Inspiring life lessons from our favorite bold women, real and fictional | Ladders

From Microsoft VPs to the writer behind Mary Tyler Moore, these women can inspire anyone to reach higher.
People

Inspiring life lessons from our favorite bold women, real and fictional

The theme of International Women’s Day on March 8 is #BeBoldForChange.

According to the official website, this involves urging everyone — men and women — to “call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world—a more inclusive, gender equal world.”

Take inspiration from these women, real, historical or fictional, who have been brave, brilliant, bold or simply badass on their way to shattering the glass ceiling.

The fear-fighter, Tamika Tremaglio 

Tamika Tremaglio, a lawyer and MBA at Deloitte Risk and FinancialAdvisory, offered advice on being bold as an antidote to fear: “Fear can stand for ‘forget everything and run’ – or it can stand for ‘face everything and rise.’ Trailblazing women live the culture of courage, where they find ways to remove fear from the equation so they can think about what they would do differently if fear were not a factor. We need to be more deliberate about removing fear from our day-to-day dilemmas.”

The advocate for authenticity, Peggy Johnson 

“One of my boldest moves was to choose to diverge from what successful people around me were telling me to do,” said Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice President, Business Development at Microsoft. Here’s what Johnson told Ladders about what she learned in her rise.

“See, for years, everyone around me had painted the same picture of what success looks like: That to be a leader, you have to be the loudest person in the room. Brute force was apparently the only path to the top. I tried their approach, and it never felt natural to me. I elbowed my way into discussions, I interrupted during meetings, and I raised my voice every so often. Once I even pounded my fist on the table … and it was so awkward! Not just for me, but for everyone else in the room, because there’s nothing more uncomfortable than watching a person try to be someone they are not – and that wasn’t me. I finally decided that, even though my career may suffer for it, I couldn’t keep trying to be someone I wasn’t. Turns out, being my authentic self – a quiet leader – was a catalyst for my career taking off. I learned that who I am matters more to my success than how I’m supposed to be.”

The woman who sexed up Mary Tyler Moore, Susan Silver

Susan Silver, author of the forthcoming memoir “Hot Pants in Hollywood Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms” was a writer for The Mary Tyler Moore show. She told Ladders that “Mary’s sexual “boldness” was something I pushed for. An article in a Chicago paper said she was “undersexed” so I pitched a story where she spent the night with a reporter. She asks Rhoda, “Am I undersexed?” and Rhoda says “I hope so, as it’s the only thing I’m better at than you.”

MTM was known for being simultaneously perky and vulnerable, but it’s frequently her unexpected boldness that makes her an enduring feminist icon.

Madame President, Edith Wilson

After President Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke in 1920, his wife Edith became the unofficial de-facto president of the United States. Eager to protect her husband’s reputation, Mrs. Wilson became the only person to filter messages to and from the president. Since there were no clear constitutional laws in place about succession, Mrs. Wilson effectively ran the country for just over the year and a half remaining in her husband’s presidency. It’s even more amazing considering that she did it was only months after the 19th amendment was passed, granting women the right to vote.

The Hollywood tech pioneer, Hedy Lamarr 

Austrian born Hedy Lamarr (nee Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was known as the most beautiful woman in the worldand co-starred with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. Known for her saying that “any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid,” Lamarr herself was anything but stupid. An early marriage to a Nazi sympathizer allowed her access to information about advanced weaponry, when he took her to secret meetings to show her off. Lamar hated the Nazi regime and escaped to London and then Hollywood. At the age of 26, Lamarr, along with American composer George Antheil, created and patented a secret communications system called “Spread Spectrum” which became the backbone of modern wireless and cellular communication. Lamarr’s patent expired before it became widely used though, and she never earned a cent off her invention. Ironically, despite wanting to stay in engineering, she was considered more valuable to the war effort through her acting: when selling war bonds she raised $7 million in one night.

Other inspiring women

Ada Lovelace: Girls who code, take note. Lord Byron’s daughter was raised to nobility, but spent her days as a mathematician. She wrote what is now recognized (and wasn’t found until the 1950s) as instructions on how to create the first computer program—in the mid 1800s. She’s considered the first computer programmer.

Josephine Baker: Discriminated against in the U.S., Baker moved to Paris and became one of the most provocative performers of the 1920s. When she returned to still segregated America in the 1950s, Baker was threatened by the KKK and 36 hotels refused to make reservations for her. How bold was Baker? In 1963 she was the only official female speaker standing beside Martin Luther King at the march on Washington.

Joan Jett: A hard rocker who fronted punk-ish girl band the Runaways, before heading the Blackhearts, Jett is often lauded as a feminist icon for never quite fitting the expected role of women in music. She boldly sang at a time when women were obsessed with caring too much: “I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation.”

Tomoe Gozen: A twelfth-century female samurai warrior known as part of the Onna-bugeisha (fierce female warriors of Japanese nobility) Gozen was known for beauty and bravery and for protecting her home and family.

Michonne on The Walking Dead: If you think of the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for the work space, Michonne wields her katana to cut through the dross and dead weight trying to pull her down. Who can’t relate to that? 

Wonder Woman: Created in 1941 as a superhero who fought Nazis, Princess Diana of Themyscira assumed the persona of Diana Prince and dedicated her life to fighting injustice. Her tiara, a sign of royalty, also doubles as a weapon when needed. Her shiny cuff bracelets, designed to fight evil, have been an inspiration to young girls for over 70 years. 

Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.

Read more about