Women’s History Month: Chicago female business leaders blazing the trail for the next generation

Chicago Scene

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice.” — Michelle Obama

For many, the 31 days in the month of March is just the start in celebrating and highlighting the accomplishments of all women.  It started as a national celebration in 1981, then “Women’s History Week” in 1982, and five years later in 1987, the month of March would be designated as Women’s History Month.

We talked to 4 women business leaders in Chicago on what Women’s History Month means to them. Below are some of their answers:

Julie Smolyansky: CEO of Lifeway Foods: “Women’s History Month for me is a time to celebrate and honor the achievements of women throughout history…There’s not a single museum dedicated to the achievements, accomplishments, and contributions of women, it’s incredibly important to honor and celebrate all the great things that women offer in the world.”

Katrina Markoff: Founder & CEO of Vosges Haut Chocolat: “This particular year of Women’s History Month really means something kind of very different to me than in the past, I feel we have this amazing momentum into 2021, a sort of balancing the archetypes of male and female and it’s rising in a very female type of moon…I think that we’re coming into this golden age of balance between the genders, and a lot more respect for tenacity and unknown and the intuitive nature of women.”

Gwendolyn Perry Davis: Senior Director of Development at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: “Women’s History Month for me is an opportunity to celebrate women who are working right now, who are doing amazing things in their lives for their community…Making sure that your voice is always being used and making sure you are using your voice for others”

Amy Errett: Founder & CEO of Madison Reed: “What it means to me is that a confidant woman is beautiful…”I was raised by very strong women decades ago, and believed that women can do anything.”

We asked the four panelists what they would like to see next in the pursuit of women’s equality.

Perry Davis: “I’m very excited about the opportunity to move forward of pay equity for women.”

 Errett: “What I want to see next is let’s put women back to work, let’s create opportunities that are incredibly well paid, equity paid.”

Julie Smolyansky: What we all learned is how important our mental health is, this is one of the most important things that is hurting our society right and it’s going to hurt for a while as people come back and figure out reentry and figure out how that looks.” “Share what an empathic response looks like, and what compassion in the workplace looks like.”  

Katrina Markoff: “Without men advocating for women, demanding that they have a seat too, they’re the ticket to help us to where women want to be.”

Full bios below:

Amy Errett: Founder & CEO of Madison Reed

Amy’s multifaceted career has ranged from founding and operating companies, to investing in startups, to volunteer nonprofit leadership. Currently, Amy is Founder and CEO of Madison Reed, an omnichannel beauty brand that is challenging industry titans in the hair color space. She is also a Partner at True Ventures, focusing on investments in consumer and ecommerce startups

Julie Smolyansky: CEO of Lifeway Foods

Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she took over Lifeway Foods at the age of 27 in 2002. Since then, Julie has continued the company’s growth trajectory with creative product development and marketing to bring kefir, the company’s flagship product, into the U.S. mainstream. Under her leadership, the company has expanded distribution throughout the United States, Mexico, the UK, and Ireland, as well as portions of Central and South America and the Caribbean. She has been named to Fortune Business ‘40 under 40,’ Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter, as one of the Best Instagrammers of the 40 Under 40 list, and was recently named a 2020 Champion of Wellness by VeryWell.  

Katrina Markoff: Founder & CEO of Vosges Haut Chocolat

Twenty years ago, Katrina Markoff founded Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a leading luxury chocolate brand based in Chicago. Three days following her graduation from Vanderbilt University, Katrina moved to Paris to pursue her dream of studying the culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu. Using her palate as her guide, she then embarked on a world tour that began with an apprenticeship in Spain under the direction of Ferran Adrià and continued east through Southeast Asia and Australia. The purple house of Vosges HautChocolat and the concept of Travel the World through Chocolate™ were inspired by her journeys. Katrina’s fusion of indigenous spices, flowers, roots, herbs and liqueurs with premium chocolate creates a sensory experience that nurtures awareness of and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures.

Gwendolyn Perry Davis: Senior Director of Development at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Gwendolyn is the Senior Director of Operations for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago. She provides direction and oversight for the MCA’s daily operational functions including the care of the MCA’s Permanent Collection, employee resources and planning, maintaining over 300,000 square feet of museum facilities and its Information Technology program.

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