it takes to acquire that experience.

The path to success is rarely a straight line, it is filled with pitfalls, hurdles, and hardships. Those will all be looked upon as gifts one day, when you have overcome them and you are stronger.

Every painful lesson, every embarrassing faux pas, is an opportunity to improve – and you will improve. Embrace the difficult, do not fear it. And when you make it, stay humble by remembering that you too were once that scared little girl who made mistakes.

Elizabeth Rossiello – CEO and Founder, AZA Finance

My advice to all women (and what I would love to tell my younger self) is to intentionally find and work with good people. Start by finding a mentor who can pull you up, and get you access to the networks that will support your growth. Women are often left out of these circles – so if you can’t get into one, make your own.

Start fostering your own confidence so when the opportunity arises, you can put yourself in those rooms, at those tables. And while you’re there, do not ever underestimate yourself. You are worth the salary, compensation, equity and respect you seek. Go get it.

Miku Hirano – CEO and Founder, Cinnamon AI

Purpose is what moves me forward. It is the fuel that drives me. From a young age, I spent time reflecting to try to understand my purpose. What is it that drives my emotions – anger, fear, doubt, sadness, excitement? What about our society triggers me? For future leaders and entrepreneurs, my strongest advice is to take time to reflect and realize what triggers your emotions.

In addition to emotional self-awareness a strong purpose requires a ‘who’. Who am I changing the world for? For me, I want to extend the potential of future generations, particularly my children, by providing the tools needed to prosper and improve their lives.

For me, those tools are artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technology. Properly using AI will be a key component to solving major issues, like climate change. Driving the development of AI is my attempt to make my purpose a massively transformative one.

Maggie Louie – CEO and Co-Founder, otto JavaScript Security

When I started the company in 2017 – well before COVID was on anyone’s mind – I knew very little about the start-up world. I had the good fortune of figuring out a clever way to detect hackers exploiting digital ads to spread malware and steal money, but turning that idea into a company has been a learning process.

Maybe the most important thing I would tell ‘circa 2017 Maggie’ is: “To thine own self be true.” Let the ‘why’ you do what you do be ‘true north’. For me, that means never forgetting I am an inventor who is entrepreneurial, not an entrepreneur who is inventive.

But in a general sense it means: know what motivates you, know what you believe in. Then, choosing the right investors, advisors, and team members becomes simple. Surround yourself with people who believe what you believe. Those who strengthen, never weaken your vision. And just keep going.

Jennifer Holmgren – CEO, LanzaTech

You can succeed by working hard but be patient and don’t forget your conscience! Dream the big dream and know that good ideas aren’t enough, you need to execute if the idea is going to be a success.

You should do what you want to do and make your own decisions. Go with your gut instinct and make personal decisions that you think are right for you. Listen to people and take advice, but what they see as your trajectory and the path you choose do not have to be the same.

Be positive. See the potential for good outcomes, while still being aware of the risks. Focus on the prize – if you fail, course correct, learn, and move on!

Lisa Dyson – Founder and CEO, Air Protein

I’ve had the privilege of working with some exceptional mentors throughout my career who have given invaluable insights that have helped me found companies, grow teams, and build the foundation for having an impact on the world. If I were able to advise my younger self, I would emphasize a few guiding principles for following one’s passion.

Learn as much as you can in areas that interest you, and even in some areas that don’t. Expand your mind and viewpoints by surrounding yourself with people who have had diverse experiences and different ways of seeing the world. Do what you love, follow your heart, keep that focus. Make sure to understand the importance of the people in the process.

Finally, I would tell my younger self to amplify the good, find the bright spots, and, above all else, have fun.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Katrina Donaghy – CEO and Co-Founder, Civic Ledger

“The importance of networks and paying closer attention to layering the right foundations to support people and culture – at the right time.”

When you set out on the entrepreneurial journey, the earliest decision-making over product, market, customers, revenues, and brand positioning can be quite overwhelming as you are building a company with no money, no team apart from the founders, no brand awareness. So, different parts of the company will take a different priority depending on the day.

As such, time becomes the most important resource you have, but it is irreplaceable when spent. My advice would be to use your time wisely. First of all, build a strong network around you who you can seek counsel from to hold you accountable for your decisions. It is inevitable that you will make mistakes, that is the entrepreneur’s journey.

Secondly, prioritise layering the foundations in your company that will support your future people and foster a positive working culture. Your people are the most important priority.


  1. Being a CEO requires considerable growth and character development, so it’s easy to see why people may look back and think about the advice they’d like to give to their younger selves. Interesting information here!

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