Business 22 July 2019
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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When I immigrated to the United States at 7 years old, at first, this country was so completely foreign to me that I didn't yet understand that there was any such thing as living in a "poor area."
Moreover, I couldn't even begin to conceive that I was most definitely living in one. The inner city was the only United States I knew.
I couldn't understand that there were different types of schools, charter schools, private schools, magnet schools... There was just school (public, of course). Going there every day simply became routine: Get up, go to school, go home. The option of extracurricular activities was scary to me at the time, and the area was already considered unsafe so I was never exposed to anything outside of that routine until I was about 12 years old.
I know firsthand that inner-city and underprivileged kids don't always have the same opportunities and resources to thrive in society as others.
Living in the inner city affects all families and people of all ages, but nobody is affected more than children. Growing up as a child in the inner city is challenging, and unfortunately, there is a natural disadvantage that comes with it. One that I understand firsthand.
Inner-city youths usually don't have adequate facilities to promote a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. Parks aren't always clean or safe, there isn't a variety of sports and other extracurricular activities outside of school. And the education isn't always on the same level as other more well-off areas. For most kids, a solid education is perhaps their only chance at getting off the streets, so they can create a better situation for their own kids. But if these inner-city kids aren't given the same educational opportunities as others, then they never will get out. The cycle continues.
Personally, I'm not sure who I would have been if it weren't for the opportunities my parents strove to create for me. If they hadn't believed in me enough to put me in modeling classes, I probably would never have been able to find my passion for performing in front of people, which then led me to join theater, which then segued into me competing in my first pageant. And, if you know me, you know that pageants have changed my life in a big way.
Because the environment I was living in, outside of my home, wasn't an inspirational or motivational one, I felt such a disconnect between the successful lives people were living on TV and the life that I was living or the future that I thought was attainable for me.
If we do not empower our inner-city youth it does our entire society a great disservice. We lose out on thousands, millions of potential doctors, innovators, entrepreneurs, politicians, and creatives. Think about where the world would be if people like Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr, or Marie Curie hadn't grown up in supportive families or environments? Would they have believed in themselves and achieved all they have? Maybe note, and the way we live would certainly be very different.
I give all the credit for my success in life to my parents. I was lucky enough to have a mom and dad who supported me beyond all belief and had the ability to go so far out of their way in order to give me the opportunities that got me where I am today.
When I was 12, my dad would drive me two hours to a modeling school, sit in his car in the brutal Boston winter for four hours until class was out, and then drive us back home another two hours. Or when I changed schools and could join the band and learn how to play an instrument, my mom saved up all of our extra money on the side so that I could afford to be a part of the band and learn how to play the tuba and the trombone.
My parents always reminded me that they believed in my abilities, my passions, and my potential to really make a difference in the world. And knowing this became a driving force for me. If my parents thought I could do it, it gave me all the reassurance I needed.
To this day my parents constantly emphasize that I have the capabilities to achieve anything so long as I am kind to others, work hard, and have faith.
My parents have truly helped me become who I am today. Now that I am reaping the rewards of the seeds my parents sowed in me, I want to be a guiding light for the kids that may not have parents like mine. I may not be able to solve all the problems out in the world, but what I can do is give inner-city kids the hope and confidence they need to achieve a successful life despite their circumstances.
Growing up with the notion that we either are enough or not enough, just one or the other, is simply society's way of trying to cap our abilities. The place you are born, the economic class you are born into, and the parents you are born with should not decide where you end up in life. We are all more than enough, period.
That's how the name of my initiative came about, with the mission to instill confidence and empower inner-city youth to live to their full potential despite their circumstances.
The "More Than Enough" initiative consists of school talks, workshops, and one-on-one mentorship. But first, I like to focus on sharing my personal story, because I believe that when they hear about someone they can relate to and when they see what I have been able to do with my life, I can become an inspiration just by standing in front of them and telling my story.
Then I focus on building up their self-esteem and confidence within themselves, and shifting how they view the world around them. I always tell them that everything and anything they need to succeed in life, they already have inside of them. Then I give them the tools and concrete ways so they can stay on track and navigate who they truly are, what they want to do, and how to do it.
Working with inner-city and underprivileged youth is something that I am dedicating to doing for the rest of my life. I believe in the positive impact that this work will have on our society. Because no one should be capped on their capabilities.
If these kids don't have a role model in their lives, I am committed to being that for them.