Thirty years on Wall Street has taught me a few things about being a woman in the business world that I'd like to share with the next generation of multicultural women who want to start and scale a business. In the early days of my career, I had my own personal missteps amidst numerous victories.
I always vowed that when I reached senior management, and people came to me for advice, I would provide them with the tools, strategies and pearls of wisdom honed by my own experience. That's why it is such an honor to be chair of the National Women's Business Council and have an independent platform from which to share my pearls of wisdom. Here are five of my “Carla's Pearls:"
1. Build Your “Relationship Currency"
Starting out as a woman in the male-dominated industry of investment banking, I thought working hard was enough, but quickly realized it was not only hard work, but the people who leveraged their relationships were actually the ones able to climb the fastest. My advice to young professionals and entrepreneurs is, don't over invest in your performance because it really is the 'relationship currency' that gets you the next great assignment, a piece of business that generates visibility or the ability to have access to someone that can make the difference. Relationship currency comes from spending time with people inside and outside your organization that can positively impact your career or business. Some of the most important relationship currency I amassed in my journey to becoming a major decision-maker has been from mentors and sponsors.
First, understand the distinction between a mentor and a sponsor. Your mentor needs to know you very well and be willing to give you unaltered feedback in a direct way, while also understanding your work context, and always have your BEST interest at heart. My advice to anyone, and particularly women of color is, do not be confined to choosing someone that looks like you or that works in your organization. As long as you believe that the person knows you really well, and you are able to give them the “good, bad and the ugly" of whatever your concern or situation may be, then they can be an effective mentor for you. Your sponsor is the person who will use their social and political currency to advance your career or professional decisions being made about you behind closed doors within your organization. You need to identify the person who has a seat at the decision-making table, who has the power and influence to get to an affirmative decision on your behalf. If you are an entrepreneur, then your sponsor can be the person who is using their personal connections to introduce you to sources of capital, new customers or even new suppliers.
2. Expand Your Network Far and Wide
Always be thinking of every person you already know and new ones you meet in terms of how they can help you grow your professional network. You must build your network far beyond mentors and sponsors. Make sure that you are constantly taking time to connect with new people, and also maintain existing relationships in and out of the office. Even if it's just to say “hi, how was your weekend?" or “let's catch up over coffee," these light touches can give you the basis to start building intentional relationships that can be meaningful to you and your business. The key to success is the follow-up with people.
Consider individuals such as family, friends, employees, co-workers, customers and service providers that not only know who you are, but are also connected to other people who might turn out to be helpful to you. You'll be surprised at the network of people that are available to you that you already know – your doctor, your peer or a former teacher for example. You have to start talking to people about what you are planning to do, what you need, etc.
Entrepreneurs of color should especially over invest in building relationships in order to have access to the people that could make the difference in having the capital needed to scale or the customer that could change your business in an exponential way.
3. Seek Out All Available Resources
Take the time to learn what resources are available to you. During my travels across the country as Chair of the National Women's Business Council, I found that city-by-city, there are economic development, small business and even financial resources that are not used because many people are not aware they even exist as options.
To potential, current and future small business owners and entrepreneurs, start by going to the NWBC website (www.nwbc.org) to see what resources are in your city. You can also check the state or mayor's website and the SBA website for additional resource partners in your area such as the Women's Business Centers. With a few clicks, you will find resources in your area that you should fully leverage before making the extraordinary effort to go beyond your geographical boundaries. These resources are so important because of the challenges faced by women when it comes to securing capital funding, a particularly daunting challenge for multicultural women-owned businesses.
Consider the company you are currently working at as a tremendous resource as well. Try to work for a business that is in the same sector as the company that you want to start or that is very similar to your prospective business model.
You can learn how your company put their business together, how they obtained capital financing, how they attracted customers, etc. You want to achieve the highest level of success possible, and you cannot do it on your own. Emulate the people around you working towards similar goals.
4. Consider Many Options for Raising Capital
While working, save, save, save! You want to have your own capital to put into your business. If you have a great idea, but have no capital, it will be easy for investors to have disproportionate leverage in your business.
A growing and optimal arena where women have proven to excel in raising capital is crowdfunding. Although more men use seed crowdfunding, research shows that women are more successful in this growing funding arena.
This is most likely due to women creating larger and closer social networks, which I can't stress enough is the true key. Remember that 'relationship currency!' It will help you towards crowdfunding success. Women crowdfunding campaigns have higher success rates in comparison to men, averaging to be 4.6% more successful than their male counterparts in funding a campaign.
As your business starts to grow, don't forget about human capital early. Remember to add human capital so that you have the capacity to handle the growth. I have seen so many entrepreneurs who had to walk away from a valuable business and customers simply because they had no capacity to execute the business.
5. Help Each Other Out
I am a firm believer that our young girls need our help early on with exposure to financial literacy education to inspire greater interest in finance careers and to better equip young women as budding entrepreneurs.
My grandmother, who was the first female entrepreneur that I knew, would often let me count the money from her business and by the time that I was in 8th grade, I was helping her with her bookkeeping. It gave me an early interest in money and finance and as I got older and then became exposed to Wall Street, I was all in!
In the end, women need to band together, just as they are with other social issues. Through the creation of a community, there is a place where women can exchange their ideas and their challenges. Your family, friends, mentors, employees, co-workers and customers not only know who you are, but are also connected to other people who might turn out to be helpful to you and your business. You'll be surprised at the resources that are available from the people that you already know. Be an advocate for yourself and for others to create positive outcomes for women entrepreneurs and business owners.
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Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."