This past week in Denver, Colorado, I was honored to attend The Governor’s 35th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Program, featuring a presentation of Righteous Among the Nations Award to Dr. Maria Kiss Madi, Hungarian Rescuer, and my great grandmother.
The theme of the event was, “What You Do Matters”. During World War II, my great grandmother, at undeniable personal peril, saved two lives of her fellow Hungarians. The 7-year old boy that she saved, Alfred Lakos, attended the event with three generations of his lovely family members.
Although I never met Maria, she passed away before I was born, she was my original role model of an independent, successful woman.
Growing up, I heard many stories about Maria, mostly about her later years while living in the United States. In pre-war Europe, she was a highly educated doctor, a divorcee and a single mom. In her time, women didn’t do any of those things. Yet, all stories told how she lived with a strong, quiet, selfless steeliness; hallmarks of her legacy. She was an observer, an artist. Her only daughter, granddaughter, and a great granddaughter, would all learn how to meld glass and heat into beautiful creations.
The Nation of Israel honored this unique woman because she kept a record, in writing, in English, about what she witnessed as the Nazis invaded her home city of Budapest. She catalogued the asymmetry, the atrocities, her amazement, so that we could understand and never repeat what she witnessed.
In many ways, Maria is a cornerstone of our movement to share our stories, mentor and accelerate more women into leadership.
In an absolutely riveting keynote speech at the event, hosted by The Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Regional Office, Margit Meissner, Holocaust Survivor and Activist (aka my new tiny hero) discussed her survivor story, as well as the many problems facing the world. As an activist, she hopes that the shocking atrocities currently happening, such as the Syrian conflict and resulting refugee crisis, are global issues we will continue to bear witness to and work to eliminate, together.
Of course, gender equality was not on Margit’s nor Maria’s list of world issues to champion. Yet they both exemplify what our CEO WATTAGE Network exists to provide; the will to speak for something that needs to change, and the courage to insist upon the inadequacy of the status quo.
Gender inequality in leadership is an issue of my time, with economic and political implications. US business leadership should reflect or mirror the makeup of our country, which according to US census data, is approximately 50% women and 50% men.
Our work on the CEO WATTAGE platform, is for the hundreds of millions of women that could and should be equally represented in leadership.
My great grandmother was not seeking to be a hero, but acting because she knew it was the right thing to do. What she did, mattered. In her honor, we act for all of our sisters and brothers in leadership, now and for generations to come.