Women’s History Month


While women deserve to be celebrated every day, March is officially Women’s History Month! As we honor women’s contributions to American history, we asked some of Vitality’s fearless female leaders to share with us the women who’ve inspired them to become the women they are today.

You’ll hear from:

Who is the most influential woman you know?

Tanya Little: Thuli Madonsela, a South African advocate and professor of law, who served as SA’s Public Protector from 2009-2016. Madonsela helped draft the SA Constitution and is known for her courage in exposing and tackling state capture and “giving the people a voice while giving the leader a conscience”.

Christine Brophy: Helen Keller.As a young girl I saw the biographical film and became instantly enthralled with her story. Her inspirational story and quotes have formed much of my outlook on persevering through adversity. 

Lauren Prorok: My mom. She was always working (until her recent retirement) in a way that was very focused on women in the workplace (and doing so well before it was a popular topic). She has always showed me how to be an empowered woman in my personal and professional life and I owe most of my successes to her.

Daniella Freinkel: While it may sound cliché, I have to say my mother. She has dedicated over 40 years to education, and her passion for developing and mentoring children, teachers and parents is exceptional. My mom has the ability to see the magic in individuals and their unique talents whether academic, sporting, or creative. Her thirst for knowledge and continuous learning to ensure the school that she runs develops future leaders is inspiring. Although we are in different industries, I hope that in my role as Head of People, I can impact those around me in the same way my mom has impacted those around her over the years.

Shilpa Agarwal: Oprah Winfrey (I don’t know her but would like to)

Which female historical figure do you look up to the most?

Tanya Little: There are many (!) but Ada Lovelace stands out. Lovelace is considered the world’s first computer programmer. Unlike others, she was able to develop a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, and she also pioneered the examination of how individuals and society could and would relate to technology as a collaborative tool.

Christine Brophy: Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest-serving first lady of the United States. As I learned about her in history class, I came to see her as the definition of a strong woman. She reminded me so much of my grandmother, who raised me from the age of 6. She was powerful. She was empathetic. She was an activist and cared deeply about human rights. What’s not to look up to?

Lauren Prorok: Ruth Bader Ginsberg without a doubt. She was just a powerhouse before the average woman even knew that was an option. She didn’t just ask for change, she demanded it and made sure she was part of it. The fact that a majority of the country personally felt and experienced her death I think is the best sentiment to who she was and the legacy she left- it would be impossible to not admire and look up to her.

Daniella Freinkel: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is my icon. She stands as a beacon of hope for generations of women and men, a hero in the fight for justice, and is a personal role model. She proved to millions of people that age, illness and discrimination do not determine or define influence. Fighting for what one believes is a choice. I am not American, but for me, Justice Bader Ginsberg’s legacy extends beyond America.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in the workplace?

Tanya Little: Hands down, navigating the competing asks of my work and home lives. Specifically, being a present and involved mom and simultaneously a present and involved growth executive and leader. Prioritization is a work in progress for me (and I welcome pearls on this front from those who walk this tightrope successfully!)

Christine Brophy: Getting over my feelings of imposter syndromeStudies find that 75% of female executives experience feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. When I was promoted to the role of Vice President, I became filled with worry that I’d be exposed as incompetent. How did I work through it? By seeking out good mentors and forcing myself to objectively acknowledge and celebrate my strengths and accomplishments.

Lauren Prorok: I have spent my corporate career working in what (historically) been viewed as male-dominated industries (first sports, then law). That can come with requirements of confidence that I often lacked and had to fake, as well as a bigger hill to climb to earn the trust of colleagues and counterparts. However, this just forced me to be better than I was the day before, so while I wouldn’t call myself thankful at the times these challenges arose, in hindsight I am quite thankful for the professional they helped me become.

Daniella Freinkel: I am very fortunate to work at a company and in a division that is very inclusive. However, I am often one of the few women in the room. My natural style is with a softer approach which may be perceived as not being confident or assertive enough. I’ve had to learn over the years to navigate the room and have the confidence to bring my voice and my opinion to the table. It’s part of my continuing growth journey.

Shilpa Agarwal: The Imposter Syndrome. I’ve remained modest about my journey of learning and growth in the workplace, yet there have been many instances where I’ve felt like I don’t fit in. It takes a lot perseverance and mental strength to fight this emotion and bounce back up.

How do you help other women in the workplace?

Tanya Little: I offer ‘high stretch, high support’ to the women I lead and mentor. My primary value add is that of thinking partner and coach. More broadly in the workplace, I amplify voices that may get lost, and build connections and relationships to unlock opportunities for women, both personal and professional.

Christine Brophy: We have a wonderful mentoring program here at Vitality, and I’ve been fortunate to mentor a very special woman here. I’d like to believe I made an impact. Beyond that, I do my best to bring my best self to work and model the behaviors of a good leader, a good person. If I see an opportunity to help someone, man or woman, avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve experienced over my 24+ years, I don’t hesitate to schedule time with them to talk. I’ve also hosted a couple of company-wide webinars to share my career and life journey.

Lauren Prorok: I try my best to lead by example, be kind and a “safe space” to be approached if required – but the biggest thing I try to show is that not every problem will have a solution, but how you handle that and find ways to make it better for yourself and others is what counts.

Daniella Freinkel: I informally and formally mentor a number of people. I’m grateful that my role encompasses a coaching component as I’m able to develop and coach young aspiring talent. I try to impart knowledge that teaches other women to find their inner motivation, drive their own careers, and have a voice and a seat at the table without feeling compromised or having to change who they are.

Shilpa Agarwal: I enjoy engaging in conversations with young women at work and empowering them to embrace confidence. It’s perfectly natural to face setbacks, but it’s important not to let them deter you. I understand how daunting it can feel to interact with someone more experienced or senior in a professional setting. However, it’s crucial to remember that we’re all human, and hierarchical structures shouldn’t hinder you from pursuing your life goals.

What is your advice to help women persevere in adverse situations?

Tanya Little: Over the years I’ve learnt many magnificent lessons, but a few in particular stand out:

  • “It takes a village” – Don’t go it alone. Seek counsel, seek support and ask for help.
    • “See the forest for the trees” – Perspective is hugely powerful. What feels like disaster today is likely inconsequential in a matter of days or weeks – maintain a big picture view.
    • “Play the long game” – Hang in!! Perseverance pays dividends.
    • “Do what’s right, even when no one is looking” – You’ll find untold strength (and ultimately success) in doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.

Christine Brophy: First and foremost, be kind to yourself and recognize that you are most likely your own worst critic. Spend time in self-talk, objectively thinking about the unique things you do and do well and use time to build your confidence to take chances. If you’re at the table, know you have every right to lean in and speak up. Be curious. Be genuine. And most of all, be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.

Lauren Prorok: I am a bit of a tough love kind of advice giver…I think adversity shouldn’t be viewed as an excuse to stop or an excuse to complain. Adversity should be used as a stepping stone to problem solve. With that- it’s important to remember every step towards improvement is a solution in itself – just because you can’t solve world hunger doesn’t mean you can’t help the hungry family next door and result in a positive impact. Both have positive impacts – all problems should be approached this way.

Daniella Freinkel: Be true to your own values. I strongly believe that you will never feel compromised if you trust your own value system which should be aligned with the values of the company you work for. Know your own value without it having to be validated by others. That should give you the confidence and assurance to leave your mark and bring others along with you on the journey.

Shilpa Agarwal: Don’t hesitate to speak your mind. Life is too short to allow challenges to overwhelm you. Find a mentor, friend, confidant and discuss the situation, your thoughts, your feelings. When we keep things bottled up inside, they often appear more dire than they are.

If you could have dinner with any 3 women, who would you invite to the table?

Tanya Little: Oh, there are so many incredible women I’d love to meet. Each of my picks was chosen because she has a specific lesson to teach me. Jacinda Ardern, for her courageous leadership style and swift policy decisions in the face of a tough environment (including responding to COVID and a spate of shootings). Drum roll … she’s a young mom! Oprah, for enduring through the ages, maintaining relevance throughout, and demonstrating an extraordinary ability to foster connection and vulnerability (in self and others). And Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, for her unashamed ability to find gifts in moments of disappointment and failure, and her contagious positivity.

Christine Brophy: My mother, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 42. I was 6 at the time. I’d give anything to have dinner with her and talk about how much she influenced the person I am today even with the little bit of time we had together. Lucille Ball. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to laugh and even more, love to make those around me laugh. What a gift! I grew up laughing to Lucy’s comedic timing and brilliance. Pretty much everything you see and laugh about in comedy today originated from her. I’d love to laugh over a meal with her. Jimmie C. Holland. What an amazing woman. When I was diagnosed with cancer my sister-in-law sent me her book “The Human Side of Cancer” and it got me through some very hard days. I was honored to meet her and have breakfast with her at a conference where she released her book “Lighter as we Go:  Virtues, Character Strengths, and Aging”, a book I often send to my friends when they hit their 50th birthday. It’s brilliant. 

Lauren Prorok: RGB (above reasons noted), Jane Fonda and my daughter. I would love for my daughter to see and meet these two individuals and see what it means to be a powerful and impactful woman. I also think Jane Fonda has used her celebrity to “fight the good fight” and prove you can do what you love and still find a way to make a positive impact. I would love my daughter to see that first-hand.

Daniella Freinkel: A dinner party needs to be carefully orchestrated. Like the food and drinks served, the guests should be paired well to ensure a memorable gathering. I would invite Dolly Parton, Shonda Rhimes and Jane Austen. Dolly Parton brings authenticity to the table. She is a sharp businesswoman who models generosity and an inspirational work ethic. Her sense of humor, unique sartorial style and interesting background will certainly add sparkle and spice – hopefully a song as well! Shonda Rhimes is a storyteller of a different kind whose flawed characters keep us watching, wishing and guessing. Like Dolly Parton, she is not afraid to show her vulnerability – which is evident in her book, ‘Year of the Yes ‘. A philanthropist with a well-documented wit, the fact that she loves cooking may mean that I get some help in the kitchen too! And my final guest- Jane Austen. A woman with her own take on feminism and the ability to transport the imagination with words, long before any records, movies or series. What would she wear? How would she react to seeing the visual interpretations of her writing? A new song for Dolly or a series for Shona? Maybe a new novel? Around the table – four women aged 78, 54, and 42 as well as guest who lived over 200 years ago. Two Americans, one South African and one English. Delicious food, stimulating conversation.

Shilpa Agarwal: Indra Nooyi, Bozoma Saint John and Michelle Obama

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