“Female entrepreneur" has become a pseudo-pop culture term in recent years. The phenomenon, which has taken hold globally, has encouraged both millennials and older generations of women to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits regardless of the appalling numbers of venture capital going toward female-founded start ups.
With this in mind, Wendy Diamond, serial entrepreneur and TV personality, founded Women's Entrepreneurship Day after discovering the barriers to entry for women into entrepreneurship. Between the "bro-culture" in Silicon Valley, and the heightened exposure male-founded businesses get over their female counterparts were glaring reasons for such a concept to exist.
Since then, the day, which is now hosted in conjunction with the U.N, has served to highlight both the plight and success of female entrepreneurs. This year's conversation, held at the U.N headquarters here in new York, and attended by over 400 people, was a great celebration of women in business old and new. But while there was much euphoria, there was also a plethora of questions raised about about women's future, and breaking the very large barriers that remain to this day, in the U.S and abroad, for women in business sectors.
“Don't wear what everybody else is wearing. Don't do what everybody else is doing."
- Mikaila Ulmer, Founder Me & the Bees Lemonade
The teenage entrepreneur had a lot to say on her panel, which also included singer Sara Bareilles, who gave the audience a small rendition of her song "Brave" when she was finishing her speech. Mikaila Ulmer's insights were a welcome addition to a day that honored a lot of women who had been in business for 10, 20, 30 years. With the event playing host to 75 girls from different schools across New York, the Shark Tank brought the house down with the younger of the attendees.
“Follow your instinct. It's not just a hunch - it's actual knowledge you've accumulated over the years."
-Twinkle Khanna, entrepreneur and author
Twinkle Khanna was nothing short of adamant about the above, which ended up being a recurring theme throughout the day. Where promising female entrepreneurs might have 10-15 mentors instructing and nurturing ideas, it was the power of instinct and intution that got the majority of the day's powerhouses up on stage.
“Men have to lead the change as well and put the money into female entrepreneurs because they know that female entrepreneurs don't just make great entrepreneurs, they make better entrepreneurs."
-Shelly Kapoor Collins, Founding Partner – The Shatter Fund
Shelly Kapoor Collins, one of the few female VCs in attendance, challenged the crowd to "less op-eds, more action." Her riling speech was one of the most memorable of the day as she spoke to her experience as a female entrepreneur-focused VC that only invests in women, and encourages her male counterparts to do the same. Acknowledging the disparity in funding that goes toward female ventures, she asserted that everyone in the room when approaching a stock option, should look to female ventures for their next investment.
“Take your passion, something you're interested in, and something that hasn't been done before. That's when you go for it. That's being entrepreneurial."
-Bobbi Brown, CEO Beauty Evolution
Brown's eminence in the beauty industry landed her the Beauty Pioneer Award 2017 to deafening applause. Her instructions about entering into entrepreneurship were clear, concise and sharp, and pointed away from the hot copycat trend that has seeped into start-up culture of late.
Mikaila Ulmer and Twinkle Khana
“You have to have that feeling inside of you, that nothing can stop you. My mother told me - you've got to have a hard sense of who you are and never say no when you're given a challenge."
-Lucy Jarvis, first woman television producer
Lucy Jarvis's speech was arguably the most moving of the day. At 100 hundred years old, the first ever female TV producer stood up and told the story of how she broke women into positions of power in television. She riled her co-workers at NBC to get involved in a lawsuit during the '60s that completely shifted the dynamic between men and women on the small screen. She went on to win a Peabody award from her efforts, and was awarded the Media Pioneer Award on the day.
“I could not do it by myself. I built a team that was 'me and us.'"
-Judith Ripka, Founder, Judith Ripka
Judith Ripka's honest appraisal of how she made her entrepreneurial journey was built entirely around her team. Enforcing how essential her family, friends and network were, the jewelry designer delighted in honoring those around her that had helped her company grow to where it is today.
“Respect women and give a hand up, not out."
-Wendy Diamond. Founder & CEO Women's Entrepreneurship Day
Diamond's ecstatic introductions of her honorees really made the day. Her enthusiasm for both the cause and the women in attendance reverberated throughout the room, and her message was clear: above capital, it's guidance, mentorship and respect that female entrepreneurs need.
Shelly Kapoor Collins
“It's important for women to network with each other. Women don't do enough of that, men are much better."
-Sonia Gardner, President and Co-Founder of Avenue Capital Group
Sonia Gardner and her brother have built a billion-dollar business from the ground up, making hers one of the most covetable talks of the day. Her background in hedge funds has garnered her a lot of respect and she has consequently been awarded for work in the industry on numerous occasions, one of the latest being her appointment as Global Chair of 100 Women in Finance & Board of Trustees for the Mount Sinai Medical Center.
On the issue of mentorship and networking, she advised that women begin building their networks of friends and business partners (both women and men), from a young age in order to have an edge when you're older and possibly in need of some outside investment.
“Make people remember who you are."
-Dottie Herman, Founder, President & CEO Douglas Elliman
Dottie Herman, a stalwart figure in the New York Real Estate Market, borrowed $9M to start her business back in 1989. She then went on to raise $70M to scale her business when pitching to a boardroom dominated by men, where, she admitted that as a woman, your voice was secondary to that of the men in the room. While the remnants of this attitude still remain, Herman was very positive about the future for women in business and for aspiring female millionaires. Her advice was simple: don't leave a room without making an impression.
“The numbers are not changing and numbers don't lie. And in fact the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. They've gone from 7 per cent venture capital for women to 4 per cent for women. Stop writing op-eds, what we really need is cold hard cash, flexible capital."
-Shelly Kapoor Collins, Founding Partner – The Shatter Fund
As a female-founded start up, and having interviewed so many female founders, this point really resonated with us here at SWAAY. Kapoor Collins was absolutely vehement that standing by and continually talking about these flailing numbers will get women nowhere. It's only action and investment and pressure on others to invest in women that will change this narrative and rectify these numbers so the next generation of female entrepreneurs, such as Ulmer, won't have to face such despondency when raising capital for ventures.
All photos courtesy of Women's Entrepreneurship Day.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.