ABOUT US

XO Group FoundHERS

Since its launch in 1996, XO Group has empowered millions of women to stay true to themselves. From giving brides the confidence to break the rules brilliantly, to encouraging moms to free themselves of mommy-judgments, our family of brands has always sought to breed generations of FoundHERS—women who love who they are and are founders of their own purpose and mission in life, however they choose to define it.

I AM THAT GIRL

With a goal to empower girls to become FoundHERS at an early age, XO Group is shining a light on incredible young women from I AM THAT GIRL, a non-profit organization that amplifies the voices, stories and potential of girls everywhere.

Featured FoundHERS

Click on a featured FoundHER below to learn more about her journey and get inspired.

Gillian Munson

Chief Financial Officer, XO Group Inc.

Gillian Munson joined XO Group in November 2013 from Allen & Company LLC, where she was Managing Director leading the firm’s principal investing and outreach activities with early stage technology-oriented companies. Munson was also a Vice President, Business Development at Symbol Technologies from 2003 to 2007, aiding in the company’s multibillion dollar turnaround, M&A processes, strategy, and eventual sale and integration with Motorola. Prior, Munson was an Executive Director and Senior Equity Analyst at Morgan Stanley, where she covered the mobile, storage and personal computing sectors. Munson began her career as a Research Associate at Hambrecht & Quist.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
Too many to count, mostly around being pushed aside by more aggressive people than me. Over time, I have learned to roll with things but mostly have internalized that with my family by my side, there is little to lose…so I should go for it and stand up for myself.  

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Never be afraid to ask for what you need.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My daughter.  She is my everything!  Wise beyond her years, happy, full of love, and able to make any situation into a dance party.   

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Kick the door open and move forward!

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My little family is enough purpose for me. But my mission is to never sit still by learning every day.  

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Denise Lee

Founder, Alala

Founded by Denise Lee in New York City the spring of 2014, Alala is one of today’s leading modern activewear brands, providing women with product that enhance fearless attitudes and elevated sensibilities. An avid athlete, Denise found the market lacking in a sense of creativity when training for her first triathlon in 2012; she could not find an activewear brand that offered the effortless cool styles of the contemporary designers she loved. During the launch and growth of Alala, Denise has always looked to work with women to develop a brand that encompasses confidence and strength built by experience and unbreakable values.

Honoring the brand’s mission, Alala All Day, Denise is consistently working with her team to create innovative designs and collaborations which offer women bold, sophisticated styles that can be worn head-to-toe, day-to-night. As the brand is inspired by the Greek goddess ALALA, who represents a call to arms, it’s all about finding new ways to reinvent dressing the modern woman in a strong way. Recent collaborations and partnerships include Surf Lodge, Y7 Studio, and May All Day which launched with DJ May Kwok this February 2018.

While celebrity fans include Ashley Graham, Reese Witherspoon, Naomi Watts and Jessica Alba, Hollywood stars are not Alala’s primary focus. Denise and her team are focused on reaching and speaking to all women in 2018. By relaunching marketing campaigns and focusing on new product offerings, Alala hopes to empower women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds through clothing that looks good but more importantly, makes her feel great, all day long.


How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I really live and am driven by a very simple mission passed down from my dad: I do what I do for my family and so that our future generations can have every opportunity to pursue their dreams and passions. Leading a women run company catered towards strong women, I am also passionate about womens’ issues and making sure I am and Alala is part of the movement towards equality.

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Carley Roney

Co-Founder, The Knot and XO Group Inc.

Carley Roney is co-founder of The Knot, America’s leading wedding planning marketplace, and one of New York City’s most successful media & tech companies. Started in the earliest days of the Web, The Knot has expanded into all media, and now has the #1 wedding apps, registry site, print magazines, book series, planner, and Instagram following—and is used by 8 out of 10 couples in the country. Now a public company under the name XO Group Inc. (NYSE: XOXO), The Knot has grown with its audience and launched popular platforms The Nest (for creating a home) and The Bump (for pregnancy and early parenthood).

Carley’s obsessions, and areas of leadership at The Knot and sister brands, are branding, community, editorial, product design, user experience, public relations, social media, digital marketing and delighting customers while driving business growth. In her relentless quest to make sure every couple in America knew about her brands, Carley became a regular lifestyle contributor on TV shows from Oprah and NBC’s TODAY to FOX and LIVE! With Kelly, and published 12 books with Random House.

Carley is also passionate about entrepreneurship. She advises many female founded startups and has served on Rent The Runway’s Board of Directors since inception. Carley speaks at conferences such as SXSW, guest lectures at her alma mater NYU and Columbia University, and has been featured in Inc., Fortune, Vogue, Fast Company, and The New York Times.

Most importantly, Carley is mom to three incredible kids, and lives with husband and co-founder David Liu in Brookyn, NY.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
It was 2 a.m., and I was hunched over a laptop on the floor in the attic of my in-laws’ house, simultaneously nursing my insomniac one-and-a-half-year-old and writing perky email copy for the first-ever online wedding gift registry. I’d been up since 5 a.m.; spent two hours commuting; two hours fuming at the contractors who were theoretically renovating our Brooklyn apartment; 10 hours at the office trying not to go psycho in the high-pressure days cruising to our launch deadline; an hour on the phone picking a fight with my husband (and cofounder) David—who’d been on the road prepping for our IPO for what seemed like an eternity—another hour commuting; 30 minutes being polite to my devoted in-laws; and eating for the first time all day. I felt like I’d been working 15 hours a day for 500 days straight. I was SO TIRED. But this product was The Knot’s future, it was the lynchpin to our IPO, and it had to be perfect. I started sobbing…and typing, “Congrats on your engagement!”…and sobbing…I can’t do this anymore. I have to stop. Quit? Something. Then I just shut down—my computer and my mind—curled up with my now-sleeping daughter who I hadn’t seen in daylight for a week, and went to sleep.

That’s how I got past the struggle: I snuggled and went to sleep. The next day, I got up and started at it again. You have to have a tremendous amount of stamina—and self belief—to keep going. (You also need people to love and who love you. It gives you strength.)

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry so much. Stress and anxiety can be amazing motivators, but they can also take the fun out of the journey. I feel like the same results could have been achieved (with a few less wrinkles!), if I’d laughed through more of the stressful moments.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’m deeply inspired by all the moms in America—particularly those superhero single moms. As soon as I had a baby, and understood exactly how hard it was to be a good mom and bring home the bacon, I became keenly aware of the daily struggle of so many. I was lucky to have an amazing husband, family nearby, the security of a workplace where I had control of my destiny, and I was still a wreck! The collective strength of so many women made me want to improve the workplace for mothers and build better support systems for families in this country. I also want to take the pressure off the idea of being perfect—being a perfect parent, having perfect children, the perfect home and hair. It’s oppressive to women because the math doesn’t work: It simply isn’t possible to have it all without something being off the rails!

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Since “Just do it” is already taken, how about “Work. Play. Pay it forward. Repeat.”

How do you define your purpose and mission in life?
My purpose has always been to use my power and privilege to make something that improves people’s lives. Helping young people manage their weddings and pregnancies is the core of the business we built, but the higher mission was always to improve the efficiency of the industry so that more creative and small businesses across America could thrive. And, at the true center, our calling was to create a company and culture that valued equality and opportunity for all. I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to build a powerful brand and successful business that could model this mission for more young companies.

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Charreah Jackson

Author of Boss Bride: The Powerful Woman’s Playbook for Love and Success and ESSENCE Senior Editor

Charreah K. Jackson is an international speaker, coach and ESSENCE Senior Editor, empowering the brand’s global audience of 13 million. Her informed point-of-view has been featured on CNN, The CW, ABC News, Fortune and TIME. Charreah is the author of Boss Bride: The Powerful Woman’s Playbook for Love & Success.

As a certified family life educator and coach, Charreah speaks on tapping into our personal power for success including the Europe Dating Awards & Conference in Amsterdam, MegaFest and the Omega Institute’s Women and Power Conference headlined by Gloria Steinem. She provides workshops, corporate seminars and speeches and has served as a guest professor at her alma mater Howard University and the Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World. She has been a career coach and facilitator for Dress for Success, Uber and other clients. She is a board member for the Red Pump Project and was featured in the CDC’s national HIV testing campaign The National Association of Professional Women named her a Woman of the Year.

Charreah has traveled the globe sharing a message of connection including events in London and Amsterdam. She earned a Hearst Award in journalism and has interviewed newsmakers such as Vice President Joe Biden, Kerry Washington and Hillary Clinton.


Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
For much of my life I ran from one thing: heartbreak. I had seen the debilitating impact divorce could leave on a woman, which led to an intrigue in relationships. I’ve spent more than a decade researching and writing about how we date and mate and traveled the world speaking on healthy relationships. On the same day I got the contract to write my first book Boss Bride: The Powerful Woman’s Playbook for Love & Success, I left a long relationship with a man I thought I would marry. My biggest triumph and my biggest fear collided in one summer day. It was one of best gifts as I started from scratch to take the staring role in my own love story. I discover the remedy for heartache as I fell madly truly deeply in love with my own self  – and attracted an amazing soul mate in the process. Our hearts are way more resilient than we think.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would show up at my Howard University dorm room and say: “Get dressed! The entire world is your playground with extraordinary people for you to meet. ” I am grateful I had a strong work ethic from a young age. What I could have added along the way is more fun and expanded my love & success squad sooner. If you need a reminder about why you should prioritize your relationships and meeting new people, remember how Meghan Markle met Prince Harry – through mutual friends.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
The women in my family are definitely the shoulders I stand on. My mother Cynthia, my grandmothers Naomi and Myrtha and my grandmother Katie, who I got my middle name from, all model to me strength and grace. They stood tall through everything life brought their way. I have no excuses not to be bold when they cleared a path for me.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Relationships are the foundation of life. Love is the only weapon you ever need.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My assignment on this planet is to sprinkle love everywhere I go and to be a contagion of connection.

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Hunter McGrady

Curve Model and Body Positivity Activist

Hunter McGrady is on the forefront of a very important movement in women’s fashion and women’s history in general. This gorgeous ‘plus size’ model was featured in Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Swimsuit Issue as the curviest model the magazine has ever had in their swimsuit edition. This year, Hunter has been selected for Sports Illustrated’s 2018 Swimsuit Rookie Class, and will be featured for the second year in a row in the SI Swimsuit Issue. In this issue, Hunter and a group of women of all shapes and sizes have come together using fully unedited photos to spread the message of being “sexy at every size.” Within the magazine, Hunter promotes her own body-positive #AllWorthy campaign, and proves to be an unstoppable representation of women of all sizes and colors.

Born and raised in Southern California, Hunter grew up in the Malibu Mountains. She is the child of a former model from Iceland and an actor/artist father. Hunter and her siblings were always home schooled, following their parents around the globe for their work and learning the ins and outs of the modeling and entertainment industries early on.

Hunter has deep rooted seeds at Wilhelmina, the agency where she is now signed. Her mother was personally mentored by the eponymous modelling agency founder, Wilhelmina Cooper. When Hunter followed her dream of moving to New York to pursue modeling, the voluptuous beauty quickly became a signed and working curve model and a part of the Wilhelmina family.

Hunter is extremely passionate about the body positivity movement taking shape in magazines, on social media and all entertainment platforms. She says, “The same industry that created this self-imposed ‘standard’ of beauty is now finally breaking those stagnant rules and setting women free of past antiquated beliefs and stigma.”

Hunter can relate to women of all sizes, having ranged from sizes 4 to 18 throughout her modeling career. Hunter’s hope is to communicate to women that they too can be in love with their own skin — making women feel strong, powerful and confident with how they look and who they are. She believes one day there will no longer be a division of “plus size” or otherwise, we will simply embrace our differences together.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
After I shot Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, of course I was met with an incredible amount of positive feedback but with that always comes negative feedback as well. I had a flood of negative comments in my inbox and comments on Sports Illustrated’s page about my weight, the way I looked and my health. Instead of letting that get to me, I used it to fuel my fire and give me the strength to keep moving forward. Those people are some of the biggest reasons why I do what I do. They are the un-informed and un-enlightened.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
You are worthy. You are beautiful in the skin you were given. You don’t have to try to change the body that was beautifully given to you because one day it will take you around the world to inspire people.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My mother. She has been through everything. Absolutely everything.

She has built empires and lost it all and built it back up again, but she never let any of her children feel as though we were going through it – all while teaching us the value of everything.

She’s never made me feel bad about my body. We were always told we were great and saying, “Why couldn’t/shouldn’t we be doing this or that?” I could tell my mom I wanted to be an astronaut today having never been to school for it and she would say,  “Well, you can definitely do that!” She is the strongest, most compassionate fighter that you’ll ever meet in your life. Plus, she has better style than I’ll ever have.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Live fearless, love FIERCE, and act BOLD.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I want to create a safe world where we can all walk down the street and not feel like we have any chains or shackles tied to us. To be set free of societal ideals that have been forced upon us for far too long.

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Dhanusha Sivajee

Chief Marketing Officer, XO Group Inc.

Dhanusha Sivajee joined XO Group in August 2014 from AOL, where she served as Chief Marketing Officer for the AOL Brand Group and was responsible for driving audience growth across AOL’s portfolio of digital brands. Previously, Sivajee worked for Bloomberg as VP of Global Marketing for Bloomberg Mobile, where she launched a suite of Bloomberg Mobile products including the award-winning Bloomberg Businessweek & Bloomberg TV iPad apps. Prior, she worked for HBO creating cross-platform marketing campaigns and developed the go-to market strategy for HBO GO. Sivajee received a BS in International Management from the University of Manchester, England and an MBA from Duke University.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
Throughout my career and personal life, I’ve had wins that have ranged in size, but I’ve also had just as many failures – ranging from the small to the epic. Whether I’ve gone through a win or a loss…I never let success get to my head, and I never let failure get to my heart.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be strong…when you are weak. Be brave when you are scared. Be humble when you are victorious.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My mum. As an immigrant who moved to England from SriLanka, she embodies the notion of being “hungry and humble” She didn’t start with much, but worked hard and smart to become a successful entrepreneur. Watching her, gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams, but she always instilled in me the value of humility – climbing the mountain so you can see the world, not so that the world can see you.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Find your passion (or passions) in life and then pursue them wholeheartedly and kindheartedly.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
The amazing feeling you get when you bring amazing people and teams together to achieve a common vision.  I love that feeling, it drives and propels me every day.

Little Girls with dreams become women with vision.

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Joi-Marie McKenzie

Entertainment, Style and Relationships Writer, Good Morning America

Joi-Marie McKenzie is an entertainment, style and relationships writer for Good Morning America Digital.

She is also the author of the critically-acclaimed debut memoir, The Engagement Game, released last March.

Before coming to Good Morning America, Joi-Marie created the award-winning website, The Fab Empire, which covers society, celebrities and local events in various cities around the U.S.

Previously, she’s worked for ABC Radio, ABC News Digital and she’s freelanced for The Afro American Newspaper, Clutch Magazine, NBC New York and NBC Washington.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Stop comparing yourself to them because their success will not look like your success. And your success will be perfect for you, will come at the perfect time and will perfect your purpose in life.

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Michelle Dvorkin

Executive Vice President, Human Resources, XO Group Inc.

Michelle Dvorkin joined XO Group in November 2015. With over 20 years of experience in Human Resources, Dvorkin’s career has spanned senior level work in compensation and benefits, M&A-related HR, business partner/generalist support, performance management, coaching, culture, and employee relations.  Having worked in start-ups such as Quigo and Lot18, successful mid-size growth companies like AppNexus, and large organizations including AOL, Ogilvy, Primedia, Dvorkin has a broad range of tech, media, and commerce-related people operations expertise. Dvorkin received a BA in Industrial Psychology from San Francisco State University and an MS in Industrial Labor Relations from Cornell University.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
So many struggles, but I’ve never been close to being broken.  I think that’s because I try to recognize it before it gets too far.  The key is making sure you have your person, mine has always been my sister.  Find someone who you can say anything to, with no judgement, and be that person for them in return.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
To not be afraid of failure. Once the initial bruise to the ego wears off, don’t let it pass without reflecting on and learning from it. Fail, learn, move on.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’m inspired daily.  Whenever I encounter someone who is passionate and loves what they do, I’m inspired. I seek out and surround myself with inspiring people to soak up their energy and then I pass it on – Don’t just be inspired, be inspiring.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Be tenacious.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My mission is to help build up the people around me to get better every day – in life and at work.

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Melissa Ben-Ishay

President and Chief Product Officer, Baked by Melissa

Melissa Ben-Ishay is a mom, a baker, and the founder of Baked by Melissa, the New York City-based brand famous for its signature, bite-size cupcakes and treats. Passionate about baking since childhood and with the idea that people should be able to taste more flavors without a post-dessert guilt trip, she decided to do what she loved and launched Baked by Melissa in 2008 after being fired from her job in advertising. Today, the company operates 13 stores and ships nationwide. Ben-Ishay currently serves as the company’s President and Chief Product Officer. In October of 2017, she released her first cookbook, Cakes by Melissa.

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Ceci Johnson

Founder and Creative Director, Ceci New York

A force in the design world, Ceci Johnson is an influential and highly regarded entrepreneur, artist, editor, and loving wife and mother. She is renowned for her creative talents, always pushing the envelope in business and design, as well as with her own fashion-forward style and sophisticated brand aesthetic. Dedicated to a lifetime pursuit of living glamorously through design, Ceci has built a powerhouse atelier and transformed the art of inviting and branding.

Born and raised in Southern California, the theater and arts weren’t just hobbies for Ceci – they were a way of life. Growing up the daughter of a successful small business owner, Ceci’s entrepreneurial spirit was sparked at an early age. Many of the valuable business lessons Ceci has put into practice in her own company were learned while growing up and listening to her father in his office from her bedroom next door. Ceci attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she received her degree in Art & Design. As a senior, she was featured on the cover of Communication Arts Magazine and named one of the top ten young artists in the nation– a rare honor for a student. Post graduation Ceci moved from San Diego to New York City for a role as creative director with a major web consulting business.

It was in NYC with an invitation she created for a coworker’s wedding, that the Ceci New York story began.

One referral lead to another, and another… In 2004 and armed with a fierce desire to disrupt the industry that did not offer true “couture” design Ceci established Ceci New York. Ceci was soon recognized as an innovator and lauded as the founder of “couture” invitation design. Her New York studio has won numerous awards including the prestigious ModernBride “Trendsetter” award, named “Expert Stationer” by New York Magazine and won successive “Best of invitation design” awards leading to her induction into The Knots Wedding Hall of Fame.

Ceci New York’s reach spread to a global clientele and soon expanded beyond the world of weddings into Social & Parties, Corporate, Baby & Kids, Stationary and Home & Gifts.

Ceci Johnson has been named by Tory Burch as a “Woman to Watch”, and called by Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine “a favorite designer” Ceci New York has designed for international celebrities, rock stars, artists, royalty, dignitaries, presidents and titans of industry. Her corporate client list includes “The Emmy’s”, Perrier Jouet, Patek Philippe, Mandarin Oriental and Hugo Boss to name just a few.

Ceci Johnson is a highly sought-after speaker on branding, design and entrepreneurship for women in business, designers, wedding industry professionals and numerous companies around the world from Goldman Saks to Adobe Software and luxury symposiums from Moscow to Paris. She is passionate about mentoring and consulting with other entrepreneurs as the first step in changing the path they’re on and transforming their strategy, branding and design for the better.

After years of focusing on her own business and brand, Ceci has been able to use her unique skills and the creative power of Ceci New York to give back to causes close to her heart. At the center of Ceci New York’s philanthropic efforts is their partnership with The Birthday Party Project, a non-profit dedicated to bringing joy to homeless children through the magic of birthdays.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Oh! So much advice. So so much. Hard to pick just one – so here’s two. The biggest ones that rise to the top is to have patience. Success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a wild roller coaster full of ups and downs and twists and turns beyond what you could ever imagine. But the most important thing is to not give up and keep your eyes on the prize. Which is your passion – the WHY you started this business in the first place. Keep feeding into that and great things will happen.

The other is from my dad who I got the best business advice from. He would always tell me, “Your hardest day only lasts 24 hours.” To this day, I think of this quote every time I’m having a challenging day and it helps.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’m always inspired by creative, passionate women in business doing big things. Lately, I’ve been inspired by Rachel Zoe. She’s a beautiful mother juggling her empire and family responsibilities and chasing her dreams. I relate to her because I too have a lot going on yet have a desire to always put a glamorous spin on things and make my clients feel amazing.  I love how she’s taken her styling business and expanded it across many silos to create a complete multi-dimensional lifestyle brand.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Be kind, smart, gracious and fearless. And no matter how challenging things get, never give up on your dreams!

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My purpose is to create and inspire and help beautify my clients lives every day through great design.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
Whenever I find myself taking things personally and reacting emotionally, I always try to take a deep breath, and remember the 24 hour rule. It’s so much better to react proactively with a calm and collected mind than an emotionally weak one. By giving your heated situation some time for both parties to cool off, always helps in solving the conflict. Because after all, you can’t take it too personally as it’s just business.

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Latham Thomas

Founder, Mama Glow and Doula

Latham Thomas, aka Glow Maven is a celebrity wellness/ lifestyle maven and birth doula- transforming not only how women give birth to their babies, but how they give rise to the best version of themselves. Named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100 – a enlightened group of leaders elevating humanity with their work- Latham is helping women embrace optimal wellness and spiritual growth as a pathway to owning their power. She is the founder of Mama Glow, a lifestyle brand and highly regarded website offering inspiration, education, and holistic services for expectant and new mothers. A graduate of Columbia University and The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Latham serves on the TUFTS University Nutrition Council as well as their board for Entrepreneurship. Latham is best-selling author of Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy, a go-to wellness guide for expecting mothers endorsed by Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Mark Hyman, Christy Turlington Burns & more. Latham’s highly anticipated second book, Own Your Glow: A Soulful Guide to Luminous Living and Crowning The Queen Within debuted September 26th,2017, and is currently in its third reprint, having sold out in the first two weeks. Latham traveled the US and London and Paris to reach 55,000 women with her message on her book tour.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
My separation from my son’s father was really intense but I knew that if I was meant to grow and bloom into my purpose I had to trust that I would be just fine as a single mom.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Practice self-care like your life depends on it… because it does.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My mother, she is a living alchemist. She transformed her circumstances and raised two daughters as a single mom and put us both through IVY league college.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Own Your Glow!

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Hayley Paige

Designer,  Hayley Paige Inc. and JLM Couture

Much like the gowns she creates, Hayley Paige embraces whimsical refinement with a touch of effortless edge. As the head designer for Hayley Paige, Blush by Hayley Paige, Hayley Paige Occasions, Hayley Paige Red Carpet and La Petite Hayley Paige at JLM Couture, she has received global recognition for her collections. Her red carpet pieces have been worn by musicians, influencers and trend-setters such as Carrie Underwood, Chrissy Teigen, Olivia Wilde, Aly Raisman, Kristen Taekman, Jamie Lynn Sigler, Hilary Rhoda, and Kelsea Ballerini, among others.

While attending Cornell, Hayley began her fashion career with an internship for Nina Garcia at ELLE. After the debut of her 10-piece bridal collection during a Cornell runway show, Jill Stuart, who was in the audience, hired Hayley on the spot. Hayley established herself as an integral designer for the Melissa Sweet Bridal and Bridesmaid Collections and was the primary designer to help launch the first Marchesa Eterna bridal collection at Priscilla of Boston. JLM Couture brought her on as head designer in 2011 and was responsible for funding and backing the launch of her namesake collection at age 25.

Hayley’s dresses can be seen in elite bridal publications such as Brides, The Knot and Martha Stewart Weddings, as well as television programs like The Today Show, Good Morning America, E! News and Say Yes to the Dress. Hayley’s personalized approach to social media has built a community of brides on Instagram at more than 643K followers. Collections under the Hayley Paige umbrella are available in 26 countries and nation-wide bridal boutiques including the JLM Couture Flagship Salon in West Hollywood, CA.

HOLY MATRIMOJI, the first wedding-focused emoji app of its kind, launched in February 2017 and was created and hand-illustrated by Hayley. This app gives users full access to wedding-centered emojis and GIFs that are full of personality and charm. Within the first few months launching, HOLY MATRIMOJI landed in the top 10 apps in the entertainment category and in the top 100 apps overall. It can be downloaded from the App Store and can be used in all messaging applications where copying and pasting of images and GIFs are supported.

Hayley’s latest endeavor was the launch of a digital series, Hayley Ever After, and broadcast series on TLC, Hayley Ever After: The Dress. The 6-episode digital series is available to watch on Facebook’s Watch platform and takes viewers inside the world of Hayley and her team at JLM Couture. The premiere episode of Hayley Ever After: The Dress aired on TLC Saturday, January 13th and follows Hayley’s design process to create a wedding dress for Bachelorette, Kaitlyn Bristowe. A competition element is brought in as Hayley’s interns are challenged to wow the celeb with creations of their own. The first episode can be viewed on TLC.com and the TLC Go app.

How do you define your purpose and mission in life?
Love. Create. Leave people better than you found them.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
When I left my first design job, I had a very traumatic experience with my boss. She said I would never work in the fashion industry again. That lead to some darker moments of self-doubt and anxiety. I think keeping a sense of humor, keeping things creative, and not being lazy are my special ingredients in self-improvement. Despite lacking confidence at times, I fully believe in practice and hard work; there is always something new to learn.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Learn Spanish and learn to code!

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’ve always been inspired by parents work ethic, but I’m also continually encouraged by our engagement/audience/brides that provide the ultimate emotional value. And to be “paw”fectly honest, I’m also inspired by my dog. She is just so unconditional and playful. The way she greets me when I come home is something I genuinely cherish.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Lately, something along the lines of “I wanna really, really, really wanna zigazig ah.” #girlpower #spiceupyourlife

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Alli Webb

Founder, DryBar

Alli Webb founded Drybar in 2010 after spending 15 years as a professional stylist. She attended the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and began her career in fashion in New York City in the early ‘90s working for designer Nicole Miller. In 1996,Alli left fashion retailing to pursue her true passion – hairstyling.

After training at the Toni & Guy Academy, Alli sharpened her skills as an assistant to celebrity stylist John Sahag, famous for his signature dry-cut technique. Having struggled with her own extremely curly hair, Alli was always in search of a great blowout but was often disappointed with the two available options – an overpriced blowout at a traditional salon or a less-than-desirable experience at a discount chain.

After leaving the professional hair workforce in 2005 to start a family, she decided to find a way to continue pursuing the creative side of hairstyling at a new-mom pace. Alli began offering weekly in-home blowout services for friends, but her little side business quickly grew into more than a part-time gig. The business exploded strictly by referrals from loyal clients, which led Alli to the decision to expand her mobile operation to a physical location. The first Drybar opened in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2010 and was an overnight sensation.

Drybar has since expanded to over 80 locations throughout Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Vancouver, BC. Alli remains active in the business as the Chief Creative Officer at Drybar, overseeing the hiring and training of more than 3,000 stylists across the country and leading the development of Drybar’s line of styling products and tools. Drybar’s growing product line is sold through its own shops, as well as in Sephora, Nordstrom, Ulta and select Bloomingdale’s stores throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In the October of 2016, Alli released her first book with Abrams Publishing, The Drybar Guide to Good Hair for All sharing inspiring memories, her own personal struggles with her hair, a how-to guide for women to achieve the perfect Drybar styles at home, all while reinforcing the power of confidence that comes from feeling your best. The book quickly became a New York Times Bestseller. More importantly it’s Alli’s hope that The Drybar Guide to Good Hair for All inspires and empowers others to turn their passion and dreams into a reality.

Alli’s unique approach to business has awarded her with numerous accolades. In 2013, Fast Company named one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business, and was featured on the Cosmo 2013 Power List by Cosmopolitan magazine. She was also included on the prestigious Fortune 40 Under 40 list, recognizing her as one of the top young businesswomen in the world.

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Jes Gordon

Owner and Creative Director, jesGORDON/properFUN

Jes Gordon’s namesake company jesGORDON/properFUN, provides high end, personal event design and management with loads of signature style. Her first book, Party Like A Rock Star (Globe Pequot Press), provides everyone with the tools they need to throw the party of their dreams, regardless of their budget.

Gordon was the Design Mentor on Bravo’s “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” Each week, Gordon aided the competing chefs in creating a memorable dinner party experience that went well beyond the cuisine.

Gordon’s innate eye for color was first noticed at thirteen when she stumbled into the industry as an assistant to a floral designer. By the time she reached her junior year at Bard College, she had a blooming floral business. Gordon went on to open a contemporary art gallery and flower shop in Taos, New Mexico, and later moved to New Orleans to work on set designs for films, including “Interview with a Vampire” and “Dead Man Walking.”

In 1992, Gordon became the Events and Decor Director for the infamous Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York. Her work at Tavern on the Green led to private commissions for celebrities including Madonna, Barbara Streisand, Harrison Ford, Vanessa Williams, Sting, and Elton John, among others.

Gordon now applies her eye for design and passion for the unexpected to her event design and production firm. Gordon has created captivating corporate events for Bank of Hapoalim, CNN, Ann Taylor, M&M’s, Comcast, AOL, Yahoo, Rowenta, A&E Networks, West Point, Lifetime Channel, and many others. She also continues to dazzle brides and socialites alike with dream weddings and private affairs. With a strong base in New York, she continues to work all over the world.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I think that maybe I would not have put my name on the door of my company. It’s a mixed blessing and I don’t regret it, but it has set a precedent that has long affected other parts of my life in terms of personal relationships and goals.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
At the risk of sounding self-righteous, but I am my biggest inspiration because I need to be so I can continue to evolve and grow. I try my best to find inspiration within myself when I am feeling lost or for the lack of a better word; uninspired. It is my responsibility to remain inspired as a creative and as a business owner thus inspiring my team and my clients. At the end of the day people are hiring me to become inspired.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Special People Lead Difficult Lives.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My purpose is to be in a constant state of flux and to elevate myself in any way possible so I can share my journey/hindsight with others who are struggling to find their creative way. I hope to help others discover how they can turn creativity into a profession so they can truly do and live what they love.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
I think I am still in it lol! This is a very personal battle for me but I have an incredibly hard time finding balance in my life overall. My marriage failed and I lost an extremely large economic battle to my ex. Everything I have worked towards monetarily has vanished and this has been extremely tough to overcome. It’s good to know that I have potential to earn it back, but the thought of it is brutally exhausting at times. I think an important way to look at a struggle is to not try to get past it. In fact, it’s okay to stay within a struggle and try to harmonize with it the best you can.  Basically, if you get past a struggle, most likely there will be another one waiting around the corner. In the end, I have found that Necessity Breeds Innovation, so in a perverse way I say bring that shit on.

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Amy Jain & Daniella Yacobovsky

Co-Founders, BaubleBar

Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founders of BaubleBar (and, more importantly, best friends), are the dynamic duo that disrupted the jewelry industry and redefined how women shop for accessories. Starting their careers in a decidedly less glitzy job, investment banking, the two forged a lifelong friendship helping one another through the sometimes grueling pace of their careers. After a few years crunching numbers, they found themselves at Harvard Business School together.  There, they conceived the idea for BaubleBar: the first go-to fashion jewelry brand with unparalleled selection and style guidance, all at a guilt-free price point.

Upon graduation, the two invested their remaining savings into launching www.BaubleBar.com in January of 2011, quickly scaling the business to amass over 1,500 orders per day, one million monthly site visitors and a range of impressive brand, retail and celebrity partnerships (with the likes of Olivia Palermo and Emma Roberts), as well as the launch of their new line of jewelry in January 2017, SUGARFIX by BaubleBar, which is sold exclusively through Target. Jain and Yacobovsky remain at the helm of BaubleBar, playing to their individual strengths and growing their business through a symbiotic partnership. As an article in Fast Company aptly pointed out, “… their dynamic can be mystifying. But the key to their success is their ability to identify their complementary skills.”

Part of Amy and Daniella’s day-one vision for BaubleBar was to extend their brand from dot-com into physical retail, providing shoppers with an opportunity to touch and feel the exceptional quality and value. Realizing that vision, the brand has tested a variety of brick-and-mortar concepts from launching owned pop-up shops and concept stores to forging partnerships with large retailers such as Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Anthropologie in order to meet the BaubleBar girl wherever she is.

Through BaubleBar, Amy and Daniella aim to make every day sparkle and have successfully led their team in executing a range of product categories. Together, the team has added that sparkle to everyday accessories including bedazzled headphone caps with FRENDS, fashion-forward tech wearables with Jawbone, a tech accessory collection with Target and a home collection with style and beauty blogger, Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam. Today, BaubleBar has become synonymous with fun, on-trend extras that brighten your day (and your outfit!).

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Alexis Jones

Author, Activist, Speaker and Media Personality

Alexis Jones is an internationally recognized speaker, media personality, activist, and author.  Originally from Texas, Alexis grew up with four older brothers and moved to Los Angeles where she completed her undergrad and Masters both from USC. Alexis founded the non-profit I AM THAT GIRL (501c3), which currently has 1.2M+ girls involved and chapters in 24+ countries. Alexis hosted a TV show on the Red Carpet, worked on shows at Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS, MTV, and TLC. Alexis also founded the company ProtectHer, the first ever educational program for high school and college male athletes on the importance of respecting women. With a wildly acclaimed TEDx talk, instead of villainizing men, Alexis invites, includes and inspires both men and women to be an integral and tangible part of the solution moving forward. Alexis has been invited to speak at The White House, The United Nations, Harvard, Stanford, ESPN, NIKE, Pepsi, Google, DELL, The NFL and The Girl Scouts. Alexis has spoken to millions of youth across the country. Her book I AM THAT GIRL was published in February 2014 with her newest one, Be a Good Human slated for 2019. Alexis has also teamed up with Leftfield Pictures to produce and star in new, inspiring docu-series that will debut in 2018. She most recently won The Jefferson Award, our country’s highest national honor for public service. She has also been featured as Oprah’s #SuperSoul100, AOL’s MAKERS, was an Ambassador for L’Oreal’s STEM initiative, DELL’s #Inspire100 List, Fast Company’s “Female Trailblazers,” ESPN’s “Pop Culture’s Top Ten,” Girl Scout’s Woman of Distinction and highlighted as one of the five most influential women in Texas as a Profiles in Power winner.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
Four days ago I was snowboarding in Aspen with my husband (Brad). I am months into training for a half ironman (my first at this distance) and had just stated to Brad, “Babe, I feel invincible. I mean it. I haven’t been in this kind of shape in over a decade. It feels awesome. I’m going to crush this triathlon.” Literally the next day, on my third run down the mountain, I had a terrible accident and was medically evacuated. The MRI would reveal that I had blown our my posterior crucial ligament in my right knee. One day I felt like Super Woman and the next day I literally needed help getting out of bed. How how did or how do I get past this? I realized that I cannot control my circumstances, as much as I would like and as much as I try. What I can control is how I react to them. My initial thoughts were heartbreak over my injury, and while I certainly have moments of disappointment and “wish I woulda’s,” they are fleeting. Instead I focus on what I can do. I had physical therapy yesterday, acupuncture today and more physical therapy schedules for tomorrow. I downloaded a “recovery” mediation from Headspace so that every day I’m focused on getting better and creating the right environment in my body for healing. The reality is the only thing that separates our pleasure from our pain and our successes from our failures is time. So when we find ourselves face planted in snow (in my case in particular), all we can do is focus on what lessons are to be learned, what steps we can take forward even if they are wobbly and painful and how we can be gentle with ourselves through the process; because in truth, everyone loves a come back story and maybe this one is mine!

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Break up with my ex the first time he showed me who he really was! haha. Learning to accept people for who they are, not all the potential I see inside them has been a rather painful lesson for me. And learning that true love is grace mixed with hard accountability; I seemed to forget the hard accountability part and I dated a person for about five years longer than I wish I would have. I look back on all the moments I stayed when I was given every reason in the world to leave. While I think that relationship and that person specifically was one of my greatest teachers, I also wish I could go back in time when I was 14, 17, 21 and 24… (we clearly dated for a long time) and I would have hugged that little girl who had no idea how precious and cherished she was and I would have told her that that her worth will never be found inside a boy incapable of loving her because in truth he didn’t love himself very much and we can’t give something we don’t have. I would have told her that she was brilliant and beautiful and I’d also tell her that despite the heart break that would take years to rebound from; that she would also come across a man one day who would absolutely know her worth, who would help her pick up all her broken pieces and ironically be the one loving her back to life.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My mom. Hands down. She’s a F-ing warrior. She got pregnant at sixteen. No one from her family graduated high school much less college. She had five children and put all of them through undergrad, graduate school and law school. Given all the reasons she has to give up on humanity, growing up in poverty, experiencing abuse from a young age, not having access to resources, education, etc… she never gave up, she defied the odds, she authored her own reality. I cannot fathom the gumption required and the internal constitution to say that my past doesn’t dictate my future and to chart a new course without a map, template or GPS. My mom is my best friend and I feel incredibly blessed to have been raised by such a badass woman.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
I am enough. I have enough. I do enough. (repeat)

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I always say that I’m a billionaire in love. I may not have had a lot of money growing up, but there was never a moment when I didn’t feel unconditional love form my mom, my dad and my siblings. I wish every little girl had that. I feel like it gave me audacious wings to chase down my dreams. I also realize how fortunate I am because a lot of people don’t grow up with that kind of safety net; the belief that you have an entire tribe who love you so much that failure isn’t an option. So I guess my purpose has always been in having a little tinker bell fairy dust in my pocket; I’ve always wanted people to feel like they were so loved they could fly. So storytelling became my vehicle to live out my purpose of loving people back to life and sparking something inside of them they didn’t even know was there!

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Kemp Steib

CFO, The Second Shift

Prior to joining The Second Shift, I spent 15 years working at Allen & Company LLC holding senior roles in investment banking, venture capital, and investor relations. I advised companies ranging from early-stage growth enterprises to large global public companies with a particular focus on education, media, e-commerce, and publishing.

Beginning with my first financial analyst class out of college, and throughout my years working in financial advisory, I got to know incredibly talented women working in senior roles across the corporate spectrum. I have considered myself fortunate to be a part of this cohort. However, as many of these women were hitting the heights of their careers, they were also entering the next stage, complete with spouses and children. As they struggle to balance work and family, it has been disheartening to watch these brilliant, ambitious women leave the workforce en masse–much to the detriment of their employers and the business world at large.

I joined the Second Shift to continue doing what I love which is helping companies realize their business goals, while also creating options for my peers in the workplace. I spent many years at Allen & Company working with mission-driven entrepreneurs in the education sector who worked hard to both build companies, and improve the lives of others. Today, I am thrilled to come home to my young children every day knowing we are working hard grow our business and to improve their options for work in the future.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
I was working in a role I hated and not very successful at it.  After leaving without much success, I had a crisis of confidence.  Moving onto a new role with a steep learning curve was the right decision!

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Wear more sunscreen!

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
Every day I am inspired by our Second Shift members, by my colleagues, and by my husband Mike who is a daily reminder that career success, leadership, kindness, and good parenting can all co-exist!

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Work hard. Be brave. Take care of others.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I hope to combine improving the world with personal success.

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Stacy Stahl

Founder, How He Asked 

Stacy Stahl is the founder of HowHeAsked.com – the digital destination for all things marriage proposal. How He Asked, acquired by XO Group, Inc. in September 2016 to allow The Knot to better serve its audience even earlier in the wedding planning journey, provides a platform for couples to share their engagement stories and has built a community of love-obsessed readers by sharing the best ones on their website and social media channels. With a library of 14,000+ proposals, the site also provides education, inspiration, and tools to help soon-to-be proposers plan their own life-changing moment. Stacy is now an expert in the pre-engaged world, and you can follow along with @HowHeAsked’s half a million Instagram followers.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?

During the first week of my first job, I raised my hand during an all-company meeting with an idea I had. The CEO pointed at me, said “not you, you’re too new” and then he called on someone else. I sank in my chair and was so embarrassed. Most of my other tough memories from growing up also came from times when I (and my eager self) was not well received. Back then, whoever criticized me, I believed them. I never stopped to think about why I believed them until a person I’d known for a long time– and truthfully never thought too highly of in the first place– told me I shouldn’t be a certain way. At first, I was ready to internalize her words like I was used to doing, but then it struck me how odd it was that I was accepting criticism from a person who I felt was a bully. It struck me that I’d let other peoples’ beliefs and predictions for me define how I felt about myself – even when it was clear to me in all other situations I didn’t agree with a lot of these people. I decided from that moment on, I would trust myself over others.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t be your own ceiling. Anything you can imagine, you can do. It’s about creating the vision and doing the work. The magic comes when you can look back on it all and say “I did it”.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’m inspired by anyone who listens to their heart and uses their head to make it happy.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Do it or don’t.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I believe the road less traveled is always more abundant. I also believe that taking those roads seems scarier than it ends up being, so my mission in life has always been about challenging constructs, replacing fear with experience, and encouraging others to do the same. A body at rest wants to stay at rest, but a body in motion wants to stay in motion – your few first steps go a lot further than you know and being able to inspire those steps in others makes my heart sing.

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Gina Hadley

Co-Founder, The Second Shift

After discovering that an MFA in Shakespearean Studies does not insure a brilliant teaching career when one has stage fright before every class, Gina found her way into advertising at Ogilvy and Mather.

In 2015 Gina launched The Second Shift, a platform that seamlessly connects carefully selected women representing the most experienced freelance talent available within the marketing and finance vertical, to agencies and brands that understand the value in boldly embracing the gig economy. The Second Shift allows businesses to match the most relevant expertise to each project, no matter the size, and adapt in real time to an ever-changing set of needs. The Second Shift gives professional women the ability to continue to practice skills they spent a career acquiring, when full time employment is not an option. The agencies and brands they work with the benefit of their unique point of view and critical expertise. The Second Shift is a tool to retain critical female talent in the workforce, and Gina is thrilled to be at XO Group as part of the FoundHERS series.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
Moving back and forth across the country four times with the family was quite a challenge. But we kept it together as team it became an adventure.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Make a to do list and stick to it.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My co-conspirators at The Second Shift who are all in this with Jenny and I and never stop believing in the mission.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Karma is a boomerang.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Be nice.

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Jennifer Stybel

Executive Director, Rent the Runway Foundation

Jennifer Stybel is Executive Director of Rent the Runway Foundation, a nonprofit that democratizes entrepreneurship for female founders. The Foundation’s signature program is Project Entrepreneur—a national initiative launched with founding partner UBS to grow the pipeline of women building high-growth businesses through its accelerator, venture competition, educational workshops, and digital hub.  Jennifer is host of Project Entrepreneur’s podcast #theTools.  Her career has spanned the media, arts, and tech industries—including Shutterstock, EMI Music, The Paley Center for Media, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts—where she supports creators and their work.  Jennifer holds a BA from Georgetown University and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business.  

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
There was a moment where my personal, family, and professional lives all hit a low point at the same time. To get through it, I leaned heavily on my family and friends, joined a women’s circle, and asked for help when I needed it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
You really can do anything you put your mind to (so choose wisely).

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My mother. She was the first in her family to go to college, put herself through school while working as a nurse, got her MBA, founded a company that has been in business for 37 years, and created a wonderful life for her family. And she’s my best friend.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Empowering creators.

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Alyssa Rapp

Chief Executive Officer, Surgical Solutions

As of January 2018, Alyssa J. Rapp is the CEO of Surgical Solutions, a health care services provider owned by private equity firm Sterling Partners. Alyssa has also served as the Managing Partner at AJR Ventures, a strategic advisory firm for private equity firms and family offices since 2015 on their new business unit/new market development strategies. In 2014, Alyssa joined the ranks as a lecturer-in- management at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business teaching a course on the Global Dynamics of the Wine Industry. Previously, Alyssa served as the founder & CEO of Bottlenotes, Inc., a leading interactive media company in the U.S. wine and craft beer industries.

When not immersed in business and civic life (via service on the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Spark Program, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago board of trustees), Alyssa loves to run track, do yoga, ski fast, and try as hard as possible to decipher a slider from a curve ball from her husband, 1990 MLB World Series champion and current partner at X10 Capital, Hal Morris. Alyssa and Hal are the proud parents of Audrey Margaret Morris (born: September 12, 2012) and Henriette (“Hettie”) Daniella Morris (born: March 16, 2015).

Alyssa holds a BA from Yale University (2000) and an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (2005).


Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
There is no question that when we were at the 2 yard line on an acquisition deal with my first company and the deal fell apart due to structural change at the acquiring company (e.g. absorbing our deal sponsor into another division and terminating our deal sponsor after 20 years with the company in light of that re-organization), it could have broken me. I used the opportunity to pivot- and work on a strategic partnership instead with our top customer. I rallied the team, the board, and our internal stakeholders that we were going to be making “lemons out of lemonade” from this massive sea-change that was ultimately out of our control. Bottom line: I do not know a way in life to move past struggle without viewing the glass half full and using lemons as an opportunity to make lemonade. By staying positive, dedicated, optimistic, and strong of mind, you can blast through most brick walls in life. Not all, but most.

What is one piece of advice you live by?
To paraphrase my husband (MLB 1990 World Champion), Hal Morris, until it’s the last out of the 9th inning, keep swinging. All you can control is your effort. You have responsibility to give life your absolute all each day. Then the cards will fall as they may.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My mother. She lost her own mother at 16, graduated Northwester University in 3 years as a Russian major, went on to a very successful career in law, and ultimately the US Ambassador to the Netherlands under President Obama. Her ability to be self-reliant, tireless, diplomatic and driven, while affording my younger brother and me every opportunity in the world have all been great inspirations to me. She is also the world’s best “Oma!” (Dutch for grandmother)

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
“Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.”-Winston Churchill

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I believe that “your legacy is every life you’ve touched,” per Maya Angelou. I strive to give of myself fully in each of my relationships and endeavors: my marriage, motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood, entrepreneurship, executive, as a board member, as an athlete, etc. I believe in balancing a life of entrepreneurial and business and managerial pursuits- evidenced by roles as a founder/CEO, advisor to private-equity backed companies, and now in a new CEO role for a private equity firm- with a life of service to others- currently enacted by my roles as a lecturer-in-management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and on the IHDA/Spark/Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s boards. More, a foundation of health/wellness/athleticism for me is the foundation of each and every day. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. This balancing act of work, service, parenthood, et all isn’t easy- but it’s crucial. As one of my favorite professors from business school and mentor Joel Peterson also advises, balance isn’t always achieved daily but must be achieved episodically.  But understanding who matters most and honoring those relationships is ultimately what life is all about, at least for me.

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Lori Richmond

Children’s Author-Illustrator, Lori Richmond Illustration and Design

Lori Richmond is a corporate creative director turned picture book maker. She is the author-illustrator of Pax and Blue (Simon & Schuster), which was called a “sprightly debut” by The New York Times and selected for exhibition in the Society of Illustrators ‘Original Art’ show. She is also the author-illustrator of Bunny’s Staycation (coming soon from Scholastic), and the illustrator of several other picture books.

Before her career in children’s publishing, Lori was a sought-after expert on all things baby and parenting as a contributing editor to leading pregnancy and parenting brand, The Bump. She has appeared on Today, Good Morning America, CNN, and more.

Lori lives and creates in Brooklyn, NY with her design-y husband and two sons, both of whom are named after typefaces.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Make art. Share it. Inspire others.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
Twenty-plus years into my career, I realized that a lot of things around me were changing. My job, while a great role, no longer aligned with my personal goals. I wasn’t happy, and I could not continue on like that every day and then come home and be a great mom to my kids and present partner to my husband. After some deep soul-searching, I took a leap of faith and left my full-time job to pursue a different path of self-employment. What helped me most through the (scary!) struggle was to surround myself with people who supported and believed in my goals, and join a studio filled with fellow solopreneurs who had been through it all before. Their help was immeasurable!  It’s all about finding your tribe.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t take a hiatus from drawing. (And make time for exercise!)

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My biggest creative inspiration is Lin-Manuel Miranda. I admire not only his innate talents, but his work ethic, his positive spirit, and his desire to give back to the arts in education. He’s also a New Yorker and a parent of two boys, like me. He often says that sometimes you have to say “no” so you can say “yes” to your work. That really resonates with me, especially since everyone always is so busy nowadays. Make time and put in the work. It’s the only way to guarantee success of getting things done!  I also greatly admire Shalane Flanagan, a female long-distance runner who recently won the NYC Marathon. Shalane trains with other women, and, rather than treat them as competitors, she lifts them up and supports them as much as she does herself. She works hard and is unapologetic in publicly stating her goals for what she wants to accomplish.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Work hard and be nice to people.

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Carly Zakin & Danielle Weisberg

Co-Founders and CEOs, theSkimm

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg co-founded theSkimm, a company that makes it easier to be smarter, from their couch in 2012. Drawing on the founders’ backgrounds as NBC News producers, theSkimm is reimagining the idea of morning television and changing the way female millennials receive news and information. Its inaugural product — The Daily Skimm — is the fastest growing email newsletter on the market, with an engaged community of well over 3.5 million active subscribers and an industry-crushing open rate. theSkimm’s suite of products has grown with the launch of theSkimm for iPhone, which debuted as #1 in news and #9 overall in the Apple App Store. theSkimm continues its integration into new routines for its target demographic, and recently announced the launch of Skimm Studios, marking its upcoming expansion into video. Carly and Danielle have been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Media, Vanity Fair’s The Next Establishment, Adweek’s Young Influentials, and the Goldman Sachs Builders and Innovators Summit as one of the most 100 Intriguing Entrepreneurs. They still prefer to work from a couch.

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Michelle Rago

Founder, Michelle Rago Destinations

Michelle’s greatest strength lies in interpreting her client’s preferences, assessing the possibilities, and translating them into a well-planned and well-designed affair. Her years of hands-on experience, superb sense of design, and mastery of logistics have served her well as she has navigated the complicated landscape of producing destination events. Michelle’s keen curiosity about the world and how aesthetics, cultures, and hospitality intertwine makes her weddings and events something to talk about.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
It’s important to assemble a strong team around you. Make sure you have a good accountant, a good attorney and mentors that you trust to give advice along the way. Life happens all around you and somehow in the middle of it all you have to build, grow and maintain your business as well as keep yourself intact. It takes people you trust.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My sister is my biggest inspiration. She ALWAYS strives to do the right thing and rarely puts herself first. She is the one person I listen to… full stop.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Travel far. Travel often. The mysterious unknown will give you perspective you just couldn’t achieve if you never leave home.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My mission in life is to be happy and to not take anything for granted. I lead by example and do my level best to leave things in a better place than I found them.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
My father did not survive rectal cancer and we were very, very close. When I look back, I am not quite sure how I managed to run my business and mend my heart. I am formidable by nature and don’t tend to back down from much. But grief is a different animal all together. You can’t muscle grief. It has its own cadence and it’s only with the passage of time and patience that your spirit circles back. I poured my heart into my business and for good or for bad… it saved me.

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Christy Reeves

CEO, I AM THAT GIRL

Christy Oliver Reeves has been a passionate advocate for philanthropy and community betterment for more than two decades. A seasoned nonprofit executive, Christy has extensive experience building and sustaining organizations, with a successful record that spans strategic planning, program development, fundraising and advocacy.

Currently, Christy serves as the CEO of I AM THAT GIRL, a global movement that empowers girls to speak their truth, love themselves and be the leaders of the future. Prior to this, she served as the CEO of Single Stop USA, a national anti poverty organization that has served over 1.5 million households connecting them to over $4 billion in resources. For eight years, she served as the Director of Community Relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and as the Executive Director of its foundation. Earlier in her career, Christy served as the CEO of the Girl Scouts Audubon Council.

Christy is a Teaching Fellow for the Center for Corporate Citizenship, Boston College, Carroll School of Management. She has her Bachelors of Art in Theatre and holds Masters Degrees in both Business Administration and Library and Information Science. And she is the recipient of numerous community awards, including named The Baton Rouge Business Report’s 40 Under 40 in 2006 and an Influential Women in Business in 2012. Her considerable involvement in community and professional organizations include: the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the Dean’s Advisory Board for LSU Libraries, Capital Area United Way, Manship Theatre, the Foundation for East Baton Rouge Schools, Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge, Louisiana Senior Olympic Games, Playmakers of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge Children’s Coalition, LSU School of Human Ecology, and the Capital Area YMCA

How do you define your purpose and mission in life?
To serve others. I’m most fulfilled by helping them grow into their full potential.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
Ha! So many. Most recently I took a huge risk for a job I was passionate about. I took a huge pay cut and was not guaranteed I’d even have a job in a matter of months. It was hard. Harder than I even expected. And I felt like a failure in my work and a disappoint to my family for making this choice. But a friend said to me, are you kidding? Most people are too scared to take that kind of risk for something they love. We want to, she said, and to see you do it is inspiring. That inspired me. 🙂

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Treat your body better. Make it your best friend. Training it, treat it, take care of it. You will be able to do more and spend way less money on it later!!

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
Almost everyone inspired me. I’ve never had one person who does it more than another. I meet people daily who pump me with inspiration in how they live their life and the work they do. I love a good underdog story, too. Because aren’t we all really underdogs in our own minds?

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Go for it. No matter how it ends, it’ll be a hell of an experience.

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Melissa Hobley

CMO, OkCupid

Melissa Hobley is the CMO of OkCupid, one of the biggest dating apps in the world. Under her direction, OkCupid has become famous for their message of inclusion and affirmation, including an experience that serves a number of communities, with over 22 gender options and 13 sexual orientation options. This year, OkCupid incorporated the MeToo movement into the app, partnered with Planned Parenthood for a badge, and earned a lot of attention for their “Trump Filter”. OkCupid was a proud founding sponsor of the

Today, OkCupid is getting global attention for their new campaign which aims to reclaim the phrase, DTR.  The campaign encourages women to define the “F” in DTF with whatever they want it to be, from DTFilter Out the Far Right and DTFight About the President to DTFall Head Over Heels.

Melissa has worked in marketing in New York City for over 15 years. She regularly appears as an expert in media on tech, relationships and ranging from the New York Times to NPR.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
To not take life too seriously…and to use what I’ve got to try to make others feel great about themselves!

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Alison Bernstein

General Manager, GigMasters and Two Bright Lights

Alison Bernstein is the GM of GigMasters, an event marketplace, and Two Bright Lights, a publishing platform. Previously, she ran product development for the $32 million national ad sales business and for the bridal fashion and jewelry vertical, charged with growing the business and continually developing cutting-edge products for the bridal consumer. Bernstein led an agile team of product managers, designers and developers to launch and grow XO’s top-rated iOS and Android bridal fashion apps, mobile web and desktop experiences. 

Prior to that, Bernstein oversaw syndicated partnerships with MSN, Google, AOL, and Yahoo. Bernstein has led traffic-driving efforts through content distribution that has translated to millions of new visitors discovering The Knot, The Nest, and The Bump over the past sixteen years. Additionally, she oversaw brand development projects and opportunities in entertainment for XO Group.

Bernstein joined XO Group in 1996 and has held senior management positions on the Product, Marketing, and Business Development teams. In 2005, she launched The Knot’s video program, including a revolutionary live-streaming program and a deep library of lifestyle content.

Ms. Bernstein resides in Westchester with her three kids and various household animals.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
In December 2016, the wonderful founder of GigMasters decided to move on. I was asked to step into that role, managing a 40+ person team and a P&L 10x the size of my previous one! I thought I was part of a 3-person team running the business, and then suddenly, I was the *only* person running the business. I would be lying if I said I didn’t panic just a little bit. But I put one foot in front of the other – learning the ins and outs of the business, leaning on the expertise of the fabulous management team that was already in place, asking lots and lots of questions, and making fast decisions and taking risks – even if it felt terrifying. 2017 was a really successful year for the business and for me. As the months went on, the fear faded. The clouds cleared and I was able to see a vision for the future of the business…one we are actively pursuing now! 

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Take more risks in every part of my life. 

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’ve learned so much from so many people. Every boss I’ve had, other leaders I’ve worked alongside of, have shown me ways to be better at my job (and life!). I love to study different leadership styles and incorporate them into my own.

But if I had to chose one person to highlight, it would be Carley Roney (co-founder of XO Group). Being the visionary on a team, owning what the brand is and what it most definitely isn’t, is a difficult and – at times – very lonely job. Sometimes you can’t point to a metric to prove why something is the right choice, you just know it is on a gut level. She taught me that understanding that feeling and committing to your vision can have incredibly successful results. 

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Bite off more than you can chew…because easy isn’t fun. 

How do you define your purpose & mission in life? 
My mission in life is first and foremost, to raise the three humans I brought into this world to be tough, funny, brave, hard-working, and grateful people. To do work that I enjoy and find gratifying and challenging. To be the best colleague, employee and boss that I can be. We spend so much of our lives at work, we should enjoy that time and the people who we spend it with! And lastly, to have enormous gratitude for all the many gifts I’ve been given each and every day: My work, friends, and family.

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Leah Weinberg

Owner and Creative Director, Color Pop Events

Leah Weinberg is the Owner & Creative Director of Color Pop Events — a New York City-based wedding planning company that focuses on the details and lives in the logistics. Now in her fifth year of business, Leah leverages skills like organization, attention to detail, and client service from her prior career as a commercial real estate attorney to excel at event production. Her colorful work and party planning tips have been published online and in print with Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire, Martha Stewart Weddings, Martha Stewart Living, The Knot, Brides, Buzzfeed and more.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would definitely prepare myself for the emotional challenges of being a small business owner. Going in, I think most people understand the hard work that it’s going to take to create a successful business, but the emotional side is something I was completely unprepared for. I would tell my younger self that there are going to be so many highs and lows, and sometimes you’re going to experience those highs and lows in the same day. And that that’s totally normal and ok. I would also convey the importance of surrounding yourself with a group of peers who are in the same boat as you, so that you can love, support and teach one another throughout this whole ride.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
Two of my biggest inspirations are Bethenny Frankel and Kelly Cutrone. I admire Bethenny for the empire she has built and the way she got there. She saw an opportunity to become a household name by joining the “Real Housewives” franchise, and then used that platform to launch her company. What she has created is really inspiring. Kelly Cutrone, who has also had her fair share of reality TV appearances, is the owner of a powerhouse fashion PR company called People’s Revolution. Not only do I admire Kelly for her business acumen and the successful company she has created, but I love her attitude towards life. She can be brash and brutally honest, but she never apologizes for who she is. I saw her speak last year and wrote down this quote from her because I thought it was so perfect: “An Hermes bracelet is not going to make you elegant. What’s going to make you elegant is compassion, good manners and understanding.”

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Full credit goes to my website copywriter for this, but I think “Perfect planned. Flawlessly executed.” is a pretty great slogan for me.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
There’s a quote from PT Barnum that ran at the end of The Greatest Showman that really resonated with me: “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” People always ask why I like being a wedding planner, and the short answer is that I like to make people happy. I think those particular words perfectly capture what I strive for in life and business.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
Very early on in my career, I had a wedding that was a less than wonderful experience (to put it nicely). It was the combination of a very challenging couple and me taking on too many day-of tasks outside of what my role as a planner should have been that made for a not so successful day. Afterwards, I seriously questioned whether I wanted to be a wedding planner. Fortunately, that wedding was preceded and followed by some incredible weddings working with some really amazing people. I forced myself to look back at that day, identify what mistakes I had made that day so I could learn from them, and then accept that that couple was just not going to be happy no matter how the day turned out. I had to acknowledge that there were certain things that day outside of my control and I also had to be forgiving of myself. Holding onto things like that doesn’t do you any good.

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Jenny Galluzzo

Co-Founder, The Second Shift

I co-founded The Second Shift because I support working-women, and I believe the modern workplace has to be flexible, adaptable and accommodating. I learned this the hard way– from my own personal experience. Like many women in our network, my career path has been long and circuitous. I discovered firsthand that when it comes to building a professional life, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

For the better part of a decade, I worked as a television producer/booker and on-air reporter for outlets including Good Morning America, News 12 The Bronx and Plum TV. As a side project, I started a clothing line called Mayer Studio based on my passion for vintage caftans. Then, in 2009, my first son was born and, all of a sudden, the reality of my new life as a mother didn’t fit into the structure of my career. I realized what I wanted from my career had changed and I needed to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

My second son was born two years later and that’s when I had an epiphany: women need a way to engage or re-engage in the workforce that provides them meaningful, well-paying, flexible jobs. So I launched The Second Shift with my friend and business partner Gina Hadley. I could not be more excited about the company and the movement we have started. As all women know, we are the best at effective, creative efficiency and our skills should not be sidelined because, for whatever reason, we don’t work a traditional full time job.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
There are many moments that can break you in life. I can’t just think of one because there are too many times when a particular moment in life seemed overwhelmingly out of control or filled with dread and despair. I get past things because I am a person who doesn’t dwell on the past; I move forward. Also, I am pathologically optimistic and I am (for good or bad depending on the moment) naturally uncomfortable being unhappy so I move onward and toward a baseline of brightness and positivity.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
When I was younger I kept running into professional roadblocks and it was super frustrating because I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go. In retrospect, I don’t think I was confident in myself or daring enough in my approach. I would say to my younger self not to be afraid to be the strongest, most powerful version of yourself. Your job is not to make people happy or comfortable. Trust in the universe.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I think we are in a really inspiring time right now. The women on the forefront of so many feminist movements from reproductive rights to running for office to the students fighting for gun control and pay equity. There is so much happening all over the place and I am just happy to be taking part in my own small way in the present social/political environment by trying to help women and businesses make lasting change.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
To steal from my spirit animal Auntie Mame “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Do good; be kind; listen; say yes; be intentional in your actions; don’t waste a minute.

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Susana Diharce

Senior Director, Events, XO Group Inc.

In her role as Sr. Director for XO Group Inc, Susana oversees the creation of large-scale brand event programs and the execution of all events and activations for The Knot. Her team reaches tens of thousands of couples, clients and potential new partners every year, ultimately helping to drive over $3 million in annual revenue. Her local, on-the-ground expertise stems from her ability to handpick the best event partners, including event planners, venues, and caterers, in key markets to uphold The Knot status as the number one wedding brand. Special events are her passion and she has been in the business for over 17 years, starting at her alma mater, the University of Florida.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Professionally, I want to help elevate the wedding industry. It’s filled with artists that have an amazing gift to create beauty wherever they go. I want to help them be better every day. Personally, to be a good wife and mother. Show my boys that women are equal and can do anything they can do.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
I can’t point to one moment in time. As a Hispanic-American, I’ve faced too many stereotypes to count.  How did you get past the struggle? I just keep moving forward to provide a better future for my children.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of feedback. It will help you learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My parents. They left everything they knew (family, friends, country) to build a better life for their daughters. The sold all their belongings and moved their three small children to a country where they didn’t speak the language, didn’t have jobs and didn’t have any friends. That takes a crazy amount of courage. I can never repay them for the sacrifices they made.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
I feel like this can change depending on where you are in life. Right now, I’m all about “spreading kindness.” I think the world needs it.

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Irina Krechmer

Vice President of Engineering, XO Group Inc.

Irina Krechmer is the VP of Engineering at XO Group Inc., the premier technology  company that helps millions of couples navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments through industry-leading digital brands, including The Knot–the #1 wedding planning site and app–The Bump, The Nest and GigMasters. Irina is responsible for leading the tech strategy and managing a team of over 50 software engineers. Irina is passionate about mentoring and coaching, and helping her teams reach their greatest potential.

Irina began her career as a software developer, progressing rapidly to embrace larger roles leading software development teams focused on the development of web and mobile applications. Most recently, Irina was at Amplify, where she held the role of Executive Director of Software Engineering. Her teams focused on delivering tools and services to students and educators through the extensive and innovative use of data, which were designed to improve the educators’ ability to teach and test students. Prior to that, Irina was a Director of Enterprise Platform Engineering at Redcats USA, a global online home shopping retailer with a number of sites and brands, where she spearheaded their global e-commerce platform implementation.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Help and inspire my team to be the best they can be. Enjoy time with my family and all the little and big moments in life.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
I’m not sure how to answer this question. I had my share of stressful events in my personal and professional lives but I don’t think they qualify as moments that could’ve broken me.

I
f you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Multitasking doesn’t work, focusing on one thing at a time brings best results.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I’m always inspired by my daughters. I love how they are game for everything, not afraid to fail, and have a positive attitude.

I
f you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
You can’t succeed if you never try.

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Jen Garfield

Lead Product Manager, XO Group Inc.

Jen is a user-centered Product Lead who loves finding the “jobs to be done” for couples at The Knot, the leading platform and marketplace for all things weddings. She holds a master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction and Usability from The University of Texas at Austin. She has worked in the US and abroad at digital ad agencies, software start-ups, and consulted for industry leaders such as Dell and Autodesk. Her passions outside product are exploring the world, culinary experiences, and leaning in.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
I got really sick and was diagnosed with a rare disease after my freshman year of college. It took me years to get my health in a good place—I even had to take a semester off from school. But through it all, with a lot of support from my family and friends, I knew that this wasn’t going to define me. I had lean into my resilience, vision for the future, and take it day by day.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t dwell on your failures, learn from them!  Let go of expectations! It definitely doesn’t turn out how you thought, and you’ll love it.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My dad. He grew up in a very poor family — got a job at a very young age to help with money, cooked and took care of his younger brother, and worked his ass off to get a college scholarship. Not only did he become a successful CFO, he raised two daughters who thought they could take over the world. Even though he was able to provide more than enough for our family, my parents instilled in us a remarkable work ethic and the belief to not take anything for granted.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
You make your own luck.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
Impact. Everything revolves around how I can best use my time and the impact it will have. This transcends through my job, my relationships, my health, interests outside of work, travel, and volunteering. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the most impactful thing for my well-being is to binge on Netflix. 🙂

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Amy Hellmann

Director of Local Operations, XO Group Inc.

Amy Hellmann is Director of Local Operations at XO Group. With over 10 years at the company, she is focused on developing compensation strategy while implementing new programs and processes that drive efficiency, productivity and growth.  Before moving to Operations, Amy was Director of Business Analytics focused on analyzing sales trends and behavior to drive more business. Prior to XO, Amy worked at Deloitte & Touche as a Securitization Analyst for the Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities team. She received a BA in Economics from Bucknell University.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I was a girl scout for years and their motto has always stuck with me: “Always leave a place better than you found it.”  I strive to continually learn, improve and try to make things better. This not only applies to my work but also growing as a woman, partner, friend & family member.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
I recently worked on a project that went sideways after dedicating almost 9 months of my time to it.  The entire project team was frustrated and disappointed as we had given it our all. Instead of throwing our hands up and walking away, I was able to take a step back, re-group, and focus the team on what we could still do.  We built & launched a completely revised program in a very short period of time. While it wasn’t what we initially envisioned, I was very proud of the teams tenacity and willingness to work creatively to find a solution.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Take more time for yourself.  It’s so easy to get caught up with work/family/friend commitments that it can be hard to step back and truly take a moment for yourself to regroup and recharge.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My Mom is my biggest inspiration.  From a very early age she taught me the importance of working hard, to never give up, and the importance of a good education.  She is kind, loving, and a wonderful Mother and Grandmother!

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.

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Katharine Polk

Founder and Creative Director, Houghton

Los Angeles native, Katharine Polk is the Founder and Creative Director of Houghton. Founded in 2011, Polk disrupted the bridal industry and blurred the line between Bridal and RTW. Katharine has grown Houghton into an international brand selling in over 10 countries and has been committed to being made in the USA. Polk led the brand creatively through 22 collections, navigated sponsor partnerships such as Birkenstock, MAC, OPI, Converse and Dr Martens, designed exclusive collaborations for FWRD, Free People and Net-A-Porter and grew an organic social following through strategic marketing and branding.

Katharine was the first Bridal Designer to offer a “Buy-Now-Wear-Now” event at her SS17 show and her FW17 Film Premiere was named “The best thing to happen to Bridal Week” by Nylon.com. After telling her own story for Harpers Bazaar about her lifelong struggle with depression and eating disorders, Polk created “Houghton Girl”, a 15 minute documentary shining a spotlight on 10 beautiful, powerful women who opened up about their daily struggles in the workplace and how they succeed despite dealing with depression, motherhood and eating disorders.

Katharine won the 2016 St Louis Fashion Fund Caleres Women’s Wear Award, MADE sponsored designer 2012-2016, 2 time FGI Women’s RTW Designer nominee and has covered 2 issues of WWD. Polk quickly became a red carpet favorite among celebrities, Lily Collins, Kerry Washington, Kate Hudson, Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, Kylie Jenner, Taylor Swift and Angelina Jolie are a few of the ladies Polk has dressed. Katharine has gained editorial accolades from Brides, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar.

Prior to launching Houghton, Polk was a stylist and New York Fashion Editor for a London based Publication. Polk styled fashion shows, editorials and celebrity clients. In 2007 Katharine started her career as the Assistant Designer at Badgley Mischka Couture and creatively managed over 20 licensees for the brand. Polk is the U.S. spokesperson for the international non-profit organization, Designers Against Aids and is an advocate for women and youth struggling with eating disorders.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I want to effect change through my creative voice touching those who identify with me, with those who can’t speak out, with those who don’t have a voice and with those who are scared to speak up. I am fortunate enough to have a platform and a clear vision of how I identify with women. My fashion brand has morals and represents women who have real issues like depression, eating disorders, sexual abuse, motherhood and health problems. I believe it’s important to shine a light on these women and create a brand that gives them a place to shine, especially on their wedding day.

What’s a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t? How did you get past the struggle?
I was bullied growing up which led to a lifelong struggle with eating disorders and social anxiety. My social anxiety as an adult is still prevalent but I don’t let it conquer me. I was asked to write an essay for Harper’s Bazaar about my lifelong struggle with anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia about how I almost died 7 years ago. I was hesitant but my hope was to help the millions of women, men, girls and boys going through the same. By opening up and sharing my deepest darkest experiences that I had never told anyone it not only helped me heal but I know I’ve helped others. My essay was the springboard for my film “The Houghton Girl” which is a 15 min documentary that I created in lieu of a fashion show to shine a light on 10 beautiful women despite their own struggles they have successful, powerful careers in fashion. That essay changed my path and gave me a new direction for what I’m meant to be doing.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Everything happens for a reason. (I am still giving myself this advice everyday)

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
Anyone who can clearly express themselves and effectively create change for the better. Anyone who gets knocked down and picks themselves up day after day knowing in their gut that they have the answer.

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I AM THAT GIRL FoundHERS

Click on an I AM THAT GIRL FoundHER below to learn more about her journey and get inspired.

Brooke Overturf

Once Miss Indian Arizona State University, 22 year old Brooke Overturf has already served as an advisor President Obama, offering suggestions on what improvements could be made within native communities. On her own reservation, she recently organized an initiative to promote healthier lifestyle for girls ages 5-12.  Additionally, Brooke has spoken to domestic violence victims in the Phoenix area and within her reservation.  Despite her many commitments, Brooke serves as the Chapter Leader of ASU, regularly making time for one on one conversations supporting her members.  She’s on an adventure to share her I AM THAT GIRL love and hopes every girl that joins I AM THAT GIRL gets the same positive moving experience as well.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
It’s easier for me to put on a smile and act like everything in my life is perfect. However, my biological father has been in and out of my life. He would only want to talk to me when I was at my highest points in life. At a point in my life, I wasn’t comfortable calling him “dad” because he wasn’t being a dad to me and asking me how I’m really doing. In July 2017, I made the decision to cut him out of my life completely because he was talking negative about myself and my mom’s family. I can take the pain if it’s about me but if it’s about my mom’s family, who helped my mom raise me, I will get protective over them. How could a father talk negative about his only daughter and her family? It was difficult to continue through life knowing that I won’t have my biological father, but I knew I needed to remove the toxic people from my life. When I was two years old, God blessed me with the perfect person to be the best father figure who soon married my mom a few years later. Him and I don’t believe in the terms “step-dad” and “step-daughter”. We are very alike that we believe we’re meant to be father and daughter. Through the tough hardships with my biological father to my success as of today, he has been there right by my side. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I’m proud to call him my dad.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
As the oldest sibling, I’ve learned that my mistakes will be my siblings’ lessons to learn from. I want to use my experience to motivate them because I want nothing but the best for them. With that comes the pressure to do well in work and school. If I could go back in time and give myself one advice, that would be it’s okay to fail because it’s not about how many times I fall down, it’s about how many times I get back up. I’m the type of person that will be the first to get down on myself, but I’ve learned that I need to see the glass half full.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
My biggest inspiration is my grandpa. He defined the odds when everything was against him. He only was in school until middle school. He had a tough childhood from living in a board school to living a rural area that was about 20 minutes from everything else. When he was about 18 years old, he joined the army and fought in the Vietnam War. When he returned back home, he joined the United Mine Workers of America. He served over 30 years as an UMWA worker. He’s well known for his leadership and dedication to his local community members. He continues to teach me about life and our Navajo culture. My grandpa is not only my inspiration, he’s also my hero.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
A slogan for my life would be “she believed in herself and found her purpose”. Up until I became Miss Indian Arizona State University, I didn’t know who or where I wanted to be in 3-4 years. I Am That Girl helped me realize that I do have a voice and that voice needs to be heard because other people do look up to me. I knew I could do it if only I believed in my capabilities and trusted my heart. The more I began to believe in myself, the more confidence I gained. The combination of having my title and joining IATG opened my eyes to greater things in life. I’ve learned I’m destined to be a public speaker and know it’s okay not to be okay. Most importantly, I’ve learned to love myself even more.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
My purpose in life is to be the best version of Brooke there could possibly be. I know I’m not perfect but I can do the best I can do prove to myself that I can achieve my goals if I believe in myself. I’ve learned that the only person stopping me from reaching my goals is myself. I promise myself to not limit myself from bigger opportunities because life is all about taking chances. My mission has and will always be to provide for my family. As the oldest, I already had the mentality that it was my responsibility to look over my siblings and make sure my parents and grandparents are taken care of. Now that I have a job and living on my own, it feels good to be able to give back to my family. I’m looking forward to seeing what else life has to offer.

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Jolie Brownell

Jolie Brownell is kicking ass in a major way. At only 18, Jolie’s commitment to service and spearheading the I AM THAT GIRL message everywhere is evident in everything she does. She has a great entrepreneurial spirit, drive, passion, and a vision on how to create and implement programs and services to inspire young women and encourage them to love themselves. Recently, she worked with her local Girls Inc organization in Portland, Oregon to help build curriculum and is even facilitating events. Last year, Jolie self published her first book called “Me Too” a collection of poetry, writing, and quotes on body acceptance, confidence, goal setting, and healthy relationships. In December, she even donated the proceeds back to I AM THAT GIRL. Jolie has not only started two I AM THAT GIRL chapters, she now works as an intern for the national organization because she wants to have an even great impact.

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Juliette Mogenson

At 23, Juliette Mogenson embraces her authentic raw self and loves her imperfections. She has often said she loves being imperfect because humans are not mean to be great at everything and that’s why we need each other. Juliette is the coach for a young woman real world conference in Pueblo, Colorado where she provides mentorship for not only young girls but other coaches.  Juliette is so passionate about her service to her own I AM THAT GIRL chapter that she has regularly spearheaded fundraisers for girls to attend the summer conference in Los Angeles, even using her own funds to ensure all member could attend the trip. Juliette’s work in her community has illustrated how awesome it feels when you spread love and give people the space to be who they are, feel what they feel and never feel alone in that.  Juliette aspires to run for public office.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
A couple of years ago I got out of an unhealthy relationship. The months preceding the break-up, I underwent so much internal conflict. I asked myself, “Am I the problem? Could I just stick it out?” because this break-up would mean I would need to find a new home and I had no idea how I would afford to live on my own. I was about to start graduate school and had a full-time job; this was just going to be another stressor in my life. After months on my emotional roller-coaster, one day I woke up and made a definitive choice: I needed to get out. Regardless of the hassle it would create at the most inconvenient time, I decided to love myself more than to allow someone to mistreat me out of convenience. Even though this choice was an act of self-love and care, I couldn’t have felt more alone and weak. It took me being vulnerable and reaching out to those around me for help that kept me focused on my goals. I wanted to drop out of graduate school, I wanted to move away, and just run from all of my problems. My friends, mentors, and family kept reiterating that the worst was over and if I could overcome the relationship I was in, I would eventually move on from the heartbreak. They were right. It took my first semester of graduate school to finally realize that I made the right decision for me. I speak openly about my experience because I know someone out there has gone through a similar situation and I hope to be a figment of hope for someone who feels they aren’t strong enough to get through an unhealthy relationship. The fact is we are all strong enough. Sometimes it just takes digging deep to realize that truth. We are all perfectly, imperfectly enough.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be, “Take your time.” Don’t rush into growing up; don’t try and control the future. When I was younger, I tended to want to experience all that life had to offer as soon as I could. I feel like I grew up faster than others my age.  I wish I would have experienced life more than trying to plan out all the details of my future.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
I really look up to Brene Brown for inspiration. Her openness about difficult topics such as: vulnerability, shame, and courage allows me to be more in tune with myself. I love that she owns her story and empowers others to do the same.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
“Live your life day by day.” The first part of the slogan, “Live your life” means to own your life, to take control of your life. Live life to your standards, not others’. The second half, “Day by day” means we have a choice everyday on how we want to live. Each day we have the power to be strong, happy, productive, etc. We dictate our destiny. But, if we had an off day and we weren’t our best selves, it is okay. We can put the bad day to rest and wake up the next day and try again.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I aspire to be a voice for those who do not have one. Growing up, I often found myself in leadership positions. I always had this innate confidence and wanted to lead others to reach their full potential. In college, I began to hone in on my strengths, studying sociology and leadership. After studying leadership theories, I felt like I fit best within authentic leadership. I cultivate authenticity in my daily life and value continuous self-reflection. I am passionate about social justice and plan to attend law school and serve in the public sector. This would fulfill my mission to leave this world a little better than I found it.

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Shana Kheradyar

Shana Kheradyar has a long commitment to lifting up girls.  As a chapter leader, she leads with her vulnerability often admitting her mistakes and downfalls which make her even more of THAT girl. Shana is a resource to both girls and guys on campus regarding self-doubt and has planned several I AM THAT GIRL retreats to ensure girls have an opportunity to support each other in a safe setting.  Shana makes other girls feel like it’s okay to not be perfect and to speak up even when your voice shakes.  She empowers others to take their downfalls and turn them into strengths. Within her local California community, Shana is seen as a servant leader. She works regularly with inmates to show them a life beyond prison and also volunteers at Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles, where she makes food packages for low income families. At only 21, Shana is a leader, an influencer, a role model, and a friend all in one and she is THAT girl.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
There was a moment in high school, when I lost all confidence and hope in myself and my ability to succeed. I felt like a switch went on off in my mind and suddenly any goals or aspirations I had were gone, nothing mattered, and I just wanted to do the bare minimum. This resulted from a lot of outside factors telling me that I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t have it in me to succeed, and slowly I started to believe those voices. During that time in high school, I was ready to give up on all my plans of going to a four year university, staying in my honors courses, and more, yet I knew deep inside that this feeling was only temporary and that I had more in me than I even realized. I trusted the one ounce of hope I had left and rode with that for months. It was terrifying to have zero confidence in yourself, but go out in the world and pretend you can handle it. I had serious anxiety for months as I tried to break through what I was feeling and over time I became my biggest advocate and cheerleader. I had to constantly remind myself that I was smart enough, and good enough, and talented enough, and I slowly started to believe it.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
If I could go back in time I would tell myself that everything will work out in the end. Any failure or hardship, or downfall I had would only be there to re-guide me on the path that I am meant to be on. I would emphasize how hardship and failure are my biggest motivators and that I shouldn’t fear failure, but embrace it because it will prove to be the biggest blessing.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
One of my biggest inspirations is Sara Blakely, the Founder and CEO of Spanx. I think her story to becoming a self-made billionaire is incredible and she is the walking example of someone who made it with very limited experiences in business, but took her weaknesses and turned them into strengths. She inspired me make failure my friend and embrace it as an opportunity to learn. I also love how she manages to be a working mom and run a huge company just to show women across the globe that it is possible.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
My slogan would be to speak my truth even when my voice shakes.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
As cheesy as it sounds, I define my purpose in life to simply makes others happy and create conversations about things that matter. Whether that’s through my work in entertainment or in my everyday life, I aspire to create a space that lifts other up in a meaningful way and create a community that supports one another instead of tearing each other apart. I hope to achieve this through a career in media and entertainment to hopefully put out content that upholds this message.

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Trinity Monteiro

As a sophomore in high school in Massachusetts, Trinity Monteiro recognized the lack of support girls were receiving and approached a faculty member.  She committed herself then to doing anything necessary to build up support for girls.   She started the first ever I AM THAT GIRL chapter soon thereafter.  She’s motivated and sincere about her commitment to I AM THAT GIRL, having stayed in her role as a chapter leader for 2.5 years.  Not only did Trinity organize her own chapter, she has regularly reached out to other schools and organization to participate.  Trinity always leads by example. She is a role model to the girls she serves and empowers them to be vulnerable and lift one another up.

Describe a moment that could’ve broken you, but didn’t. How did you get past the struggle?
I went through a period of my life when there seemed to be a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and I felt like I had failed at it therefore resulting in very low self esteem and shut down for a bit. It took a lot of self reflection and honest conversations with myself to get to the root of the problems, but also a lot of motivation and conscious efforts to do better. In fact I purposely made a list of things that made me happiest and sought them out and that journey led me to IATG, one of the brightest parts of my story so far.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself that vulnerability is our greatest measurement of courage so do not be scared of it being a weakness. That has always been something I have struggled with and have gotten better at accepting, but I even got it tattooed on me as a reminder when I get back to my old ways.

Who’s your biggest inspiration and why?
Picking one biggest inspiration is hard, because my motivation and drive is really fueled by the incredible people I surround myself with who each inspire me in their own ways. Whether that be my mother for her strength, my father for his unconditional love and stepping up in situations he does not necessarily need to, my older sister for her fiery passion in everything she does, but also people like Alexis Jones, Alicia Keys, Yara Shahidi, and so many more. So overall I would say my biggest inspiration is my tribe, because they all provide guidance for me in several different areas of life.

If you could create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
If I could create a slogan for my life right now it would have to be “remember you are one of them too,” because I always want to help other people and think they deserve so much better, but I have to work on seeing myself through that light as well.

How do you define your purpose & mission in life?
I define my purpose in life as to give others a voice who may not always have one and my mission is to be the best version of myself in order to hopefully inspire others to do the same.

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