166 years ago this month, female textile workers took to the streets to protest unfair working conditions and unequal rights for women. Courageous, determined, and motivated, their protest helped kick-start a movement that saw the establishment a few years later of International Women’s Day on March 8th, and much later in 1987, the creation of Women’s History Month.
Their story was also the start of a shared journey to a more fair and equal society–a journey that continues today across the globe.
Celebrating International Women’s Day 2023
It’s March, so we’re celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month at BILL. We’re recognizing the accomplishments of women across history and cultures–in our communities and in businesses from all sectors. And we’re reflecting on how we foster diversity in our workplace and champion traditionally underserved businesses, particularly women-owned businesses.
As part of our celebration, we spoke to BILL’s most senior women leaders–Irana Wasti (Chief Product Officer), Sarah Acton (Chief Marketing Officer), and Sofya Pogreb (Chief Operating Officer). We wanted to share their stories about women who have inspired them, the women innovators who are changing our communities, and the path to embracing equity as a leader in business today.
Here are their stories–in their words.
Irana Wasti, Chief Product Officer
My story starts with the women who have inspired me the most: my mom, my grandma and my great-grandma. Growing up among three generations of hard working women, I was inspired by how well they navigated their family lives and demanding careers (my grandmother was a Chemistry Professor at a University and my mom was working on her PhD in Applied Math.)
My family left our home in Uzbekistan and moved to the U.S. when I was 14. At the time, my young parents, grandparents and great-grandparents arrived with a few possessions, and two boisterous kids.
While building a life in a new country and culture, my mom retrained as a computer scientist quickly took on a role of a developer and progressed her career while raising two daughters. My grandmother became quite fluent in English which has helped her and my grandparents settle in the U.S.
To this day, my mom is the smartest person I know. She’s the person I call for personal and professional advice, and the person my two kids call when they need help with homework or school.
What inspires me most about the stories and journeys of my mom, grandma and great-grandma and journey is their ability to engage with change, deal with uncertainty, adapt, and find new ways to grow and thrive. It’s a lesson I’ve applied each and every day in my own career and personal life. As someone who has led product development teams for over 20 years, I know that ability and willingness to analyze the environment, listen, and adapt are key to delivering products that delight customers.
The other aspect of my mom’s story that has inspired me is her role as a mentor to me and others during her career. Finding great mentors can be the key to success, particularly when you’re just starting. Being a great mentor is also one of the most valuable contributions you can make to an organization.
As a leader, finding opportunities to mentor other women has always been a focus of mine. This mentoring journey has enabled me to help empower and learn from other women in my industry. It’s a commitment I make to support others. It’s also been a hugely valuable asset to me personally and professionally, having developed a broad network of other women leaders in the process.
This International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I’m celebrating women like my mom, my grandma and my great-grandma. Women who are working hard to support and balance family, friends, and careers. Women who invest their time in helping to mentor and empower other women. Women who are working for a more equal and just society.
And – of course – I’m celebrating the millions of women who are working hard to run, contribute to, and support small businesses! As BILL’s product leader, I love being in a role where I can champion SMBs – including organizations like Family Giving Tree, Bare Bones and Generation Teach who have strong women leaders.
Whatever path you are on, taking this chance and this moment to celebrate women is special.
Sarah Acton, Chief Marketing Officer
My story starts with why I joined BILL a little over a year ago.
Growing up, my dad owned a small professional services business. I saw first-hand just how important small businesses were to local communities. I also saw how tough it can be to run a small business.
Jump forward a few years, and I had started my own small business selling children’s clothing. As a small business owner, one of my most valuable tools was my network of other small businesses, including other women-owned businesses. I worked hard to build connections with local businesses–finding suppliers, vendors, and service providers. This network was essential to my ability to serve my customers and to the success of my business.
I joined BILL because of my life-long passion for SMBs. It’s a company that champions small businesses, so it’s a mission I believe deeply in. One of the things that I love most about the work we do at BILL is the opportunity to champion and empower traditionally underserved businesses, including women-owned businesses.
So many awesome women business leaders are out there innovating, disrupting, and changing our communities for the better. In the U.S. alone, there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses.
Women like Claire Coder, who founded Aunt Flow, a business that provides free period products in schools and offices. This is so essential to supporting equality in our communities.
Women like Lauren Groper, who founded Repurpose, which is fighting plastic pollution by making compostable and sustainable tableware from plants.
Or women like Rosi Linda Sanchez, who founded Mixto, a social media agency committed to helping build minority-owned brands.
These women are inspiring generations of future women business leaders. They’re also empowering other small businesses–including women-owned businesses–through the networks they create. This is why I’m thrilled that BILL is supporting women like Claire, Lauren, and Rosi to run their businesses and connect them with others so they can build those networks.
Supporting women-owned businesses is one of the best things we can do for our communities and economies. This is why I'm celebrating the important role of women-owned businesses and women business leaders this International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Great things are possible when we work together to empower women and build our networks.
Sofya Pogreb, Chief Operating Officer
My story starts as a young girl in Russia, where International Women’s Day was one of the biggest events on our calendar. In fact, it’s one of only three holidays (along with New Year's and my birthday) that I’ve celebrated consistently my whole life.
For me, this month is about celebrating the women in our lives–our mothers, partners, daughters, friends, and colleagues–who lead incredibly rich and multifaceted lives. When I look back at people like my grandmother and mother, it’s striking how much the responsibilities and expectations of women have shifted tremendously. As a society, we’re moving toward greater flexibility and choice in how we live our lives–both at work and home.
In our workplaces, for example, we’ve seen big shifts toward hybrid work. COVID was a catalyst for this, but the move towards providing employees more flexibility predates the pandemic. This has been a game-changer for many people (including women with caring responsibilities), empowering them to balance their work and family lives more effectively.
As Chief Operating Officer at BILL, it’s my job to lead from the front to foster an inclusive environment where every employee can bring their authentic self to work. I’m a big believer in results-driven management and investing in the development of all our people equally. I think you need to build teams on the foundations of transparency and trust, where you give people of all levels exposure to leadership. And I believe in giving every employee–regardless of background, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation–the opportunity to learn and engage on a level playing field.
We also see these significant societal shifts at home. I feel incredibly fortunate to be living at a time and in a place where I have the freedom to build a life that is authentic to me and my family. I’m a single mom of three kids and am proud to balance a busy career with busy kids. There are millions of other women like me and families like ours.
The opportunities we enjoy now, to build our lives in a way that works for us–that aligns with our lifestyles and preferences–are not opportunities afforded to my grandmother or even my mother. This Women’s History Month, I’m thankful for how far we have come as a society and excited for what’s ahead.
Interested in working with Irana, Sofya, and Sarah at BILL? We’re hiring! Check out our job openings here.