HerStory™: Dyan Vanfossen – In Her 60’s


Dyan Vanfossen, a woman working on her next, next and the thoughtful mind behind the inception of HerStory™.

Dyan supports people in designing the life they love through outside the box thinking and innovative solutions. She uses the concept of design thinking and throws out the notion of what something should look like but instead focuses on what it could look like.

Dyan reflects on what it felt like to be ‘the first’ in many situations and not having other women’s stories to guide her. Dyan hopes to be that woman whose story could guide others, so they don’t have to be the first.


I am most passionate about . . .

The intersections of innovation, design and problem solving. My entire career has been focused on these three disciplines and their intersections.  These disciplines are again my focus in my public service endeavors with Humble Design of Detroit.
I have worked and learned from some of the most innovative and creative minds, some examples are– Bill Stumpf the creator of the Aeron Chair, Ayse Birsel the creator of Ethospace. and now as a member of Humble Design of Detroit’s City Board, I feel as I am bringing what I have learned to hopefully bring civility and dignity to those emerging from homelessness. I love supporting social activism thru design!


My greatest career hurdle has been . . . 

Being either the first or one of the few women in the room. I clearly remember when the book “Lean In” was published, and I listened to an interview of Sheryl Sandberg on my drive to work.  I pulled over and shed tears when she described being in a meeting and not being heard.  Until this interview – I thought it was something only I was experiencing.  At a very low point in my career, I met with an attorney to decide if I would bring a discrimination and harassment suit against my employer.  – I didn’t and chose to stay and fight internally.  I am glad I chose to stay and help make changes from within but unfortunately, while some strides have been made – too frequently I heard stories uncannily similar from women much younger than me. We still have much work to do.


My greatest career accomplishment has been . . .

There have been many but now with the advantage of time – it has to be the women or men who have reached out to me thru LI or other platforms who are now finding themselves in management positions telling me they remember a conversation we had or some supportive comment I had given them. The possibility I have made a positive difference in another woman’s or man’s lives is the biggest success.


I believe the greatest opportunity for future generations of women leaders is . . .

To find a way to have it all and still be standing at the end.
If the pandemic has shown us anything, women STILL are responsible for family and still have ambitions and dreams of their place in the working world. – I would encourage young women to take the time to know themselves. To understand deeply what experiences and beliefs are important to them and keep them present in their lives.  To realize there are many paths to a fulfilled life. To make WISE selection of a life partner to have the supporter you need.

I’m struck by Kamala Harris and her narrative of how she found her partner later in life. She reached some real highs independently in her career and now she has this beautiful, blended family and was able to have it all without the ‘traditional’ way.  In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, she also describes how she and her first husband developed a contract of behavior prior to having children to ensure a true partnership and how instrumental this was to help her fulfil both her career and family dreams.
It again brings me to the idea of design thinking and how we need to look at all the different ways of solving problems instead of going down the traditional path. But, most importantly, I believe the greatest opportunity for future generations of women leaders is to be gentle with themselves and continue to strive for more.


The mentor who has the greatest impact on my career has been . . .

She probably doesn’t know it – but I would say a woman I worked with, became friends with and, unfortunately grew apart from but have recently reconnected…Mary Stevens. She was always able to look at an opportunity, issue, or problem with clear eyes and resolve with an unbiased perspective. It was the way she was able to stay calm and listen and not take things personally. She is the most authentic person I have ever met and moves through the world with this grace that is just amazing. She didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, she told me what I needed to hear to work through the problem/task at hand. She never complained, I don’t remember her being negative – she is now the Senior VP of Strategic Projects – and I know she has been either knowingly or not the mentor of many generations of women.


If I could meet one person who I believe has had the greatest impact on the growth and development of women, it would be . . . 

This is a bit of an unfair question because we all know it is never one person – but if I am forced to give one – Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Her relentless pursuit of equality, her work ethic, her love for her husband and family and her CAREER. She really made it possible for women to stand up to workplace injustice and provide an example on how to be.


 To me, inclusivity means . . .

Continue to learn, question your own belief system, stand up when others are excluded and get them a seat at the table.


When I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed at work, my go to, to get to a healthier place is . . .

There are a few that come to mind – the first being a runner. Since I’ve had the time, I have done 2 half marathons and one was with my daughter and husband.  The second is listening to podcasts. There are so many incredible podcasts which can educate, push our boundaries, and entertain.  Finally, and most recently, I love to read about the women of WW2. The women who fought to be pilots, who were spies in France, whose stories were not shared until just recently! The contribution that these women made because they had this strong moral sense of trying to help and doing it because it was the right thing to do – all while knowing they were likely not going to be recognized gives me strength. This pandemic has affected all of us in many ways. It’s been a tough couple of years. But, by reading about how tough it was before, and how they survived, gives me hope that we will too.


 The greatest piece of advice I can give to women is…

Know yourself.
The sooner you can figure out your true truth, passion, core love – the better off you will be. If you are true to those, they will guide you.
To understand that career/love/life paths are not linear or a ladder but rather a winding path that will take you to some really dark woods but also some beautiful sunny pastures. If women understand that, the opportunities you’ve dreamed of and worked towards will fall in your lap.