Rise as you raise others. That is the message driving the success of entrepreneur, Terri Brax. It has become her life's mission as she has expanded her reach from revamping child care services to empowering women across the country to pursue careers in technology.
Why Terri Brax?
As a young mother with a newly obtained master's degree under her belt, jumping back into the workforce meant first securing an exceptional childcare service that would incorporate educational and nurturing activities for her child. Unimpressed with the lackluster daycare and nanny services available, Brax embarked on an entrepreneurial journey. She created TeacherCare, a lifelong educational service that provides families with highly-qualified private teachers and educational nannies who create activities tailored to each child's specific needs and interests.
Brax's business progressively gained more traction over the course of the next two decades as it expanded its reach into major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. However, like many female entrepreneurs, Brax began noticing that the obstacles she encountered during her fundraising process were specific to female founders. During this time, Brax was invited to join a women-only think tank to better understand why there were so many obstacles in the paths of women trying to launch and scale their startups. It was at this event that Brax realized women in Chicago, as well as all around the world, were starting groundbreaking businesses and raising impressive amounts of money. Yet they still faced gender biases that held them back from taking their businesses to the next level.
According to Brax, "It was then I had my aha moment— what we like to call 'WTF Moment.' I realized there really was a community of women who were willing to help other female founders and entrepreneurs change the future with their businesses. And these women were willing to come together to share stories, shed light on industry barriers, and give advice about how to tackle them."
WTF Is Women Tech Founders
This realization inspired Brax to launch her second startup, Women Tech Founders, a nonprofit media organization that serves as a power network for women by hosting events, offering mentorship opportunities, and curating entrepreneurship and founder-focused programming. While her intention for the business was, and still remains, inspiring women to get involved in technology, she has had to first help women overcome the barrier of misinformation.
She discovered very early on that women could not see themselves in the WTF community or even as women tech founders due to preconceived notions about tech. Many women feel that tech is a field for people sitting behind computer screens all day long, plugging and playing numbers. In order to combat this belief, Brax brought women in tech to the forefront of her platform to unravel any possible misconceptions.
Courtesy of Terri Brax
"We realized we needed to build an army of role models so other women and girls could see the power they could hold, to realize their potential. They hadn't been exposed to what we saw— passionate women of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, who were leveraging technology to reach their dreams and improving the lives of millions in the process."
WTF is helping women thrive despite being the minority within the tech industry.
In order for women to excel as entrepreneurs while navigating male-dominated careers, Brax knew that they had to band together and leverage their shared resources to equalize power across gender lines. It may seem like too great a feat for one woman, even one company, to accomplish, but WTF is certainly leading the way.
Supporting Women In Tech
According to research conducted by Harvard Business Review, "women outscored men on 17 of the 19 key leadership capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders." Women bring innovation and problem-solving abilities while contributing towards the overall growth of a company. And preparing women for leadership positions in the tech field, where they will become increasingly more welcomed, has been a major priority for Brax.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com
Brax's fundraising experiences enlightened her to the deep inequality between male and female founders, so she made the decision to bootstrap WTF from the very beginning as a completely grassroots organization. And it has remained so ever since. Brax believes that unconscious bias is one of the leading drivers of the funding gap, but it is not the only problem. She knows that the lack of diverse people, voices, and experiences at the funding table are also hindering women from receiving the funds they need. But Brax is providing a opportunity to challenge the status quo for how society views women leaders.
Brax has made it the mission of WTF to create an army of diverse role models and give female founders direct access to investors. Her organization has successfully accomplished this by hosting several events such as a Founder & Funder networking night, pitch training, and their Fundher Pitch competition. Even with events that give female founders access to female-focused VC funders, Brax knows that this is enough to close the funding gap.
I believe having more female funders in the venture capital space will certainly help close the funding gap. But that's not the only way to solve this problem. It's not an either-or situation.
Closing The Funding Gap
Several studies have already shown that female-led startups have a higher ROI than male-only led startups, yet a mere 2.7% of all VC funds go to women. Brax refers back to a PwC research report that suggest not only does this reality mean missed investments for investors but also for our economies. By overlooking half the population, one that offers a particular abundance of potential, there is a direct impact on the productivity and competitiveness of the economy. With studies such as these, coupled with her lived experience as a female founder, Brax equips women with the necessary tools to become leaders in the tech space. She is building women up as leaders and skilled entrepreneurs who understand how to utilize technology to their advantage and make themselves more investable.
Courtesy of Terri Brax
As Brax continues to succeed as an entrepreneur and ally to all women, she is far from finished expanding WTF's mission and outreach. Their membership has already grown through word of mouth and community partnerships. Furthermore, online platforms have allowed more women to find empowerment through the organization. Their community that once exclusively focused on female founders is now welcoming women with positions at major corporations as well as entry-level women who show interest in careers in technology
Brax shares that she is excited to launch Women Tech Founders 2.0 at their upcoming conference on April 24th at Google in Chicago. She invites all who are interested to join the event and be inspired by these rockstar, gamechanging women who are paving the way for other women to succeed.
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Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.
At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.
But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and compounding the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?
Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.
But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).
Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."
As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.
- Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
- Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
- Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
- Defaming transgender people and rights—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?
Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance. However, it's been a frequent and long-running complaint throughout her entire campaign. But if asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am all about it.
Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone complaining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.
This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.
"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit
Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them. Gretchen Carlson is possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA. Her story has been immortalized in the 2019 film Bombshell, and yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate.
She was silenced.
After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truth. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."
Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."
Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.
Neither Carlson nor Headlee or any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.