Equality, Paid Forward: 10 Inspiring Female CEOs

This month, we mark 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, allowing US women to vote. And 47 years since the establishment of Women's Equality Day — seeking broader equality of pay, opportunity and rights. While there is much work to be done to truly level the playing field for women entrepreneurs, there are many signs of momentum across the US, including:

  • 40% of US businesses are women-owned. That is 12.3 million businesses, generating $1.8 trillion a year.
  • Women started 1,821 net new businesses every day last year. 64% of those were started by women of color. Latina women-owned businesses grew more than 87%.
  • Private tech companies led by women achieve 35% higher ROI. Women-founded companies in First Round Capital’s portfolio outperformed companies founded by men by 63%.

Behind every statistic is a story. For me, it is exhilarating to learn the stories about women who‘ve not only succeeded personally, but who’ve also paid it forward to advance others in the process. Following are 10 such women leaders of small business and non-profit organizations who inspire all of us at Zenefits. (They also all happen to be our customers, so we’re doubly invested in their success).

Take a look at what they’ve done with passion, smarts and big-heartedness to build their own businesses and so much more. And if they similarly inspire you, there are a few ideas at the end for you, in turn, to help them pay it forward

Cindy Mi, Founder and CEO, VIPKid.
Long before the US grappled with remote learning during the pandemic, Cindy Mi made it both her life’s purpose and her business. Using technology to support powerful connections between students in China with North American English teachers, Cindy has not only engaged a generation of new learners, she’s laid a foundation for remote learning that crosses cultures, languages and time zones. In the process, she’s created a business cited as one of the “World’s Most Innovative Companies” and as one of  “The Top 10 Places to Work in 2020.”




Rebecca Hope, Co-founder and Executive Director,
Rebecca’s passion to improve the teenage condition led this physician, also trained in design thinking, to start a social impact design firm while on maternity leave. YLabs teaches problem-solving to young people around the globe, so they can tackle some of the most endemic health and economic issues holding them back. One example, CyberRwanda, is providing equitable access to healthcare to prevent unplanned pregnancy and HIV; especially crucial with closed schools and limited mobility during COVID.




Janine Yancey, Founder and CEO, Emtrain
As a seasoned employment lawyer, Janine knew a lot about how businesses got compliance wrong. Really, really wrong. She founded Emtrain and built a “culture tech platform” to help business people face —and practice— really uncomfortable conversations to stop harassment, bias and ethics problems in the workplace. Emtrain’s programs tackle the thorniest and the most recent cultural issues. For example, the latest micro lesson is about discussing Black Lives Matter.




Pam Lamaster, Co-CEO, Searl, Lamaster, Howe Architects
Pam grew her career at a certified woman-owned business. In fact, she was so passionate about it, she eventually bought it. The award-winning architectural firm and its eco-friendly designs have been featured in Dwell, Architectural Digest and Modern Luxury. Beautiful design and agility helped the business grow and better weather COVID. Architects established the trend for open, collaborative offices. But during required remote work this spring, Pam recognized that some of her team was doing even better away from the office. So she’s drawing up a new blueprint for how work will work better.




Dr. Hai Huang, DDS, and Paulina Song, Lake Merritt Dental
This mother-daughter team leveraged a penchant for efficiency to transform Dr. Huang’s private dental office into a thriving group practice with a wider range of dental and orthodontic care. They even make time to give back to their community with an annual free day of dental care, “Dentistry from the Heart.”

Daughter, Paulina, has a passion for health-tech.  In fact, she found business operations more of her calling than dentistry. She carved out enough time with savvy operations, to not only run her mom’s practice, but to run a side-hustle.  She recently launched her own business, Zentist, for dental insurance claims processing.  Something to say “ah” about!





Natasha Miller, Founder and CEO, Entire Productions
Lights, Action, Pivot! Natasha just nabbed her third annual INC. 5000 fastest-growing business award for her events management business that orchestrated more than 777 projects in 2019. Yet, COVID wiped out six months worth of business for her live events in a matter of weeks. So, this classically trained violinist and jazz singer put on a different show; live streamed virtual events and related promotional items that do even more to reunite and engage remote teams. What an encore!




Jodie Heal, President,
Heal Accounting
Jodie, an accomplished financial auditor, ditched her huge client load and long commute in favor of starting her own accounting business in her small hometown after she became a mom. Recognizing the huge financial risk of a compliance audit to a small business, she put all of her 300 small business customers on cloud-based technologies to avoid a mis-step that could put them out of business. In 2019, her unique cloud-based accounting practice earned Jodie a place among the top three “Women to Watch” in business for the state of Maine.




Michelle Liggett, President, Sky Trail Mgmt and Development
Michelle’s company performs back-office operations for more than a dozen businesses that build, sell, supply or offer family entertainment experiences with Ropes Courses Inc.(RCI). Michelle and her husband Jim, who founded RCI, are also reinvesting in their small town of Allegan, Michigan. They’ve been active in building up the picturesque riverside downtown area, adding a zipline over the water and renovating historic buildings into an art gallery, a restaurant and retail. This in turn, creates new jobs which help the 5,000-person town grow and thrive.



Adryon Ketcham,
GOALS for Autism
Armed with little more than experience and a passion to make a difference in the lives of young people, Adryon launched her business in 2009. Today, she’s built a team and a waiting list for her at-home services. But, knowing that the unemployment rate for people with behavioral disabilities ranges from 75-90%, she has a bigger dream. She doesn’t just want to help these kids become more self-sufficient adults, one day she wants to employ them  in a business staffed entirely with developmentally disabled people.

How you can help women make a bigger impact

As we commemorate the historic voting milestone, take time to pause, take stock and celebrate all the women you know who are making not only small businesses, but any organization, community, family, school and society overall work better.

  • Wherever possible, support their business, with yours.
  • “Vote” your support of Women’s Equality Day with a little social shout out:

Girls with a dream can —and do— become women with vision. That vision deserves our vote of support to pay it forward.