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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity

Courage at Work: 16 Women Share Inspiring Acts of Bravery

Looks like there’s a pay gap that needs adjusting…

Courageous woman
Photo courtesy of Mikhail Nilov

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

Courage is a human imperative. We practice courage as small children when we ask another child to play or we read aloud for our class for the first time, and we continue to tap into courage as we grow. Middle school, high school, college, and the years beyond are all riddled with acts of bravery—some of them huge milestones and others regular indicators of who we are or who we’re becoming.

And as we age, courage becomes even more fundamentally challenging, especially when we’re up against “big” entities, like rigid power structures at work or in our government, or systemic failures, such as sexism, racism, and the like. Those behemoths strike fear in even the most daring of us because taking steps to disrupt them—standing up for ourselves, setting boundaries, asking for what we want—can have real consequences. We’re often actively discouraged to be courageous in the face of such adversity because not only will other people lose power, but going against the grain can cause us to lose our jobs, our social status, our safety, and so much more.

And because we forget, or perhaps fail to see, how many times courage actually goes right

The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is “Break the Bias,” imagining a gender equal world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, where our differences are valued and respected. That’s a dreamy vision made possible almost entirely by courage—the courage of everyday women and allies who believe in the human rights of women and other marginalized groups. 

To help illustrate the steps we all take to move toward that goal, InHerSight asked women to tell us about a time they’ve felt courageous in the workplace. No surprises here, many of the responses center on defying some of the most intimidating and deeply instilled aspects of company culture. Why, you might ask? Women are just brave like that.

Read more: Daily Affirmations for Women 

16 acts of courage at work from women who’ve been there 

Courage to stand up for yourself and others

“I remember being eager when I landed my first ‘big-girl job’ after what felt like an eternity in school. To my surprise, my boss and I had completely different ways of communicating. After being publicly critiqued time after time, I decided it was my turn to take a seat at the table to clarify my communication preferences that would help me grow in my new position. 

Was I afraid to sort this out with her? Absolutely. I was the new kid on the block. But I knew my worth and I believe in respecting others’ boundaries. Once I mustered up the courage, I told her that I would appreciate her constructive feedback in a personal setting, whether it was an email, stopping by my desk, or in a one-on-one meeting. Even though I could tell she wasn’t thrilled, I know for a fact she respected me for standing up for myself, new or not. That memory has stayed with me years later and reminds me that I need to stand up for myself no matter how senior the leader is who is pushing back.

You were hired for a reason. You are the expert. Do not forget that!” —Brooke Steurer, Marketing Automation Specialist, InfoTrust

“Leadership of my department asked me to create and share a presentation on gender equality in the workplace. I was thrilled about this opportunity—it was a subject I was passionate about, and I was so excited to share this passion with my teammates. I practiced for hours before the presentation to get it just right. On the day of, I walked into the meeting room and noticed that the room looked rather empty. I waited and waited, but only a handful of people showed up. Only one member of the leadership team came, and he had to leave halfway through. I was incredibly disappointed. The next day, I met with my department head and told him what happened at the presentation was unacceptable. As an ally, it's important to show up, and the leadership team failed to set an example. I felt courageous for standing up for myself, and reinforced what it meant to truly show up for others in the workplace.” —Tvisi Ravi, Business Operations, Codecademy

“The first time I felt courageous was when I prompted a forthright conversation. It is super scary to have a difficult conversation, but to initiate an uncomfortable conversation does not equate to being difficult; it empowers you to voice your thoughts out loud in a straightforward, professional manner. It is crazy because now I am mentoring people on the same principles I learned early in my career. Remember your voice and opinion are not an afterthought. Determination truly drives courage. Like anything, practice! The first time is the scariest. It gets easier, I promise! Reminder: It is okay to be courageous and be afraid at the same time.” —Alexandra Smith, Manager, Learning and Development, deepwatch

“I had just started a new job in the UK (I am originally from France) and got tasked with quite a big job. One of my former colleagues (male, senior) got himself involved without being asked and had a massive go at me in front of other colleagues. His tone was aggressive, his demeanor was aggressive, and I remember being absolutely shocked by his lack of professionalism and super rude behavior toward me. I ended up crying in the bathroom.

I live a relatively drama-free life, and I’m usually not bothered by much. But it felt so unfair to be yelled at for free that instead of rubbing it under the carpet, I stood up for myself. I told my manager. I told his manager. I told him.

And he was let go very shortly after the incident.” —Charline Corsellis, PeopleOps Manager, INSHUR

“Many of us have worked in situations where a company may not have stood by their core values or may not have had the ideal workplace culture. Something that I had to learn in my earliest leadership roles was to show compassion and be able to grow the courage to stand up for others who may be up against adversity in the workplace.

It’s especially important to speak up and be an ally for other women who may feel like they are being left out, discriminated against, undervalued, among other possible difficulties.” —Sienna Spooner, Live Casino Production Manager, Penn Interactive Ventures 

Courage to ask for what you deserve

“Earlier in my career, I had a goal to make six figures. I had only started working at a company for a few months, but I really wanted my manager to learn about my goals and partner with me to find ways to achieve them, so I bought the book Secrets of Six Figure Women to learn how other women had achieved that milestone and to get ready for that uncomfortable conversation with my manager. I believe the key to a successful negotiation was preparation. Not only did I study that book, highlighter in hand, but I researched compensation for similar roles, and created a plan that outlined the work I would do and the metrics I would deliver to attain that raise. My manager was very impressed and said she would do everything she could to deliver for me. Less than a year later, I had achieved my goal. If someone had taught me the power that research and preparation have on your ability to negotiate earlier on in my career, I think this would’ve happened a lot sooner.” —Monica Miyasato, Staff Technical Program Manager, Intuit

“Asking for a raise. Before making the request, I prepared a document with different data, like info from my previous raise, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for cost-of-living increases, my gained skills/accomplishments since hire date, and the different roles that I took on with the related market value for my experience at the time. This helped me come up with a percent increase and actually be able to justify and discuss it. It also made me a lot more comfortable with the conversation as a whole. —Diana Pavlushyna, Data Analytics Engineer, InfoTrust

“After the 2008 market crash, the university I was working at froze salary increases for close to 3 years. When the rumors began that very small pay-raises would be going back into effect. Several male colleagues began mentioning that they got theirs and they were 1-2 percent. The digital team I worked with, who happened to also be women, did not get any increase so I came up with a proactive plan to make sure we were not left out even though that clearly was the case. 

I had each of us email our HR/leadership team something similar in tone to this: We were so glad the current team could be a pivotal reason the university was able to stay open and functioning in the economic fallout of 2008 and are glad to see that our loyalty and dedication has been rewarded. Please let me know what percentage (1-2 percent) increase I will be seeing in my paycheck going forward so that I can double check my account for accuracy. Thank you.

They scrambled to get us paid.” —Sara, Graphic Designer, University of Dallas

“At a prior job, I was assigned to a new team and I had a new male manager who came from a different department. Early on working with him, I had conversations about my experience in my role and my work showed I was very knowledgeable in my position. I somewhat had to prove via my work and conversations that I was more than capable and excellent with my daily job tasks as well as difficult items assigned to me.” —Courtney Gamble, AML Compliance Analyst, Penn Interactive Ventures

Courage to claim your space

“Working in a male-dominated field, I have to feel courageous every day. The first time that I felt this way was when I had to explain to a previous Director of Engineering and VP of Engineering that I was allowed to speak up and express a different opinion from my male colleagues. This was after being told by them, ‘When you disagree with the other men, you are being disruptive. So in future meetings, you will need to allow the men to speak and think about if you even need to speak.’ I politely demurred with this statement and said, ‘In order to have the best SRE tech team, all opinions need to be considered. And I will continue to offer them in a professional and appropriate way.’ I did not allow title or seniority to make me afraid. Rightfully, those leaders were exited from the company because of their non-inclusive behavior. Intuit really lives up to their values of ‘Courage’ and ‘Stronger Together,’ which focus on being bold and thriving on diverse voices to challenge and inform decision making.” —Amber O'Banion, Principal Technical Program Manager, Intuit

“Working in cybersecurity, imposter syndrome can hit really hard for anyone. Recently, I was the only one in my department to get a promotion. While I worked extremely hard and felt like I had earned the position, I couldn't help but feel like all eyes were on me—wondering why this woman, with the least experience and no formal security education, landed the job. When I spoke with my team lead, I told him about this internal narrative and asked if there was anything I could change to be better equipped for the role. Instead, he said: ‘Don’t ever change. You got the job. You are enough.’ He has no idea the impact those words had on me. In my past, it was ingrained in me that I wasn’t, and never would be, enough. I believed that no matter how hard I worked to better my life, my efforts—both personally and professionally—would be in vain. So to hear from a leader in my field that I am enough? That’s a moment of empowerment I’ll never forget.” —Stacey Lokey, Associate MDR Analyst, Expel

Courage to set your own boundaries and expectations 

“A time where I felt courageous and where my self-worth became realized was a few years ago when I became a manager for the first time. I clearly defined boundaries to not take work home with me and not feel as if my worth/value was solely predicated on my ability to produce. I realized I was more than just my job.” —Andrea Misir, Growth Marketing Manager, INSHUR

“Just under a year into a job I loved, I found out I was expecting my first baby. I felt really privileged to be able to work from home and experience nauseous and tiredness out of the comfort of my home. However, I still felt immense anxiety about extending the news to my company. I had also decided to take an untraditional route of a shorter (one month) maternity leave while my partner did the rest. My peers and manager were really happy for me, but I still was bombarded with opinions and questioning if I was making the right decision and claims that 'it wasn't enough time.' I felt a lot of guilt and anxiety because of these reactions. I'm now happily working a 9–5 job, with a four month old and an amazing spouse, and I couldn't be more happy with my decision.” —Brittani Van Dusen, Director of Talent Acquisition, VTS

Courage to tackle challenges bigger than ourselves

“There was a point in my career, approximately 10 years ago, when I was comfortable. I understood my skills, I loved my job, and I knew how to do it well. Then, in a meeting with a newly hired senior executive, I got loud about where the company was going wrong and what they could do better.

Much to my surprise, two weeks later, that very senior executive called my bluff. He offered me a new job where I’d be inventing a new way to go to market, effectively building solutions to the problems I’d called out.

The idea of moving into this new role was scary—it took me out of my comfort zone, required me to learn new skills, and to invent a new future. But it occurred to me that the best thing I could do for my career was learn new skills on someone else's dime, so I screwed up my courage and took the job. It was one of the best moves I've ever made. I learned, I grew, and not only did I develop a reputation as a leader, learning agility became my towering strength. Working outside of your comfort zone is where greatness happens!” —Julie Fleischer, Chief Growth Officer, Encantos

“I graduated college with a degree in health sciences, and began working for a health clinic shortly thereafter. I had desires to continue my education in public health communications, but financially, it wasn't an option at this point. Eventually, I learned of an opportunity from a friend and later began working for a university in admissions. This was not anything health-related, but it did give me the opportunity to continue my education for free. I decided to get my master's in digital marketing, being a field in communications. While going to school for my master's, I was in a new department within the university where I traveled frequently, which was not always easy. Upon graduating, I began two unpaid internships while working full-time to get more experience in marketing and communications. When the pandemic ceased all travel, I got the opportunity to work with the university's digital communications team, where I worked with social media and content. This was the experience I needed to continue my career in digital marketing, specifically in social media. The main thing I've learned is to seek our growth opportunities, and don't be afraid to grab hold of them when they are presented to me.” —Ashlyn Terry, Social Media & Community Engagement Coordinator, deepwatch

“Recently, I led a team focused on enterprise change management and communications associated with the public announcement of a major organizational transformation at a leading global health care company. We drove both internal and external communications for this industry-shaping transaction, impacting operations in 50+ countries. We faced major risks in terms of employee, media, and stakeholder reactions—and focused our planning and messaging to proactively address those concerns upon announcement and beyond.

The public announcement day was the most exhilarating day of my BCG career. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to decorate our “situation” room at the corporate HQ. We gathered alongside our clients and a partner agency as one team before the sun came up. Throughout the day, we monitored media coverage in major news outlets, watched the CEO deliver a global employee address with words our team had crafted, and sifted through employee feedback from our sites around the globe. Witnessing an overwhelmingly positive internal and external response to the announcement—seeing the impact we had on this leading company and its stakeholders—made the months of intensive planning more than worth it. And along the way—over boxes of deli takeout, red lines of copy editing, and rows of minute-by-minute plans—our client and BCG team had also become family.” —Hillary Wool, Principal, Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

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