It's a new world. Women are no longer relegated to enduring the traumas and upsets they historically had to in order to get ahead. The revelations of the year have marked a new age for women, who no longer feel caged in by their experiences and instead are willing to share, despite the consequences, their difficult stories.Inspired by this movement, and hoping to fuel the fire with some of the amazing female entrepreneurs we've featured, we're launching our first campaign, and it's called #SWAAYthenarrative. Through this initiative, we ask women to open up about the most damaging criticism they've faced throughout their career journeys, sharing how they worked harder to overcome it. The resulting editorial spread is beautiful, emotional, and moving.
“As women, we tend to internalize the harsh words of others, even when they are incorrect, unfair or incorrigibly sexist," says SWAAY Founder, Iman Oubou. “As we are seeing, women are no longer going to stand for being treated differently from our male counterparts-in the business world or anywhere else. #SWAAYthenarrative is our moment to look boldly into the faces of those who have tried to bring us down and let them know that we have thrived in spite of their judgements. Each woman that we feature brings her own story of perseverance and internal strength, both qualities women have enjoyed for millennia."
Through this initiative, we ask women to open up about the most damaging criticism they've faced throughout their career journeys, sharing how they worked harder to overcome it.
#SWAAYthenarrative comes exactly one year after the launch of SWAAY, which occurred after a wholly fortuitous and highly productive meeting last November when Iman sat down with our Managing Editor, Belisa Silva for a New York happy hour. The drink of choice: wine, the topic of conversation: SWAAY - a not-yet-launched digital publication that would elevate and centralize women in business, and make female entrepreneurs the new cover girls.
Between Iman and Belisa, they had years' worth of content ideas for a future site that would seek to expose the untold stories of women of business. Such unsung female heroes had been mostly ignored by bigger publications, who have historically focused on the merits of men in business over their female counterparts.
All it takes is a glance at today's newsstands to see the disparity in how genders are portrayed across magazine covers: men in power suits behind desks, and women frolicking in fields giving fashion advice.
“SWAAYing the narrative means that we get to be the author of our own rules in our lives. It means that we no longer need to allow others to dictate to us what is possible, or appropriate or expected. SWAAYing the narrative means that we are holding the pen when writing the story of our lives and not handing it to someone else. This campaign highlights a series of different women from different backgrounds who are SWAAYing the narrative in their own unique way. This campaign is a celebration of confidence, courage and the power of owning our voices."
For campaigns such as this; bootstrapped by a concept and rooted in real, moving stories, there must be a personal element involved, and this came in 2016 when Iman was raising capital to build the site. Walking into an investor meeting last year while SWAAY was in its Beta phase, the former Miss New York US, who also happens to be a scientist was told directly by the man leering behind his desk that she was “too pretty to be a CEO." The catch for Iman ultimately came down to: do I take this man's money and fund my start-up, pay my employees, and launch the site - or walk away from his $250K dollars and struggle on with investment insomnia? She chose to struggle on.
"As women, we tend to internalize the harsh words of others, even when they are incorrect, unfair or incorrigibly sexist," says SWAAY Founder, Iman Oubou.
She wrote about her experience in an unfiltered Harper's Bazaar op-ed earlier this year and received a flood of support, as well as countless stories from women around the world that told similar tales. While this prospective investor's capital never made its way into the SWAAY coffers, his words served as the most provocative, engaging and enabling to fuel our start-up. “I was told I was too X to be Y" thus became the foundation for our campaign.
Fast forward to a year later, and we've interviewed upwards of 700 women, from CEOs to CFOs, activists, athletes, and philanthropists, who are redefining modern businesses. Fusing their unique vantage points as multidimensional individuals with issues close to their hearts and a relentless determination to make a difference through everything from sexual harassment to gender disparities, female entrepreneurs are on the cutting edge of some of our world's most exciting companies and initiatives. #SWAAYthenarrative cover girl, Heather Monahan, for one, was a corporate juggernaut, before leaving her high roller position to become her own boss. Now, she champions her initiative #bossinheels which aims to destroy the male-oriented vision of what being a “boss" means.
“After getting to know Iman and her mission to empower and aid female entrepreneurs in their work, I felt compelled to be involved in the #STN campaign," says Heather, who was once told "You can't be a strong female without being a bitch." “Being a part of this campaign means that we get to highlight what we have learned along the way and share these insights with others so they can leapfrog the challenges that may be lying in front of them with ease. When one woman shares her unique voice and story there is a domino effect that occurs allowing women to share their story in their circle. The STN movement is creating a larger platform to allow for this momentum to pick up and impact a much larger audience."
"I was so proud to be in the company of the next feminist generation. Meeting so many smart, accomplished and self-directed young women cheered me more than even a hot stone massage." -Marilyn Goldstein
Laying the groundwork for this movement meant reaching out to women from all corners of business to discover their “I was told I was too…" stories, none of which were easy to hear but all of which proved to us the value of what we were doing. There has never been a better or more appropriate time to own and embrace the modern businesswoman's endeavors.
And so we rounded up women from our network - women we've profiled, bosses pushing the boundaries in their fields, and talked at length about the adversities they've faced in their careers. With misogyny factoring as one of the driving forces for many of their careers, these women each proved testament to a larger issue at play in the workforce: that regardless of the work they're doing, and the display of their capabilities, they still aren't being taken seriously.
Among the women we are launching the campaign with are trailblazers like Evy Poumpouras and Lindsay Coke. Both were judged for their physical prowess and both proved their naysayers wrong by dominating their respective fields. Then there's Marilyn Goldstein; a journalist and activist who had to sue her employer in order to gain the promotion that was kept from her because of her gender. There is also Sydney Magruder, a professional ballerina who was told her short, muscly physique wouldn't meet the stringent requirements for entry into the industry. In short, our debut batch of women are nothing short of exceptional, especially in the face of a challenge.
Over the coming weeks and months we will be publishing the stories from our campaign and accepting stories of women from around the world, of which we will select the most impactful to publish under the STN part of the the site.
For those who've been with us from the start, thank you for making this possible and sharing your incredible stories with us for the last year. And for those new to the site, welcome to SWAAY, a digital world where the future depends on the promise of women.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.