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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Motherhood, no matter how you slice or dice it, is never easy. Running after small children, feeding them, tending to their physical and emotional wounds, and just taking the time to shower them with love— that's a lifetime of internal resources. Now add a job on top of all of that? Geez. We spoke to 14 working mothers to get an open, honest look at the biggest day-to-day challenges they face, because despite what Instagram portrays, it's not all dresses on swingsets, heels, and flawless makeup.
1. “Motherhood in general is hard," shares Rachel Costello. “It's a complete upheaval of life as you once knew it. I have a 22-month-old due any minute and a baby. The hardest part is being pregnant with a toddler — chasing, wrangling, etc., all while tired, nauseous, and achey. Then the guilt sets in. The emotional roller coaster punctuated by hormones when you look at your baby, the first born, knowing that their life is about to be changed."
2. “I'm a work-from-home mom," shares Jene Luciano of TheGetItMom.com. “I have two children and two stepchildren. The hardest part about parenting for me is being the best mom I can be to someone else's children."
3. “I joined the Air Force at 18 and had my first child at 20," tells female power house Robyn Schenker Ruffo. “I had my second baby at 23. Working everyday, pumping at work and breastfeeding at lunch time at the base, home day care was rough. Being away from my babies during the day took a toll on me— especially the single mom days when they were toddlers. I had a great support system of friends and military camaraderie. The worst was being deployed when they were 6 months old, yes both, and I was gone for 90 days. Not seeing them every night was so depressing."
4. “Physically, the hardest part of the parenting experience (and so far, I'm only six months in with twins) was adjusting to the lack of sleep in the very beginning," shares Lauren Carasso. “Emotionally, the hardest part is going to work everyday with anxiety that I'm going to miss one of the twins' firsts or other milestones. I know they are in good care but potentially missing those special moments weighs heavy on my heart when I walk out the door each morning," she continues.
5. “The hardest part of being a parent is social media, actually," says Marina Levin. “Shutting out the judgmental sanctimommy noise and just doing what works best for you and your family in a given moment."
6. “Trying to raise a healthy, happy, confident and self-respecting girl, when I'm not a consistent example of those qualities is the hardest for me," explains Adrienne Wright. “Before motherhood I was a pretty secure woman, and I thought passing that onto my daughter would be a piece of cake. But in the age of social media where women are constantly ripping each other to shreds for the way they raise their kids, it's nearly impossible to feel confident all of the time. Nursing vs. formula, working vs. stay at home, vax vs. anti-vax, to circumcise vs. not, nanny vs. daycare— the list goes on and on. We're all doing the best we can with the resources we have. We should empower each other to feel confident in the decisions we make for our families."
7. “The hardest part is the sense of responsibility and worrying that comes along with it," says Orly Kagan. “Am I feeding my kids properly? Are they getting too much screen time? Are they getting enough attention and love? Are they developing as they should be? It goes on and on and on."
8. “For me, by far the hardest part of motherhood has been managing my own guilt. As many triumphant moments as there may be, the moments when I feel like I did badly or could have done better always stick out," confesses Julie Burke.
9. “Balancing work and doing all the mom things and all the home things and all the husband things are not the hardest part of motherhood (for me, anyway)," shares Zlata Faerman. “The hardest part of motherhood is trying to figure out just how to deal with the amount of love I have for my son. It can be super overwhelming and I'm either alone in this sentiment, or not enough moms talk about it."
10. “The hardest part for me is giving things up," shares Stacey Feintuch. “I have two boys, an almost 3-year-old and almost 7-year-old. I have to miss my older one's sports so I can watch the little guy while he naps or watch him at home since he will just run on the field. I hate that other parents can go to games and I can't. I also really miss going out to dinner. My older one can eat out but we rarely eat out since my younger one is a runner!"
11. “I think if I'm going to be completely real, the hardest part to date has been realIzing that I chose this life," shares Lora Jackle, a now married but formerly single mom to a special needs child. “I chose to foster and then adopt special needs, as opposed to many parents who find out about the special needs after their child is born. It's still okay to grieve it sometimes. It's still okay to hate it sometimes and 'escape' to work."
12. “I'm a work-at-home mother doing proofreading and teaching 10-20 hours a week. The hardest part for me is not yelling. I took the 30-Day No Yelling Challenge and kept having to restart. I love my kids, don't get me wrong," says Michelle Sydney, exemplifying the difficulty of balancing work with family.
13. “I'm a full-time working mom of a 2.5-year-old," shares Anna Spiewak. “I bring home equal pay, keep the apartment clean and take care of dinner. Still my male partner gets all the praise for being a good dad and basically sticking around. It's mainly from his side of the family, of course. What I do is taken for granted, even though I'm the one who still changes the diapers, bathes her and wakes up in the middle of the night on a work night when she cries. I wish all moms got credit for staying on top of things."
14. “I am a stay-at-home-mother and currently working full-time from home on my start-up clothing brand, Kindred Bravely," says Deeanne Akerson, founder of Kindred Bravely, a fashion line devoted to nursing, working mothers. “The hardest part of my parenting experience is the constant feeling of never doing quite enough. There is always more to do, meals to make, laundry to fold, kids that want my full attention, errands to run, or work in my business. And since there really always are more things to do it's easy to feel like you're failing on nearly every aspect of life!"
This piece was originally published July 18, 2018.