For our Female Pioneers event, MPLS MadWomen was proud to have five inspiring and resilient women on stage to speak about their experiences on how they are breaking—or have broken—glass ceilings in their industry. From a woman who graduated college in 1963 to one who is still in high school, this event brought together perspectives that left the room ready to start blazing trails and helping others.
Given five minutes each to tell their stories, below is a summary from the speakers.
Christine Fruechte, First Female CEO, Colle McVoy
Christine started her life as a “first.” She was the first of four children, the first of 21 grandchildren, and she was the first of many other things throughout her life. So, when she became the first female CEO at a large Minneapolis advertising agency, she was already used to paving her own path.
During her five minutes, Christine told story after story of her firsts but at the end of it all, what she really wanted the audience to walk away with was this: she may have paved her own path, but it wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the support from those around her. From her parents telling her to do her best and live her dreams to the many mentors, women and men, who guided and took a chance on her throughout her career, she acknowledged how important each of those individuals were, and are in her life.
What we walked away with: As we go through our careers, remember to give back and help others. Support is key to building a sturdy path.
Dara Beevas, Self-Publishing Pioneer, Owner of Wise Ink
When Dara hit a crossroads in her career that seemed to fall straight out of a storybook, she had to face the realities of what her choices could bring. Should she play it safe by continuing working at a job with bosses who weren’t interested in her ideas or should she take the leap of faith with $500 in her bank account and start her own business where she could really lead? Fate forced her hand and she took the leap and started Wise Ink.
The funny thing about leaping is that you eventually fall, and that is exactly what Dara has been doing over the last five years — but falling isn’t always bad. In fact, Dara encouraged the audience to, “fall like a one-year-old.” You just get back up and keep running around like crazy. And with 150 books, 200 authors and 20 book awards under her belt, falling doesn’t seem all that bad to us.
What we walked away with: No one is ever ready to fall, but you shouldn’t be afraid to.
Sue Crolick, First Female Art Director in the Twin Cities, Founder and Board Chair of Art Buddies
A child of the '40s, Sue was raised in the era of true Mad Men, where women were told to be pretty, stay quiet and to certainly never dream of becoming a Mad Woman. But in 1963, Sue graduated from college and after two years of being told "no," she was finally told "yes" and became an art director at the second largest advertising agency in the Twin Cities.
Over the years, Sue has needed to be resilient to do what she loves. In her career, she encountered and overcame sexism in the workplace at its peak. At home, she faced challenges with her family and fell victim to a botched throat surgery. When she was at her lowest, her resilience shined through. Instead of focusing on her own problems, she decided to help others with theirs, which led to the creation of Art Buddies — a nonprofit that pairs creative mentors with underprivileged kids to help them discover their creative gifts, believe in themselves and dream of a brighter future.
What we walked away with: Life is going to throw curve balls. We need to keep swinging, even if we miss now and then. A setback is only an opportunity in disguise, after all.
Jessica Melnik, Founder of Girls United MN, Community Activist
MPLS MadWomen was proud to have our youngest speaker ever on stage for this event. Jessica, still in high school, reminded us you don’t need to be a veteran in your career to start making a difference in your community.
For Jessica, it started in seventh grade when boys in her science class suggested the girls' group team name be “the sandwich-makers.” Jessica didn’t really think much about the comment at the time. It wasn’t until her teacher made it a point to tell the class how wrong those comments were. From there on out, Jessica started organizing events for elementary and middle school girls that promoted STEM activities, addressed body image issues and started conversations that were important to the girls in her school district. It hasn’t always been easy, it is high school, after all, but it’s something she knows needs to be done.
What we walked away with: We need to start listening to the voices of our youth, because they have opinions and deserve to be heard. #FutureLeaders
Ilhan Omar, First Somali-American State Legislator, Minnesota State Representative
When Ilhan’s mother was born, her grandfather’s friends came to offer their condolences that they had not welcomed a son. His response? He told them that his daughter would do more than any son ever would. And with that, a lineage of strong, independent women was born. Ilhan’s mother was breaking glass ceilings right away, leaving some traditions by the wayside. Knowing this, it’s no wonder her daughter, Ilhan, followed down that same path.
When Ihan decided to run against a 44-year incumbent for the Democratic seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, people kept assuming she wouldn’t win. Being that the previous five challengers to run against this incumbent failed, perhaps their doubt wasn’t surprising. But Ilhan didn’t just want to run a typical campaign, she wanted a campaign built by consensus, allowing young people to see they could share their voices and develop a campaign they saw themselves in. She wanted the campaign to transcended stereotypes and to be built from more than just the expectations of the norm. And with that vision, she won by a 12 percent margin.
What we walked away with: We shouldn’t let assumptions and expectations stop us from achieving our dreams. Do not wait to be invited or given permission to do something. Sometimes we think that certain roles are for certain people. If they don’t have a seat at the table for you, bring a folding chair.
Our speakers came to us at different stages in their lives and spoke to different experiences that brought them to where they are today. Although they are different, their stories had overlapping themes. From finding an amazing support system (or building your own) to tapping into incredible resilience, being a “first” isn’t something impossible or out of reach. It is in each of us and we all have the power to be a “first,” we just need to decide when it will be.
Wish you had been there to watch the speakers tell their full stories? Check out the Facebook Live video of the event to watch all the speakers tell their stories in full.
/written by Gabi Winkels
/image by Peter Heidorn