Female empowerment - an elusive and sometimes difficult concept, is Julia Pimsleur's life's work.
Having penned her award-winning business book Million Dollar Women last year, she now hopes to take the success and message of the powerful book further by holding a Million Dollar Women Summit in two weeks. Because the book's focus was to encourage and school women on how to take their businesses to the million dollar mark. Pimsleur is keenly aware of the lack of female representation in the upper echelons of business. To wit, she is laser-focused on helping to close the gap in this sense by coaching the aspirational entrepreneurs of today.
Pimsleur's summit marks a departure from typical conferences where attendees are preached to rather than engaged with. Keynotes from peers, mentoring sessions and face time with a plethora of executive talent will allow an opportunity not only for networking, but for brand enhancement, quality advice and a level of establishment one can only derive from being immersed in an exclusive event such as this.
What drove you to put the summit together?
You know that quote, "Do the one thing that scares you?"
I wrote Million Dollar Women because as an entrepreneur I was mad about two statistics: only 3 percent of all women entrepreneurs get to one million in revenues (meanwhile, it's 6 percent of men) and only 4 percent of venture capital is invested in female-led companies.
Now I am on a mission to help one million women get to one million in revenues by 2020.
After my book Million Dollar Women was published I started coaching women from all over the country on how to scale up their businesses in my Million Dollar Women Masterclass. They loved being in this online community but then they started asking "when are we going to meet in person?" I really had no plans for a summit at the time but it felt like these were signs that it needed to happen and was the next important step in the Million Dollar Women movement. But I was also terrified! I had never raised corporate sponsorship dollars, I have never organized an event for 150 people and I knew I'd need to call in pretty much every favor-which I have. The summit is going to be a game changer for the women who attend, as it includes coaching, interactive workshops, and a pitch competition.
What can budding female entrepreneurs expect to gain from the summit?
The summit is designed to help women fill in their knowledge gaps so they can accelerate their businesses more quickly. We survey all of our attendees and ask them what they need to learn. Then, we put them in interactive workshops on those topics with top-rated teachers.
We also match each attendee with a female founder coach in their same industry who has "been there, done that" and can provide lessons learned and contacts.
We end the day with a pitch competition, in which five attendees will present their companies to five judges (who would typically take months to get in front of), and one will walk away with a $50,000 investment and additional prizes.
Tell us a little about some of the event speakers.
The Muse's CEO Kathryn Minshew, who has spoken at MIT and Harvard, will serve as a keynote speaker, and will deliver a talk called "Breaking Down Barriers And Scaling Up". Alpana Singh, a restaurateur and Grand Master Sommelier, will join her as a keynote speaker delivering a talk on "Big Wine, Big Business". Other event speakers and panelists include Kim Kaupe and Brittany Hodak, co-founders of ZinePak; Chole + Isabel's CEO Chantel Waterbury, and Desert Jet founder Denise Wilson. Additionally, there will be a mentor from across a variety of industries to cater to all attendee questions.
What will the Pitch element add to the summit?
I go to a lot of women's festivals and conferences where people tell their success stories of fundraising or bemoan the lack of funding.
We decided to do neither and instead use that time to create an opportunity for five women to pitch in a relatively friendly and supportive environment and walk away funded.
I am passionate about seeing more women raise capital and scale up their businesses, so I am especially excited about this part of the summit.
Why, in your opinion are women so far behind in terms of becoming large-scale entrepreneurial success stories?
We have been starting companies at nearly twice the rate that men have over the last two decades but we are not yet "going big" in large numbers. This needs to change. Women really just need three things to get to the million dollar mark and beyond: the right mindset, skill set and network.
Why did you choose Microsoft as the summit HQ?
We are thrilled to be holding the summit at Microsoft, as they are such a friend to small businesses and to women entrepreneurs specifically. We have a deep partnership with them as they are true champions of female founders.
Will this become an annual event, and will there be summits in other cities?
The Million Dollar Women summit will be an annual event and we are in conversations with partners in other cities. For this, stay tuned!
What are you looking forward to most about the summit?
I am most looking forward to seeing the faces of the 150 women, knowing this will be a game changer for so many of their businesses. I wish I could have attended something like this when I was scaling up my business, Little Pim. I am also excited to celebrate the summit with the Justice League, my incredible advisory council, who conceived and executed the event with me and are a class A group of Superheroes!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.