Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.

What is your name and title?

Anneke Forzani, President and Founder at Language Lizard.

Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.

I oversee all aspects of Language Lizard, a small business that publishes and distributes children’s resources in over 50 languages to schools, libraries and literacy organizations. We support multicultural education and culturally responsive teaching.

How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.

I spent several years working as a marketing manager for a large telecommunications company, serving immigrant communities that spoke Arabic, Russian, and Polish. I recognized that most companies were not focusing on these communities and, as such, often their needs were not being met. At the same time, I was studying children’s writing and graphic design to engage the creative side of my brain “for fun”. These two experiences led me to develop a business that would provide children’s books in home languages for communities that did not have high quality literacy materials in their languages.

In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?

For several years, I worked with a professor of education and some graduate students on a book that would support teachers in developing culturally responsive classrooms, helping diverse students thrive both academically and socially. The book was a culmination of years of working with teachers of diverse students, and the book was published at the end of 2019. This book has helped to position our company as a leader in promoting diversity education.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?

If sales are slow due to circumstances beyond your control, find important work to do to set your company and yourself up for success when things get back to normal.

What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?

I interact with many women educators and literacy professionals, so being a woman has not been a hindrance in my current career. What has been a challenge, is being a working mother, particularly during a year like this – when children do not have their regular routines, and normal support structures are unavailable. This year has forced me to focus and prioritize more than ever before.

Do you have any mentors? What does mentorship mean to you?

I had a great mentor for many years in my previous company. She was a senior executive and helped me to move to many different, interesting positions throughout the company. She is an amazing example of strong, female leadership, and showed me how to lead successfully with high expectations AND compassion for members of your team. I think a good mentor or role model can help you learn how to lead, and can provide opportunities for success.

What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?

You can learn from both great managers and from those who are not so good. Find traits that you want to emulate as well as those that you want to avoid. Also, make sure you are always learning. If you are not learning, then see if you can move to a new opportunity (even if it’s in the same company) where you will learn and grow.

What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?

Offer an ability to move through different roles in the company to grow and learn new skills. Also, allow women, and all employees, to manage their schedules flexibly so they can succeed at work and at home.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the next year?

Provide books in some new languages, including some indigenous languages.

Is there a cause that is particularly close to you? If so, why this cause and how did you get involved?

Room to Read – they support global literacy and girls education, two causes that are close to my heart. They also have a program where they mentor writers and illustrators in developing countries to help develop talent around the world. I learned about the organization from a friend who is the head of a NJ chapter.

When did your company join Pledge 1%? What does your impact program mean to you?

Early 2020. We support an organization that promotes diversity in children’s books, and also Room to Read and some smaller programs. It is extremely meaningful to support literacy and educational initiatives throughout the world which will help bring people out of poverty, and also will help build community in diverse classrooms.

What do you like to do outside of the office? Any interesting (or unique) habits or interests?

I love to visit national parks, hike, and challenge myself physically. Two years ago, I hiked up half dome in Yosemite National Park which was a huge accomplishment for me as I have a fear of heights. I also try to train once a year for sprint triathlons.

Are you reading/listening to anything interesting at the moment? Please share your most recent favorite book or podcast!

I just discovered a new podcast called the Superhuman Project Podcast. The Superhuman Project is “an effort to help individuals become the best version of themselves & live their full potential.”

What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?

Breath. I began meditating and have been learning to become more present in the moment, focusing on the here and now rather than worrying about the future.

You can learn more about our company with this 5 minute video.