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It's a sad truth that the corporate world can be an unwelcoming place for women. Even today, as a growing number of companies claims to have committed to improving their gender diversity, women constitute a mere 22 percent of C-Suite executives, and only 4 percent of those roles belong to women of color. But this continues to be a missed opportunity—diversity in the workplace has been proven to not only create a more inclusive work environment and culture, but also help businesses reach their full potential.

Though acknowledging the need for workplace diversity is a good first step, there's a lot more work to do to make it a reality. Companies can do their part to foster diversity growth, but it's the bold work of brave gender equality activists that's changing the conversation and paving the way for female business leaders of the future.

In honor of Women's History Month, we are celebrating women who refuse to stop fighting for a fair and equal workforce by shaping more inclusive work environments, giving women resources they've never had before and empowering their fellow females to follow their lead.

Sydney Sykes:  Investing in a More Inclusive Future

When entrepreneur and NEA associate Sydney Sykes noticed that 81 percent of venture capital firms didn't have a single Black investor, she took matters into her own hands, launching Blck VC, a community that connects Black venture investors with rising business owners in a welcoming environment.

"There is a lack of Black VCs and every firm should care about that."

Formed in partnership with Storm Ventures associate Frederik Groce, Blck VC has a mission to grow from 200 Black investors to 400 Black investors by 2024.“We want to make firms reckon with the fact that there is a racial diversity problem," Sykes said. “There is a lack of Black VCs and every firm should care about that," she told TechCrunch.
Beyond raising awareness about the lack of diversity in venture capital, Sykes and her team work to find solutions. For instance, Blck VC connects diverse investors to firms through partnerships with organizations that train aspiring entrepreneurs, such as Management Leaders for Tomorrow and HBCU.VC. The goal? To show minority groups including women, people of color and other underrepresented cohorts that it is possible for them to thrive in entrepreneurship and enable them to find inspiration from a business community that shares their backgrounds and life experiences. The aim is to create a mentality of "if they can do it, I can do it."

Jessica Higgins:  Embracing the Currency Revolution

Jessica Higgins started her career as a culture design and business development executive. As president of the Texas Pay Equity Committee since 2004, Higgins has long been committed to the empowerment of women, authoring articles with tips for corporate female executives and educating people on issues of harassment in the workplace.
"I am inspired by this project because of the financial access that we bring to the unbanked and underbanked women, underprivileged and under-accessed throughout the world."
Today, as the chief marketing officer at Digits.io, a platform that turns debit and credit cards into a cryptocurrency card, Higgins hopes to introduce more women to the world of cryptocurrency and give those that haven't always enjoyed financial freedom the opportunity to experience it. But she has her work cut out for her—women make up less than 10 percent of all cryptocurrency participants. Still, Higgins isn't discouraged.
"I really love and am inspired by this project because of the financial access that we bring to the unbanked and underbanked women, underprivileged and under-accessed throughout the world," she said to Authority Magazine. "The biggest lesson that you can learn is that you simply must help your tribe," she added.

Sara Young Wang:  Mindfulness as a Business Tool

As a zen career coach and writer, Sara Young Wang has a spiritual approach to helping her clients land their dream jobs. She uses empathy and intuition to understand how people are feeling and why, a skill she gained after fighting her own personal battle with Lyme disease. “Prior to getting sick, I was chasing achievement to prove my worth and doing things because I should," she said in an interview with Likeabossgirls.com.
Gaining confidence and controlling negativity can help professional women understand what they want out of their careers—Wang gives them the tools to do so.
But a lot has changed since then. Overcoming her chronic illness gave Young the inspiration and strength to start her own business. Today, she helps clients deal with imposter syndrome, a lack of confidence that many professional women experience. Even those who appear to be the most confident people in the room often sometimes struggle with voicing their opinions.
Wang is fighting this problematic self-doubt, encouraging individuals to identify all the ways they can become their own worst enemy. Gaining confidence and controlling negativity can help professional women understand what they want out of their careers—Wang gives them the tools to do so.
While these women may not share the same career goals, they are each affecting change in new and creative ways. But a woman's work is never done. It will be up to the next generation of companies and entrepreneurs to build on these successes and drive progress that will inform the future of work.
Photo: Creative Commons