You walk into an upscale networking event that you've been itching to go to.
You were ready to make some higher quality connections, but suddenly you find yourself in full-out comparison mode.
Is your outfit up to snuff? Are you too old? Too young? Do you have enough credentials to do what you are doing? Why does this always happen? You're precisely where you want to be, yet you can't control that constant self-doubt.
Women are famous for this. We have mastered the art of being mean to ourselves—continually comparing who we are and what we do to others without any perspective.
This kind of negative thinking stops us from showing up as a badass in our life and our business.
Becoming A Badass
Now, let me first clarify what a real badass woman actually is. Media has traditionally portrayed her as a woman who you can't say "no" to. She's callus, maybe a little manipulative, and will stop at nothing to get the sale. She works 80 hours a week and never misses an opportunity to sell, sell, sell.
This describes the masculine model of “push," the belief that going for something bigger means living with discomfort and pain. This is the hustle and grind approach that leads to burnout and illness.
To me, a badass is someone who knows her value, is at ease with her body, and is proud of how she shows up in the world. She attracts people to work with her, compelling them with her passion. Never forcing things, she seems to create as if by magic, all the while having time for friends and family.
Do you know anyone in particular that is coming to mind? Maybe. Maybe note. There might be the odd woman who is born with these talents. But the good news for the rest of us is that becoming a badass is something we can all do.
The Dominatrix Way
For me, I began my journey to becoming a badass when I became a Dominatrix.
This line of work is not most people's first choice on the path to self-discovery, but it's who I had to become in order to stand in my power. This role changed how I showed up in my business and in my life.
If you have only ever seen the Hollywood version of a Dominatrix, it would seem that it is about power over another person. Yet I can tell you from personal experience, everything that happens in the dungeon is completely pre-negotiated and centered around the client.
The Dominatrix is in charge of holding the space and controlling all aspects of the scene so that the client can surrender fully. That surrender allows the client to forget about the pressures of life and just allow someone else to be in charge for a change. It takes courage to let go in that way, and it takes strength to hold that scene for another person. A Dominatrix is, in fact, a high-level service position!
I had to quickly learn how to authentically be the one in charge, to be confident. Faking it would simply not do. I had to become that person.
For almost two decades, since becoming a Dominatrix, I have been managing a chain of wellness centers and now operate my own professional coaching and speaking practice. Bringing those skills from the dungeon into my business has been invaluable. Looking back on my failures, I can pinpoint exactly what went wrong when I wasn't using those skills—missteps and old habits.
The good news is that you don't have to put on the black pleather and boots in order to learn from the archetype of the Dominatrix and become more of a badass in your life.
1. Never Say Sorry
When you are in the dungeon, and your submissive is blindfolded and fixed to an apparatus while you are flogging them, the very worst thing they could ever hear is “Oops!" You will instantly ruin the scene, and all of the trust that they had in you will be gone in a second.
It is the same thing in business!
Constantly apologizing will put you out of your power. Even worse, it will make others will begin to question your expertise and their decision to work with you.
Instead of “sorry," start every email you write for the next week with “Thank you."
Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for being so amazing to work with.
Each “thank you" releases a tiny hit of dopamine for the client and that helps to disperse any possible frustration. Most importantly, it keeps you standing firmly in your power.
2. Be Willing To Lose
Very few of us have the time or money to just throw it away. The irony is that the harder you work to cling to these things, the more likely you are to lose them.
The lesson we should take from incredibly successful people—the Oprahs and the Elon Musks of the world—is that it takes great leaps of faith to make it big. They've learned how to go all-in and win, without putting attachments on the outcome.
When we try to force something to happen, we are less connected to what is actually happening in the now and are hindered from being responsive to what is right in front of us.
The Dominatrix takes time to script out a scene based on all the elements that were previously negotiated. But when she steps in the dungeon, she releases the need for that script to play out exactly as planned. She must stay present to what is actually happening. Things rarely go as scripted, but when she is fully present they will remain on track. This way, the submissive is able to relax knowing that she is fully in charge.
So make your plans, draw up the map of what you would like to happen, and then be willing to throw it all out the moment it no longer works.
3. Negotiate Like A Dominatrix
My time studying to become a Dominatrix taught me some incredible mindset skills, and negotiation was at the top of that list.
In the dungeon, every single detail is discussed prior to starting a scene. You talk about what is okay, what is not okay, and what is a not right now—for both participants! Only when both parties agree on something can it be explored in the scene. There is no room for compromise; it is win/win or nothing.
To become a badass, you can learn from the Dominatrix and create your own list of what you are willing and not willing to do and what is a maybe (under the right circumstances).
Having your list drawn up ahead of time will stop you from falling back into old patterns and will allow you to achieve more of your goals in the long term.
The lesson here isn't that life can start feeling easy. Life is always going to get uncomfortable. But I invite you to learn how to ride the waves in a way that will bring greater ease and less long-term damage to you. Like a Dominatrix, stand in the inner power, listen to what needs to be done, and reap the rewards.
This piece was originally published on October 21, 2018.
Amid the mainstream conversation about inclusion and justice in the workplace, otherwise known as #MeToo, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund considered how they can be more inclusive of the women, minority, and LGBTQ entrepreneurial communities.
Their solution? Ask the CEOs they currently fund to promise to hire senior-level employees from diverse backgrounds.
Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital fund that has investments with blockbuster startups such as The Honest Company, Affirm, and HQ Trivia, has asked its portfolio company CEOs to sign a “side letter" affirming their commitment to consider women and other underrepresented groups for senior jobs and new spots on their board of directors.
Can making pledges— or even hiring a C-Suite level employee to manage diversity efforts— really make an impact on the funding gap for multicultural women-led companies?
Many experts say it's going to take systemic change, not letters of intent.
It is well reported that the amount of investment going to multicultural women-led companies is incongruous to the entrepreneurial landscape and the performance of their businesses. Between 2007 and 2016, there was an increase of 2.8 million companies owned by women of color. Nearly eight out of every 10 new women-owned firms launched since 2007 has been started by a woman of color yet, these businesses receive an abysmal 0.2 percent of all funding. Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller, founders of Mented cosmetics, were just the 15th and 16th Black women in history to raise $1M in the fall of 2017.
The multicultural women who do defeat the odds to get funded receive significantly less than male founders. The average startup founded by a Black woman raises only $36,000 in venture funding, while the average failed startup founded by a White man raises $1.3M before going out of business.
The implicit and explicit bias not only impacts individual multicultural female founders, it could be stifling innovation. For example, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue as 45 percent of total revenue compared to just 26 percent of total revenue at companies with below-average management diversity. That means nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse leadership comes from products and services launched in the past three years.
In our economy today, venture capital is responsible for funding the work of our most innovative companies. Venture capital-backed U.S. companies include some of the most innovative companies in the world. In 2013, VC-backed companies account for a 42 percent of the R&D spending by U.S. public companies.
With a wealth of multicultural women entrepreneurs and evidence to support the performance of diverse companies, why does this funding gap persist?
According to Kristin Hull, founder of Oakland-based Nia Impact Capital and Nia Community, many traditional investors consider women or minority-led businesses as a category in their portfolio, like gaming tech or consumer packaged good. Hull, who focuses on building portfolios where financial returns and social impact work hand-in-hand, argues gender and ethnicity are not a business category and investors who dedicate a specific percent of their portfolio to diverse companies are the ones missing out.
“We are doing this backwards," says Hull. “Adding diverse, women-run companies actually de-risks an investment portfolio."
Hull points to research that has found women are more likely to seek outside help when a company is headed for trouble and operate businesses with less debt on average. What's more, a study conducted by First Round Capital concluded that founding teams including a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent.
Ximena Hardstock, a 43-year-old immigrant from Chile experienced this bias first hand before she raised $5.1M for her tech startup. “How do you get an investor to notice you and take you seriously?" says Hardstock. “White men from Harvard have a track record and investors are all looking for entrepreneurs that fit the Zuckerberg mold. But a woman from Chile with an accent who started a technology company? There is no track record for that and this is a problem so many women of color face."
Hardstock came to the U.S. from the suburbs of Santiago when she was just 20-years-old. Alone with no family or connections in the U.S., Hardstock worked as a cleaning lady, a bartender, and a nanny before she began teaching and working in education. “I had a lot of ideas and Chile is still a very conservative country," she says. “Most women become housewives but I wanted to do something different. So, I moved to the U.S."
Hardstock went on to earn a Ph.D. in policy studies, served as vice president of Advocacy for National StudentsFirst and worked as a member of Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty's cabinet. Her experience working in both education and government exposed her to a need to simplify the process of connecting lawmakers with their constituents. As a result, Hardstock founded Phone2Action, a digital advocacy company that enables organizations and individual citizens to connect with policymakers via email, Twitter, Alexa and Facebook using their mobile phones.
Because venture capital and private equity are not necessarily meritocracies, Hardstock initially struggled to get in an audience with the right investors despite her company's growth potential, her experience, and her education. In fact, it wasn't until she won a competition at SXSW in 2015 that she could get an audience with a serious venture capitalist.
While it may seem like symptoms of a bygone era, both Hardstock and Hull say the path to investor relationships is forged in places where many women of diverse backgrounds are not – ivy league organizations, golf courses and late night post-board meeting cocktails attended mostly by White men of means.
The history of venture capital has never been very balanced, according to Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity at Atlassian software development company and co-founder of Sycamore, an organization aiming to fix the VC funding gap for underrepresented founders. “White and Asian men have built the venture system and for generations have been seeking out people like themselves to invest in."
Personal and professional networks are critical for founders to connect with investors, but many multicultural women don't have access to the networks their White peers have. According to a study conducted by PRRI, the average White person has one friend who is Black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races. This common situation makes getting that all important warm introduction to established VCs very challenging for multicultural women founders.
“Is the ecosystem of your network equivalent to your net worth? Absolutely," says Hardstock. “For us, we have to build our own ecosystem and recreate what happens on the golf courses and at the Harvard reunions."
To Hardstock's point, most multicultural women with entrepreneurial aspirations lack that Ivy League network. According to reporting published in The New York Times, Black students make up just nine percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans. This gap has been largely unchanged since 1980.
While notable female investors such as Arlan Hamilton, Joanne Wilson, and Kathryn Finney are actively working to close the funding gap for women of color, only seven percent of current senior investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are women. Less than three percent of VC funds have Black and Latinx investment partners. Without an influential network, Hardstock and entrepreneurs like her are left screaming for a seat at the table.
When Black, Latina, and Asian women founders do get in the room with the right investors, they have to work harder to get the investors to relate to their products and services. “Entrepreneurs solve problems they understand," says Blanche. “When multicultural women entrepreneurs present their businesses to a homogenous group of male investors who may not be equipped to understand the idea, they may pass on an amazing business."
Take, for example, the founders of Haute Hijab or LOLA. Founders of both successful startups would have to explain the market for their services to a table occupied mostly by men who may never have considered that Muslim women want more convenient access to fashion and have never considered women might prefer to purchase organic tampons.
This lack of familiarity typically means reduced funding for women and a host of other consequences.
As one recent study pointed out, even the way investors frame questions to women can impact funding. According to the Harvard Business Review, female founders are often asked “prevention-oriented" questions focused on safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. Male founders, on the other hand, are often asked questions focused on hopes, achievement, advancement, and ideals.
When all of these factors are considered, a side letter may not be enough to begin to close the funding gap.
Both Blanche and Hull say real change can be made by democratizing information and education on impact investing. Both women say educating investors and MBA candidates about impact investing is the best way to overcome current bias.
Blanche's organization, Sycamore, produces a newsletter for new angel investors who want to help close the funding gap while making money in the process. Hull's firm has an internship program for multicultural girls from Oakland to expose them to the worlds of investing, entrepreneurship, business leadership, and financial literacy.
“I'm excited about the changes I see," says Blanche. “I see more firm employing the Rooney Law on an institutional level, an increase in smaller firms looking at underserved communities, and the democratization of institutional funding."
Hull adds that as long as multi-cultural women-led firms continue to show returns and outperform or perform on par with companies founded by White men, the investor community will rethink their portfolio strategies.
This piece was originally published in 2018.