Celebrating Women’s History Month

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As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we want to remind everyone to celebrate the women in their lives each and every day, beyond WHM. Here at Braven, we’re fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring women — staff, volunteers, Fellows, PAFs, and employer partners — and are excited to highlight 15 for Women’s History Month.


Meg Garlinghouse | Head of Social Impact, LinkedIn

Early on in Meg’s career, one of her managers was instrumental in building her confidence and overcoming her imposter syndrome. “She truly shifted how I thought about myself and what I felt I could achieve,” she reflects.

Now, as the Head of Social Impact at LinkedIn, she is paying it forward. “No one can reach their full potential until everyone can reach their full potential,” she says. “And someone’s demographics, whether their social identity or the circumstances they were born into, should never be a barrier to or determinant of someone’s full potential.”


Tristan Slemmons | Corporate Citizenship Lead, Deloitte

As an advocate for equity, Tristan Slemmons shares “Always place yourself at the table, share your experiences, and laugh as often as you can.”

She’s had the fortune of having brilliant women in her life who invested in her, supported her, and taught her a very valuable lesson: never apologize for being yourself. The one thing she still appreciates to this day is that these incredible mentors continue to pull out a seat at the table for her – even when one isn’t available.  

She challenges the assumption that women are emotional and encourages them to embrace their emotions. “Emotion contributes to being thoughtful, understanding, creative, and innovative. It is in my emotional moments that I learn, experience break-throughs, and up my game.  All too often, it is a superpower.”


Shellye Archambeau | Braven Board Member & Author

Shellye Archambeau has shattered glass ceilings. In her latest book, Unapologetically Ambitious, she shares how she overcame the challenges she faced as a young Black woman, wife, and mother, managing her personal and professional responsibilities while climbing the ranks at IBM and subsequently in her roles as CEO.

She recognizes the incredible women who have helped her throughout her career. A female guidance counselor, for instance, planted the seed in her head to become a CEO. When she was an intern at IBM, a female marketing representative took the time to explain the importance of ensuring people know what you are doing, which has helped her throughout her career. And finally, during her 15-year tenure as a CEO, a group of peer female CEOs helped her learn, grow, and avoid mistakes.

Throughout her life, she has tried to build and demonstrate courage, like one of her heroes, Harriet Tubman. “I always remind myself that no matter what I face, it isn’t as hard or scary as what she faced,” she says. “I have no excuse not to push forward.”

Now, she is paying it forward to the next generation through her involvement in organizations like Braven for which she is a board member. “I want the next generation of women and girls to understand their power and fully use it to create the life and world they want.”


Gina Cruse | Leadership Coach

Leadership Coach Gina Cruse has served as both a Professional Mentor and Coaching Partner at Braven. Throughout her career, she’s had many fantastic sponsors, mentors, and allies. One of these managers and mentors in particular always looked for ways to provide her with visibility and new experiences to grow, which helped her advance to her next role.

Now, as the head of her own executive and leadership coaching business, she is helping her clients accelerate their success. She says she is inspired by you, the future generation of leaders. “I want to normalize that women belong wherever we choose to be and to drop ‘the first female’ from every announcement, press release, or headline,” she says. “It’s our time to shine.”


Gabi Bilbo | Fall ’17 Fellow & Leadership Coach

Gabi Bilbo is a Post-Accelerator Fellow, Leadership Coach, Professional Mentor, Mock Interviewer, and Braven’s Marketing Consultant!

Throughout her career, Gabi shares that women have encouraged her to use her voice and share her ideas. “By creating that space for me at the table, women have empowered me to step out of my comfort zone and grow as a leader,” she reflects.

She encourages the next generation to:

  1. Expose yourself to as many different things as possible and welcome new ideas, arguments, experiences, and information you wouldn’t typically seek out.
  2. Take a seat at the table. Use your voice and speak with conviction. You have so much to offer and others will benefit from your ideas and life experiences.
  3. Build a strong support system — family, friends, classmates, coworkers, etc. and celebrate each other’s victories.


Dr. Elaine Collins | Associate Dean, SJSU

If Braven had a hall of fame, Dr. Elaine Collins would definitely make the cut. Elaine, who is the Associate Dean of the College of Science at San Jose State University, was instrumental in helping Braven launch at the university in 2014. She and her female colleagues identified a major gap in the STEM fields; despite their incredible talents and earned degrees, women were not equally represented in STEM careers compared to their male counterparts.

This group of women had a vision. They would support these students to help them land strong jobs after graduation and close the equity gap – and Braven would later become a part of that solution. Since then, Elaine has continued to be an incredible partner in helping more underrepresented students on their path to economic mobility.



Esder Chong | Fall ’17 Fellow

Esder is a recent a Rutgers-Newark graduate who was a Braven Fellow in Fall 2017 and is now a Schwarzman Scholar.

Esder is committed to paying it forward to her community and encourages students to do the same. “I often think about what a scholarship means and what my director once told me,” she says. “She said ‘The scholarships we give you are not donations. They are investments so that you can multiply them and invest in someone else. So don’t give back to us, give forward.’”

“I give because I was given to. I remind myself and other students that it’s important to not only remember where you came from, but how you got there.” When she needs inspiration, she looks to the mothers in her life. “They understand the meaning of sacrifice, as they give everything they have to their families.”


Lucia Hoang | Leadership Coach

Lucia is one of our Leadership Coaches who has volunteered with Braven for 10 semesters! For her, giving back to the community consists of deeply connecting with others to solve meaningful problems. “I have benefited from others who kindly gave me their time, knowledge, support, and encouragement when I navigated difficult situations in my life,” she says. “I want to pay it forward and do the same.”

In all areas of her life, Lucia celebrates the women who take risks, make sacrifices, and survive the daily hustle, which include her mother and sister.“I admire women who make deliberate – and oftentimes difficult – decisions to create lives that are full of rich experiences that have ripple effects and impact others,” she shares. “These women are filled with tenacity, empathy, joy, and a generosity of spirit towards themselves and others. They continually inspire me.”



Taylor Clarkson | Leadership Coach

Taylor was in the inaugural class of Leadership Coaches at both Rutgers-Newark and Lehman College. She recognizes that she would not be where she is today without the mentorship and sponsorship of other women. “The women who have guided my career are ‘sending the elevator down’ and I intend to do the same,” she says. “Only by elevating others can we lift and make real change.”

She gives back because she believes there is unlocked potential in anyone from anywhere. “Braven speaks to these same values, and I was ecstatic to join an organization that is empowering the next generation of leaders.”

Taylor often encourages her mentees with Michelle Obama’s popular quote “When they go low, we go high.” She says, “As a woman, you will be questioned, challenged, overlooked, and dismissed at times in your career. It is our response in those moments that will define who we are. When they go low, we must continue to go high.”


Susan Dunn | Braven Board Member

Since her first job in advertising as a media planner, female mentors have been instrumental in Susan Dunn’s growth and trajectory. Now, Susan, who is an inspiration to so many, is paying it forward to the next generation of women through her involvement on boards like Braven and Spelman College.

“We need to do the work to bring the change that we want to enact,” she says. “And, we need to make sure we are intentionally working across lines of difference like race, sexual orientation, class, and background to improve conditions for all.”


Kelsey Goune | Post-Accelerator Fellow

Kelsey Goune is a student at Lehman College and has been on a less traditional college path. Now as a Biology major with a minor in Anthropology, Kelsey’s dream is to make STEM education available to underrepresented students. “Diversity is a natural contributor to innovation,” says Kelsey. “Oftentimes students from underrepresented backgrounds rarely have their interests in STEM nurtured or supported due to preconceived notions. Those of us that succeed despite adversity need to prioritize encouraging the next generation of STEM leaders into the field.”

She says that one of her goals throughout her journey in the sciences is to make herself visible, so that women who identify similarly can envision themselves in STEM. “Representation is essential, and I also want to use any platform I can to help lead the next generation to never second guess their abilities due to gender or racial bias and adversity,” she explains.

She encourages other women to not let being the only woman in a space stop you from taking advantage of opportunities that will allow you to build the skills you need to succeed. “For students that have had a non-traditional path like myself, it is important to remember that our unique stories are invaluable and to utilize them in our respective fields.”


Jenn Stredler | VP, Workforce Development, Salesforce

We work closely with Jenn Stredler, VP of Workforce Development at Salesforce, and are beyond grateful for her support of Braven and our Fellows. Jenn gives back because she realizes how fortunate she has been and she encourages others to do the same.

“Giving back can take so many forms – the sharing of time, of skills or expertise, making connections, providing financial resources, and so on,” she says.  “I started volunteering with the Special Olympics as a kid, certainly before I was probably adding real value. With all that I do, I try to make experiences more equitable for others.”

Her vision for the next generation of women and girls is that they will experience their options as limitless and be free from the many hurdles that have stood in the way of women who have come before them.  “I hope that young girls will be encouraged to study all disciplines, pursue all types of college majors and careers, and be paid equally for their work,” she says. “And that we’ll see parity in our future leaders – equity in opportunity, in representation, and in pay.”


Dana Politis | Leadership Coach

Dana has been a Leadership Coach for two years and is an employer partner through her role as Founding Director of Community Workforce Programs at Montefiore Health System.

When she thinks back to how she got to where she is now, she remembers all those who supported her throughout her journey. “My support system and mentors pushed me and let me fly,” she says. Her grandmothers and mother, in particular, have broken the mold in so many ways and instilled that same drive in her to keep breaking it.

These are the reasons why she gives back. “I want to make sure our upcoming generations know there are women out there ready to help, to lift, to inspire, to thank, and to follow their lead,” she says. “I want them to seize every opportunity and become the person they want to be. I remind them that this is their life.”



Zahra Cheema | Spring ’19 Fellow

As a woman of color and first-generation college student, Zahra has made a name for herself on National Louis’ campus as a true trailblazer.

She is grateful for the many women she is surrounded by and looks up to that have led her to where she is today. These women include her mom and grandmother who have always encouraged her to stand on her own two feet. “This advice has led me to gain more confidence and learn the ‘no apology policy’ where I don’t ‘sorry’ when communicating with colleagues, as many women have been taught by society to do,” she says.

It’s her hope that the future generation of girls and women will lift one another up and admire each other’s differences, be able to choose their dream careers without worrying about gender pay gaps, and feel confident saying no to others if it means they’re saying yes to themselves.



Liz Thompson | President, The CAFE

Throughout her career, Liz Thompson has been mentored by many incredible women. This support system helped point out pitfalls to avoid and shared hacks for her to take on her professional journey, helping her to get to where she is today. 

As a Black female leader, Liz challenges the assumption that poor women are not smart. “My mom was the smartest woman I’ve ever met,” she says. “She just didn’t have the opportunities that others had, being born in 1924 as a Black woman in America.” And if given the opportunity to have dinner with anyone, Liz would choose her mom in a heartbeat.

Now as President of The CAFE, Liz is paying it forward and deeply engaged in the nonprofit community. An advocate for youth development and education, Liz and her team help our nation’s young people reach college success and career readiness and attainment. “My vision is that young women will have the opportunity to dream big and then go out and make their dreams come true without the barriers that previous generations faced and with the help of other women surrounding them,” she shares. She also sits on Chicago’s Braven board.