In celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke to three of our Lenovo Innovators, who share their empowering stories of overcoming adversity in their respective careers and what it means to #EmbraceEquity.
Highlighted below are three women whose mission is to build an inclusive and equitable world for all:
Zoologist, filmmaker, and Ecotourism Specialist
NASA Engineer & women in STEM advocate
CEO of Daisies, a platform that provides accessible healthcare to women
What does International Women’s Day (IWD) mean to you?
Cat Capon: For me, IWD means giving women an equitable opportunity to choose how to live their lives. I believe that every human has an innate sense of purpose within them – a deep understanding of what they can achieve in their lifetime. Whether that’s becoming a scientist, a sportsperson, an artist, a CEO, or a caregiver, IWD is a moment to celebrate the successes of women and to understand and change where discrimination, prejudice, and bias still exist.
Joan Melendez-Misner: To me, IWD is a day to acknowledge and honor women trailblazers around the world, both past and present, who have and continue to pave the way for women to one day have equity and equality in society.
Karla Huerta: Being a woman is a superpower; it’s incredibly powerful to have the ability to intertwine and manage professional, emotional, and physical situations. I believe that women are very connected to their emotions and we have the innate ability to apply this energy into our daily lives, personally and professionally. We have the ability to recognize this in others and empower people to follow and activate it within themselves, but beyond all, we have the special capability to raise other women.
This year's International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. What does embracing equity mean to you?
Cat Capon: Embracing equity is all about inclusion. We must understand that every person has different experiences, opportunities, and resources available to them. To give everyone what they need to be successful will look very different for each individual. It’s also worth educating oneself on the difference between equality and equity. As the saying goes, “It’s not enough to give everyone a shoe, they need a shoe that fits.”
Joan Melendez-Misner: Equity means that each individual or groups of individuals are given the same resources and opportunities as everyone else. For me, growing up in a lower-middle-class family meant I had to seek out jobs at an early age. Whether it was mowing grass to help pay for a laptop or starting my first real job at 15, I knew that I would have to fund my own college classes if I wanted to attend.
Being a first-generation Latina to graduate college, I had to navigate applying for scholarships and other financial aid in order to make my dream of becoming an engineer a reality. I remember studying and working a full-time job to make ends meet while my friends were able to go out and enjoy their college experience. It was at that point I realized that we are not given the same opportunities as others. Some have to work twice as hard to get to where they want to be. That’s why I am honored to be working with Lenovo as a #LenovoInnovator to provide the necessary tools to underrepresented communities to give them a leg up in achieving their dreams.
Karla Huerta: Embracing equity sometimes means taking whatever you firmly believe and being open to the possibility of changing that thought and taking intentional action. Sometimes, we may even have to re-educate ourselves and teach others new possibilities – which I think is exciting because we are human, and we are allowed to change and evolve. Embracing equity means shifting the way we were taught things and evolving it into a new and powerful perspective.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
Cat Capon: Yes, I certainly have. Unfortunately, too many to list separately here. If you search ‘TV adventurer’ on the internet, you’ll be scrolling for a long time before you find a woman. This means that many kids might grow up asking, “Can only men be adventurers?” They simply haven’t been exposed to seeing many women explore, survive and navigate hostile environments. That’s not to say that there aren’t amazing women out there doing incredible things in the world; however, the media hasn’t supported them equally. I’ve been told things like, “You don’t look like an adventurer,” and, “I’ve had to fire women from expeditions before because they are too distracting.” These aren’t even the worst of the sexist remarks I’ve been subjected to in my career.
I’m still working on overcoming these barriers, as are many other women in this industry. Now that I have a daughter, I’m even more passionate to not give up and to show the younger generation that women can dive with sharks, track grizzly bears and thrive in the most inhospitable places. Whenever I’ve heard the word “No,” I’m just inspired to find another way!
Joan Melendez-Misner: I have faced many challenges in my life, especially as a woman in a very male-dominated space. One example that always sticks out to me was the first time I led a project as the Lead Engineer. It was our first in-person meeting and I immediately noticed I was the only female in a room full of male colleagues. One of those colleagues walked up to me and asked, “Would you mind taking notes during the meeting?” I remember being shocked and angry. Why was the only female in the room asked to take notes?
Women have come a long way, and I know I stand on the shoulders of women trailblazers before me. However, I also recognize we have a long way to go in order to achieve complete equality in the workplace. When I am confronted with a situation like this, it takes me a long time to find my voice. I’ve learned over the years that when these situations arise, you need to have a combination of two things: 1) being empowered to call out the behavior by speaking to the individual in private and 2) having male allies in the workplace. Now, as a Lead Engineer, I make sure to call on everyone and give equal opportunity for suggestions from all members of the team, no matter their gender.
Karla Huerta: I believe social inequality, sexism, racism, and lack of women in authoritative roles are a few of the biggest struggles women face. When experiencing these challenges, women often have two options: we can either be the “game changers” that will face these struggles head-on in an effort to try to solve them or find resources and support groups that will fight with us. We should aim to evolve as a society to tackle these issues. The world needs this kind of unified power, along with empathy, to solve these challenges that are affecting women all around the world.
What is a piece of advice that someone gave you that has always resonated with you?
Cat Capon: To regularly ask yourself these questions:
- How do I feel about myself?
- How do I leave an impact on the world?
- What are all the great things in my life right now?
When things get tough, it’s easy to lose sight of the positives, but asking myself these three questions always brings me back to my purpose.
Joan Melendez-Misner: I have two favorite quotes, the first is: “Failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of every success story.” In the age of social media, it has become the norm to only post about your successes. From an outsider’s perspective, it must appear that I have an amazing life being a NASA Engineer who has no struggles. However, that’s not true at all, which is why I make it a point to share my obstacles and how I overcame them. It’s easy to focus on the iceberg that’s visible above the surface, but most people don’t see the rest that’s underneath the water. We should look at failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than viewing it negatively.
The other motto I live by is, “Network to get work.” I truly believe that the connections you make along the way, whether personally or professionally, will open doors you never knew existed.
Karla Huerta: Prepare yourself and master something. As leaders and CEOs, we have to prepare ourselves and inspire others through powerful actions and intelligence. The way to create a virtuous circle is by helping and supporting other women. When women are placed in powerful positions, learn from them, teach them, and make them unstoppable, while also encouraging men to support and grow. That’s how one can create a team and encourage equality.
Do you have any advice for the next generation of young women who are thinking about their careers?
Cat Capon: Take the time to explore your strengths and weaknesses. We all have them! You’ll then be able to combine your passion and skills with what the world really needs right now. This will be your true calling.
Joan Melendez-Misner: My advice is to take up space. Women in male-dominated careers tend to not go for the promotion or apply to jobs they don’t think they are qualified for. We need to take up space and apply for those jobs, aim for the promotion, speak up in meetings and make room for other women at the table. We have not achieved equal representation yet, but by continuing to take up space, we will get there one day.
Karla Huerta: Honestly, be as smart as you can be, work on your emotional intelligence, develop leadership skills and be aware of the power and magic around you. Create a balance in everything you do and learn how to question yourself and your team. Situations and humans are always evolving – learn how to question everything around you and be prepared to evolve as well.