By Som Puangladda

Earlier this month, I was honored to accompany 10 inspiring women of GumGum to the annual Women to Watch Awards luncheon. Organized by AdAge and She Runs It, the event celebrates the leadership of women in the advertising industry and the world at large. It’s an awards ceremony, sure, but it feels like something much bigger. Imagine a rally, a party and a TED Talk all in one, featuring women who lead some of the world’s biggest brands. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

The honorees’ remarks stressed the importance of recognizing women—who are still a minority in this industry—as well as the continuing need for companies to improve diversity in age, gender and color, and to empower women to share their opinions without fear or compromise. It was inspiring to see so many women from so many backgrounds in one place. It was even more inspiring to see them step up to the podium and share their stories.

The afternoon kicked off with remarks by the host, who got straight to the point. “Women motivate, innovate and they are strong in times of crisis,” she said. “This benefits everyone. This is the year of a fearless world, and we want a world where women lead in every way. What would men be without women?” She also quoted one of my favorite lines by Maya Angelou, which offered a sort of unofficial theme for the event: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” The women who followed her embody the spirit of this quote: they’ve devoted their careers and their lives to throwing something back.

The outstanding honorees represented 22 leading brands, publishers and agencies, including Universal McCann, Leo Burnett, Onion Labs, Anheuser-Busch InBev, American Express, PepsiCo and Publicis. As high-level executives at the biggest brands in the world, these women are living proof that barriers can be broken—even if there are many left to break. Here are the words of wisdom in their speeches that hit me hardest:

“Watch the women in front of you and those that work for you. They’ll give back and bring their talent and passion to the table.”

–Kasha Cacy, U.S. CEO, Universal McCann

“Pressure is a privilege. It means people believe you can do a lot.”

–Samantha Skey, President-Chief Revenue Officer, SheKnows Media

“People are watching. You’re setting an example. Bring all of yourself to work and know your choices and words can set the standard of grace. Protect your magic and trust your dopeness!”

–Sadira Furlow, Sr. Director, Water Portfolio, PepsiCo

“Oprah says us women are such planners so plan for preparation for the opportunity. This plan kicks butt of my original plan that I had. Follow your heart then your head.”

–Kate Mitchell, Sr. VP-Head of Ad Sales, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network

“We’re here to connect and learn how to connect with brands and consumers. It comes down to passion and listening.”

–Danielle Maged, Executive VP-Global Solutions, Fox Networks Group

“How can we push our limits? Erase the word ‘can’t.’ Because if you think you can, you can!”

–Kendra Hatcher-King, VP Marketing and Consumer Strategy, SapientRazorfish

“Give yourself the opportunity to help others and make sure they do it for another person.”

–Karin Timpone, Global Marketing Officer, Marriott International

Of course, this is only a small sampling of the wisdom these women shared. But just as important is the example they set every day as leaders in their fields, inspiring all of us to become the next generation of Women to Watch. I look forward to seeing what they do next.

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