This past Friday, the third annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Featuring female leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs like Randi Zuckerberg, Dylan Lauren, Sandra Lee and Iris Apfel, the event aimed to address the fact that while women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, they earn only 10 percent of its income. It was also announced that WED will launch a new online platform, choosewomen.org, which gives consumers purchasing options from female-supported retailers.
Despite a palpable sense that many attendees were discouraged about the results of our recent presidential election, spirits were high as guests and speakers shared personal stories and experiences and how they related to female empowerment. Here, 10 things we learned at Women’s Entrepreneurship Day 2016.
1. The UN Under-Secretary General believes the US must rally in the face of a Donald Trump presidency
“Some figures in terms of representation, presence in the economic areas and political areas are not good, but I would say to everybody that precisely because they are not good and because we might be feeling backlashes, I think what we have to do is get more together and get more determined,” Cristina Gallach, the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, told SWAAY. “The overall United Nations agenda is absolutely centered on equality, particularly gender equality. What we need is to get organized at all levels. We have to organize through NGOs, we have to get organized in the workforce, we have to get organized even individually. Being proactive and challenging the current situation by speaking up is the way to go. For me, the way to advance is to do it in groups and get together, because this is a situation that affects many. I am very encouraged by the fact that women really want to transform. Yes, there might be setbacks, but the future is based on equality otherwise there is going to be no future.”
2. The UN agenda is female-focused“We have an organization at the UN, UN Women, which specifically deals with the issues of women, and we have a commitment to make this organization even more active and through grassroots [activities] to make legislation work with the economic structures to advance in multiple areas,” said Gallach. “We have to advance in politics…we need to adapt our ways of consumption and production to be more sustainable, and women are very good at that. We need to take care of climate change. All these different aspects have women and equality at the center.”
"I am very encouraged by the fact that women really want to transform. Yes, there might be setbacks, but the future is based on equality otherwise there is going to be no future.” - Cristina Gallach
3. A Female Secretary General may not be too far off“For some months there was a movement to promote a woman Secretary General. [At the UN], at entry level there are more women than men, but when the scale goes up, it changes,” said Gallach. “This is not acceptable. I have heard the incoming Secretary General, António Guterres, say he is making equality, 50/50 a clear determined goal, so I am very encouraged. Yes, he might not a be woman, but he said ‘I can deliver an equality agenda.’”
4. Karrrueche Tran blames social media for insecurities in young girls
“For me social media is a blessing and a curse. I have 6 million followers, so because of social media I’m able to work, and have a career, but there’s a negative side,” said the actress, social influencer and Women's Entrepreneurship Day Fellow. “There’s a lot of hate, a lot of cyber bullying, a lot of negativity that's tough for young girls. It can be very intense and hard. With social media nowadays it’s all about posting pictures and girls become self conscious of how they look, of how their bodies are. They see women on TV that may be what they want to look like. Plastic surgery is getting younger. I’m only 28 but when I grew up we didn’t have phones and social media, so I look at younger girls now and they look like they are twenty something years old. When I was 12 I was a skinny, scrawny girl, with messed up teeth, and now these girls have makeup and eyebrows done. It’s totally flipped.”
5. And she wants to pay her success forward
“All this life, this fame, whatever it is, just kind of came to me,” said Tran. “So one day I said what can I do to best utilize my voice and to reach these young girls. And I think for me, this is the perfect opportunity to use that and to let girls know it’s OK to be exactly how you are. This is how God made us, it’s OK. I think we need to push acceptance and let girls know it's OK to be how you were born. You don’t have to reform or look a certain way. The best I think would be for women who have voices, like I do, to say this because those are the women young girls are looking at.”
Courtesy Of Real Simple
6. HSN CEO Mindy Grossman believes businesses need to fully own gender-equality“I think the dots aren’t being connected because of ownership,” said Grossman. “This is not something…for your HR department [to deal with]. This is something that has to come from the board and the CEO and it has to be a core belief and tenant of your business strategy. Period.”
7. A good laugh can help make a difference
“Never underestimate the power of humor in calling something out,” said Grossman, who worked at a number of male-dominated industries and companies throughout her career. “I was in a global Nike basketball meeting and I was the only woman in the room. They are talking about global basketball and I’m still figuring out where the ladies room is. And so, all of a sudden… when I started speaking everyone stared at me like ‘Oh my God, she’s speaking.’ And I just looked at this room which was, from a male perspective, very diverse and I started laughing. I said ‘Guys, I’m a 48 year-old Jewish woman from New York who didn’t come out of the sports business. You want to talk global basketball and get a woman’s perspective? You may need more than one of me.’ And literally everyone just laughed. So, sometimes it’s a call out. It’s not complaining. It’s just giving a perspective. It’s just a realization that the world is changing. We have a big female fanbase. It’s a store for women too.”
8. Katia Beauchamp, founder of Birchbox, is empowered by challenges
Courtesy of Forbes“We had a really hard year and when things change you have to navigate,” said Beauchamp. “I didn’t understand what a critical skill that would be and how it actually makes me a much more confident leader having gone through the hard things. I’m not just somebody who had an idea once and got lucky with timing, but that I’ve learned to build a team of people who are incredibly resilient and they themselves do a lot of the evolution, because eventually it becomes so much bigger than you. We don’t know all the right ways to do it, but we just say to ourselves; our number one most important goal is to stay relevant to the consumer, not to be the most innovative company in the world, because innovation can be there for innovation's sake. [We want to] acknowledge the consumer and their world, which has changed so much in six years and it’s on us to be relevant. We can’t just say ‘we did it six years ago, do you like it?’ In 2017 we have big plans to further evolve.”
9. In fact, Beauchamp is focused on disrupting herself for future success“The beauty box market is now a market that’s sized at tens of billions of dollars,” said Beauchamp, who created the market when she launched Birchbox in 2005. “For anybody who is in an industry, you are first worried about competition being good, [then it changes] to being worried about competition being bad, because then people have an experience that wasn’t good and it makes it harder to overcome it than if they had never seen it. Now I’m really focused on executing well, and doing something differently from everyone else. Our competition is so focused on the beauty junkie and we have found a really beautiful spot with the ‘beauty normal,’ a woman who uses [beauty products] but is not obsessed and does not want to spend a lot of time watching videos and learning about all of this.” The question of evolving her storied brand is what will define her company’s future. “When you invent it, what are you going to do next?,” she said. “I spent a lot time talking to other industries and founders and companies and trying to think about how I would disrupt me, because the copycats just copied what we did 10 years ago. I spent time running the numbers and trying to come up with a business plan that would disrupt us from my vantage point.”
10. Iris Apfel is incredibly humble
“I never knew I was a pioneer, I never knew I was an entrepreneur,” said Apfel, a business woman, interior designer and fashion icon. “I’m someone who operates on instinct and gut. Things just come my way. I’ve been lucky that way.” Apfel, who was awarded an Entrepreneurship Pioneer Award during the event, was clearly a woman ahead of her time. “I didn’t even know what the word entrepreneur meant,” she said. “I just wanted to do something.”
One final learning lesson, which comes from our personal experience at Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is that despite there being a lot of female entrepreneurs in the room, we need many more in order to make an impact on our world. Although the event was well-attended, there was still a feeling that we can always have more women (and men) coming together to amplify and advocate for female economic empowerment. We couldn’t help but wonder how a room filled with our male equals, in comparison, would have been seen in the eyes of the press and attendees alike. The caliber of talent in the room as well as the depth and substance of the content deserves a lot of press coverage, powerful partners and strong sponsorships in order for the world to recognize and celebrate the importance of an international day dedicated to acknowledge and uplift the vital role women play in society and in the rise of our economy.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.