Career Lessons from the Women Who Influenced Us
Three M13 partners remember the career-changing lessons they learned from their mothers.
Last Updated: June 22, 2021
Published: March 12, 2021
We recently sat down with Forbes to retrace how we found our way to M13—and to reflect on the women and values that have inspired us along the way.
This is a time when women are leaving the workforce in record numbers. Over the past year, we saw more than 2.5 million women in the U.S. drop out of the workplace, prompting some economists to call it a “she-cession” and reinforcing the need to support working women.
As we look back on our own career trajectories, we remembered some of the inspiring lessons we learned from our trailblazing mothers:
Sometimes you have to be the change you want to see
Christine Choi, M13 Partner and Head of Brand: My mother was a bright student in post-war Korea and earned a scholarship to pursue her master’s degree in anthropology in the U.S. After she married my father, a diplomat, wherever we lived my mother had to stay home and look after me and my two siblings. It did not stop her continuous learning; she took courses at the local university and shared with us a deep curiosity about people and the world.
After noticing how insufficient my high school social studies education was, my stay-at-home mom built an award-winning education travel fellowship from scratch, enabling teachers, textbook writers, curators, and other educators to travel to Korea and immerse themselves in world history.
For many, my mother’s fellowship was a chance to travel abroad and to Asia for the first time, and their experiences in Korea enlivened their teaching. She gave me a love of people’s stories, travel, and authentic experiences and taught me to never give up. She hasn’t let a recent stroke stop her from scholarship; she has learned to write with her left hand and if you’re lucky, you might get a card from her.
Learn how to tell——and sell——your unique capabilities
Lizzie Francis, M13 Partner and Head of Operations: I feel incredibly fortunate that I have a pretty exceptional family, and they were a huge influence on me and my sister while we were growing up. My mom was one of the first women at Yale Law School in the 1960s, and she was a minority—she truly paved the way for other women and has been a total inspiration to me.
She met my dad at Yale when he was getting his master’s in public policy administration—he was definitely of that JFK generation of people who felt they should serve their country through government—and they settled in Washington, D.C. where they made their careers.
When my mom graduated, she had limited job opportunities as there were few private sector opportunities for female lawyers. In fact, she was often offered secretarial work when applying to law firms despite her degrees. The federal government was hiring women, though, so she started her career there before moving into the private sector, doing more graduate work at Harvard University, teaching law at George Washington, becoming a Ford fellow, and working as a nationally renowned, well-respected partner at D.C. law firm Spiegel & McDiarmid.
Some of the memorable lessons my mom taught my sister and me, before our parents rightly kicked us out the door after college to make our own way, was to be passionate about our work, do the right thing, and find purpose. Practically, it was that the best lawyers are always curious, patient problem solvers, fierce advocates for their clients, and great at their craft. My mom also believed that you should not get so lost in the law that you forget you must also be a salesperson—because you have to make a living, and you can’t do that if you don’t know how to sell your expertise to clients.
You need to learn how to tell people what you can do. And then you have to knock it out of the park.
Find your deeper purpose
Anna Barber, M13 Partner and Head of Launchpad: My mother grew up in a small town in Virginia, got a Ph.D. from Duke, and made her way to New York, where she built a long and successful career as a literary agent. At the end of her career, shortly before she passed away in 2016, she was able to travel to Sweden to see her client and longtime friend Alice Munro receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
She found her passion early—she loved writers and writing. When she found a writer whose work she believed in, there was no one better to be their advocate and help build their career. My favorite word that people used to describe her was “fierce”—when she believed in something, she was absolutely unstoppable.
The model I got growing up was of two-parent, working household where the career of each parent was equally important. It never occurred to me that there were any limits on what I could do, or that somehow my role or my path was going to be different than if I had been born male.
Because I had that baked into me, I had almost a naïvete about the world, but it was helpful early on because I didn’t see limits. They were invisible to me. It never for a minute occurred to me that I wouldn’t work. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have a big impact in whatever I did. And when I think about the “Why am I here? What is my deeper purpose in this world?” I’m here to be a catalyst and coach for people who are making the world better through entrepreneurship. My mother was a coach for writers. I see myself in the same way—just doing it for entrepreneurs.
Build for change
Christine: Something that really excites me about the consumer behavior changes that are happening now is that it’s actually empowering businesses leaders like us to really help our startup founders build teams that reflect the future and to reflect what stakeholders want, and not just what just shareholders and profit making [want].
I think women are built for change, right? We are built for pivots. We’ve had to personally hack our way through so many different identities in the course of our adulthood.
What I see as being really exciting about three female partners contributing to M13 is building companies for the future and not the past. And as we’ve seen, some people just get more opportunities than others. The cognitive dissonance that we are all experiencing right now watching the news is a reminder that there are broken systems that represent the status quo, and that we have a chance to build companies that are better.
And that’s what M13 has been built for. Startups have access to executive bench strength like us that gives them permission to be human. We have the empathy of operators. We know what it takes to build profitable companies.
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