From Virtual Role Models to Real-Life Mentors: Celebrating Women’s Empowerment

Women’s History Month Musings by Natalie Ruiz

Natalie Ruiz
4 min readMar 15, 2024
Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

We’re well into Women’s History Month, and it’s a poignant reminder that while designated days or months, like International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month, highlight the achievements and struggles of women, the reality is that we don’t yet ‘own’ the whole year. The progress towards real inclusivity and equality for all — as well as the recognition of women’s contributions across all facets of life, has been significant, yet the journey is far from over. This month, as we celebrate, we also reflect on the work and progress that still lies ahead.

Navigating Without GPS

My journey, particularly professionally, mirrors the challenges many women face. Upon stepping into my role as CEO, I was acutely aware of the absence of mentors, advisors, and advocates who seemed to reflect any aspect of my identity.

I have been lucky, and while I was surrounded by incredible individuals who offered immense support and guidance, the path to embodying my true self in the role reminded me of what life was like before GPS — scary, confusing, and uncharted… If you’ve ridden in a car with me, you know I depend on Google Maps to make it from A to B!

My biggest advocates were my bosses — men who gave me stretch assignments and helped me grow throughout my career journey. I learned (and continue to learn,) so much from them — but I couldn’t see myself leading the way they did. I couldn’t even see myself speaking to people the way they did. Things were different for me, and I felt really alone for a while.

In seeking role models, I turned to the internet. I intentionally sought examples I could learn from and borrow from. I found a myriad of high-achieving women who became my virtual advisors. Among them was Indra Nooyi, whose poise, humility, and unwavering commitment to gratitude resonated deeply with me, alongside her impressive business accomplishments. Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, captivated me with the way she embraced failure as a stepping stone to success and believed in the power of big dreams and ideas. I watched countless interviews with Ursula Burns and reveled in her story, achievements, and strength. I looked up to Bozoma Saint John for her undeniable style and confidence and Luvvie Ajayi Jones, whose courage and eloquence in making good trouble inspired me. These women have been instrumental in my journey through their stories and achievements, offering solace, inspiration, and guidance.

The journey from virtual role models to engaging with the world introduced me to incredible women in real life whose influence and support have been invaluable. I’ve been part of professional organizations, ERGs, nonprofits, and passion projects that have connected me with women who will forever have a place in my heart and mind because of who they are, what they’re about, and how they’ve helped shape me. While it’s impossible to name everyone who has impacted my life, my gratitude is off the charts, and I appreciate you all.

Early Heroes

I’ve been pondering a thought-provoking question I got while at a Women’s History Month event recently: “If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or gone, who would it be?” Despite the countless names that came to mind, my thoughts invariably turned toward my grandma, my first hero. Her generosity, honesty, and ability to see the good in everyone have been foundational in my life. She always managed to create a sense of belonging, particularly around the kitchen table — where everyone was welcome, and there was always an abundance of coffee, food, or dessert for the frequent unexpected guests who were joining — she has instilled in me the commitment to ensuring people feel seen, heard, and cared about. My grandma left a legacy of joy and belonging because of how she showed up for people, and I hope to do the same.

Looking Forward

As we commemorate Women’s History Month, we dream of a future where recognition is not confined to a day or a month but is a year-round celebration of women’s achievements and contributions. Until that day arrives, and long after, cheers to the women who’ve paved the way, those who walk with us today, and the generations of women to come. May we support, inspire, and uplift one another in pursuing a world where true equality is not an aspiration but a reality. Cheers to the women, their impact, and all we achieve together in community.

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Natalie Ruiz

Tech CEO. Mom. Non-Profit Board Member. Working to normalize belonging at work. Living in gratitude. Trying to leave people and places better than I find them.