THE BLOG
04/15/2013 11:00 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2013

My Unusual Path to the C-suite

It's time to confess the truth. I, Kay Krill, never dreamed about being a CEO. Never. It didn't even occur to me as a young professional working in the fashion industry that becoming a CEO was even realistically possible. I definitely never thought I would be leading 22,000 associates at a $2.2 billion public company.

What I did know at early age was this: I was confident in my ability to work hard, get along with people and not be afraid to take chances. I had played competitive sports and I knew the value of team work and building a sense of camaraderie. I also knew I had an eye for style so I interviewed at Macy's after college, became a trainee in merchandising and fell in love with retail. And the story begins here.

As someone who has worked her way through the ranks at various companies, including the one I currently run, ANN INC., I know what it means to be a working woman today. I know first-hand what it is means to be a woman CEO in a playing field that is still dominated by men. I know what it is like to try to balance it all in life and come to the conclusion that no one can have it all. I know that life is too short to get up every morning and not love what you do. And I know that in order to be truly happy it is necessary for you to jettison the things in your life that at the end of the day just do not matter.

Furthermore, I have learned this: I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for other women supporting me through my journey and showing me the limitless opportunities I could do with my career.

If we want to spark a movement about women in the workplace, we should start by focusing on how we can empower other women, how we can act as role models, mentors, and confidants. How can we all help support one another? And most importantly, how can we make sure that our future women leaders see all the possibilities that await them?

Running a company with a nearly 95 percent female employee base and all-female client base, I made it my mission when I became CEO to create an organization that gives back and empowers women. I truly believe that when you empower women, you empower families, communities and businesses. So who better to take this on than us?

That's why I am thrilled about our ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, which is a partnership between ANN INC. and Vital Voices Global Partnership to empower young women from across the U.S. with the leadership skills they need to affect global progress, invest in their communities and begin their journeys as the next generation of women leaders.

Launched in 2011, the ANNpower Initiative aims to provide leadership skills and mentorship to 50 ANNpower fellows annually. I had the opportunity to meet this year's fellows at our annual Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. where these amazing juniors and seniors in high school from 23 states and Puerto Rico received training to help them become leaders. They heard from internationally renowned women leaders of today, including Vital Voices president and CEO Alyse Nelson and award-winning actress Kate Hudson, about the importance of mentorship and how to create social change in one's community.

If there is one thing I hope these young ladies learned during this experience, it was this: Women need to support one another, learn from others' experiences and advice, and empower each other to achieve our goals. I want to make sure that these emerging women leaders do not just see limited opportunities in life. I want them to become inspired by other women and feel that anything is possible! Anything.

After attending the forum, these young women will take their first steps as leaders and create a project that will affect a positive social change in their respective communities. They will all be eligible to receive an ANNpower Project Grant to put their ideas into action and pay it forward. Through these grants, the fellows will create a ripple effect that is estimated to positively impact more than 5,000 members of their collective communities throughout the country each year.

ANNpower is a powerful, groundbreaking program that no one else is doing domestically. Initiatives like this are critical for our growth AND our future as women; so that for those young women with their eyes on the C-suite, we're doing everything in our power to help them realize their dreams.

While I may not have always known where my path would take me, I could not be clearer now. I will continue to make it my mission to empower, inspire and connect with women so they can put their best selves forward every day. After all, aren't we all in this together?

To learn more about the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, please visit annpower.org.