Writer and visual storyteller Deborah Cole is on a personal mission. Her focus — diversity, equity and inclusion, specifically female empowerment.
Not only is she a frequent speaker, Deborah Cole wears many hats as an author, writer, photographer, teacher, and former business owner herself. Based in Austin, her message of hope inspires all to realize their true potential, whether in a professional setting or daily life. She’s the perfect candidate to celebrate Women’s History Month!
Cole grew her business to be in the top 25 in the industry. And after 35 years leading teams and managing multi-million-dollar projects, she moved onto a new endeavor, enthusiastically sharing her wisdom, stories and documentary-style photography in her latest book.
In SHE (Believed She Could So She Did), Cole highlights 35 Texas women who have by design or by circumstance come to lead successful companies. The book is filed with inspiring stories of women across industries, ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences, ages, and disabilities.
We caught up with this talented author to discuss more about her latest book.
How has your environment and social upbringing impacted your writing style?
As a business owner, I always believed in brevity and sticking to facts, no “fluff.” As a writer who needs to bare her soul from time to time, I’ve learned that vulnerability in writing is an asset not a detractor. As a daughter of parents who instructed me to keep my personal issues and feelings to myself, it has also been difficult to be authentic and open in my writing. Over time, it has become a little easier to share those things that have remained unmentioned, but getting “real” is still a challenge.
What inspired you to write about women in business and female entrepreneurs?
Although all business owners experience the same large and small issues in running day to day operations, women experience (and approach) problem solving in a different manner. As a woman founder and owner for 35 years I was often somewhat at odds with others who saw solutions radically different than I did. And I wondered why. Women face the same obstacles as men plus additional ones. Knowing that others share the same thought processes and mindset is affirming for other women in business.
Which part of the book was the most fun to write?
The most enjoyable part of the interview/photography process was actually the one-on-one time with the women. What might start as a 90-minute interview occasionally turned into an all-day affair as we discovered so much common ground and I became a resource for them as a former business owner who had jumped many of the same hurdles. Actually sitting down and writing up the stories allowed me to relive the experience of being with the amazing group of strong and capable women.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
I was surprised to learn that some of the same shenanigans continue today; comments, female stereotyping, negative attitudes, etc. Although over the years I had learned how to deal with these things, I was surprised to know that attitudes still exist. But I also learned that there have been some incredible leaps and changes in how women are encouraged toward entrepreneurial roles. In high school and colleges, women are able to find support in their efforts, hopes and dreams. Brava!
Is there anything you found particularly challenging?
I found it difficult to stop seeking out and interviewing more women. I had intended to locate and interview 25 women but continued to discover more female leaders that had incredible stories. By 35. I had to call a halt or the book would be the size of War and Peace.
What advice would you give young women for taking a jump into a new business?
I would encourage all men and women to listen to their inner voice which might be encouraging them to take a leap of faith if entrepreneurship is their calling. And to do the research in their geographic areas, in their communities and their chosen market. We should all seek out advice, mentors and role models who can help support us. Find those who can be our cheerleaders in an informed manner. These were resources which were lacking in my world.
What’s next for Deborah Cole?
I continue to look for women and women’s groups who can benefit by some additional support. I’m mentoring a woman who is thinking of changing careers and opening her own practice. I’m also supporting a woman who is transitioning from ownership to her 2nd act career. I am perennially curious and open to receiving ideas for supporting women which may have never been on my radar. The universe always seems to have better plans than we could ever have conceived. After all, I am an accidental entrepreneur who never realized that all those talents I exhibited as a child were really skills which enabled me to be the entrepreneur I was. Oh, yes — and I’ve recently been introduced to a female tequila maker in Mexico who wants her story to be told. I’m IN!
Cover photo courtesy Deborah Cole
Leean Vargas is the Highlight Reel newsletter editor at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honors graduate of Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She is a concert enthusiast who loves traveling, photography, good food, and discovering new hangout spots in her beloved city, Austin, Texas.