“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.
I have often heard the saying, "You were probably too young to remember this, but . . ." I can honestly say that I can recall quite a bit from my childhood even though I can't seem to recall what I had for breakfast yesterday. I remember a lot, including some things that I wish were fuzzy.
I know this sounds strange, but I remember my dad leaving. I was barely two years old, so obviously I was at an age when I could not fully comprehend what I was experiencing at the time, but I already knew I missed my dad and I wanted him to come home. Divorce is a topic I am very familiar with, both personally and professionally. There are countless people who seek counseling in various areas of their life and to me; that is just another day at the office. However, my story hits a different type of nerve for me. It is a story that I had processed in my own therapy, but this is the first time I am sharing it with the public, so (deep breath) . . . here we go.
As I mentioned before, my dad left when I was about eighteen months old. Just as I was trying to adapt to these changes as best as a toddler could, I met my dad's new "friend" and her kids. I remember she took my hand and walked me around where she worked. I am sure a lot was going on behind the scenes between my parents, but again I was too young to put things together at the time. Fast forward to age four or five, I was introduced to a new friend: anger! Oh, and nightmares. Plenty of them. One recurring nightmare was my dad leaving me. I would wake up screaming and crying, filled with a mixture of sadness, anger, shame, and guilt. My mom would come running into my room to comfort me as I sobbed against her shoulder.
Looking back now, I realized that the word that truly defined what I was feeling was powerless. My mom decided that she needed to do everything in her power to help me. So, she went to the bookstore and found several books that were supposed to help kids deal with their parents' divorce. She would read them to me, but they often told stories of children that I could not relate to, or they were often telling me how I should feel, rather than allowing me the space to access my own feelings. It was frustrating and overwhelming.
It is fascinating how quickly we can adapt. I started to get used to going back and forth between my two homes. However, it was only for a short period of time that I felt "okay." Fast forward again to around age ten. Just as I was starting to accept all the changes including separate homes, blended families, and different sets of rules, I had to endure a long and terrifying custody battle. I felt like my parents were playing tug of war with me in the middle! The anger that I thought had disappeared came back in full force and even brought additional feelings, including shame, grief, sadness, low self-esteem, people-pleasing tendencies, just to name a few. That voice I was working so hard on developing was silenced as I decided to just say or do what I thought would please my parents as well as others. I not only lost my voice, but I lost myself.
That's when my mom introduced me to a journal. What started out as doodling tiny drawings in a lined notebook became pages and pages filled with my innermost thoughts and feelings as I got older.
I also learned some interesting techniques from my mom. She created "games" for us to play including what we called "give me the bad stuff," which is where I would think of all the different things that were bothering me, shout, "I don't like this," while bundling them up into an invisible ball, and then handing them to my mom who would then pretend to throw them out the door or window.
My mom would tell me that I am just a kid, so I did not need to hold on to all this "yucky stuff" inside. It was the first time in a while that I felt like I had a voice. It was wonderful! I would also scream into or hit my pillow as if it were a punching bag. Pretty creative stuff, right? As my mom always says, "It takes a village," and boy was she right! I lucked out by having such an amazing support system at my elementary school.
My guidance counselor established a support group for children of divorced or divorcing parents, and it truly helped to normalize what I was feeling. I was able to speak to peers my own age going through the same things, which was helpful as many of my close friends could not relate to what I was experiencing. I was given safe, nonjudgmental outlets to express myself, and little by little I felt better.
So why am I sharing my story? Well, today as a therapist, I listen to other children's stories. Divorce is definitely not pretty, but it does not have to be so ugly! Whether the parents decide to "stay together for the children" or go their separate ways, children are getting pulled into the chaos. Sometimes, children will pretend they don't know what is going on or act as if they don't care, but trust me when I say it all leaves an impact.
My book, My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me, is an interactive workbook that was created by my mother and me during the terrifying custody battle that took place between my parents. I felt it was imperative that I assist as many children as possible to help them explore and uncover their innermost thoughts and feelings regarding their parents' divorce. Within the pages of the book, children are encouraged to write and draw as well as ask questions to get in touch with what is inside that needs to be healed.