When you’re a female networking your way up that corporate ladder with your hammer in hand, prepared to tackle the inevitable (and ahem, unfair) glass ceiling, you’re bound to come across a few disappointing events. There are so many opportunities to slap on a name badge, sip a few cocktails and bump elbows with fellow ladies who run companies or have impressive careers, but sometimes, the actual meat of the event is lost amongst the traditional ‘pink-a-fied’ conversation. As if paying more taxes for feminine products isn’t enough, why should a conversation with vibrant, impactful women be anything less than super-inspiring? That’s why we have to tip our hat to a recent panel hosted by Xeomin, and organized by Evolve MKD, featuring a panel of impressive and refreshingly-honest female entrepreneurs from the tech to the furniture industry.
Held at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York, here are some of the highlights of this empowering event where female CEOs (which ahem, make up a mere 4.6 percent of the Fortune 500 companies) went on the record to be real, offer insight and get truly vulnerable with the stories behind their success. Take some notes from their impressive - and honest - playbooks:
Women rise together.
Though it’d be inaccurate and stereotypical to say women aren’t as competitive as men, it is well-documented that women are more keen to help one another grow than men. Another truth? Women have stronger softer skills - a.k.a. we’re better communicators - which help us not only speak to our co-workers or employees, but to customers, too. Kristi Faulkner, the president of a female-centric advertising agency, Womenkind, shared that when it comes to seeking advice and guidance, most women don’t have to search too far. Why? Women support one another - and strive for excellent by having each other’s backs.
“I found that I often haven’t had to look for that high in the sky mentor, the same way a lot of guys have to because as women our best mentors are right around us all the time," says Faulkner. "I feel like I’ve been so lucky to have a peer group where we started out when we were all starting in tech and we rose professionally together. Those women, I’ve been able to ask them anything, we make time for one another, we lean on one another."
We fight against an unfair advantage
Randi Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and the editor-in-chief of DotComplicated shared a story that might make your jaw drop, like it did ours.
"I give about 50 or 60 speeches a year around the world. I was recently in Kuwait speaking at the first Women in Business conference ever in the whole country," says the rockstar media mogul and sister of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. "When I started off doing public speaking, I remember a big tech executive at a very hot company that we would all know, he literally looked like he had dragged himself out of a dumpster and walked onstage. I got up on stage and killed it but I had done my own makeup and hair,” she said. “A client called me the next day and said, ‘We liked your presentation but wish you cared about your appearance a little more.’ Literally the guy looked like he lived in a box in Union Square. I went home to my husband, shed a lot of tears and he’s like ‘you can whine about it or accept that this is what it’s like for women in business. If that means building time to get your hair and makeup done, you do that.’ That was one of the biggest wake-up calls as a woman in business. Looks really do matter.”
Is it fair that Zuckerberg was held to a different standard of beauty? Nope. Is it sexist? Yep. But even though we have different boxes to check before doing the same exact thing a man does, we not only do it in stride, but we do more than our male counterparts ever consider.
We can find the market opportunity - even with great risk.
For Niki Cheng, the founder of the BoConcept franchise in NYC, the journey to becoming an entrepreneur was one stepping stone after another riddled with risk. When she immigrated to the U.S., she had a degree that didn't translate into a robust job market, and after many failed jobs (including getting fired as a coat check), her husband suggested she work at a local furniture store. Though annoyed - considering she already had a degree - she decided to give it a chance. She quickly found a calling in sales, especially since she was able to empathize with the customer. During the panel, she said she would come home super-excited to share how well she did and soon, her husband made another suggestion: why not start your own thing? Noticing a need for lower-cost modern furniture, she launched BoConcept and franchised it, now with eight locations in Manhattan.
“I realized that there’s a problem in the city,” says Cheng. “There is no mid-priced range of modern furniture in New York City. That was in 2003. And I founded BoConcept and I knew that this brand will work."
We are women - and women are the consumer.
Dr. Anne Chapas, the founder and medical director of Union Square Laser Dermatology shared that one of the greatest advantages of being a woman in business is that the majority of consumers are, in fact, female. Knowing firsthand the experiences that are inherently specific to a single sex can help you relate to your potential customer in a more impactful, personal way.
“I think for me the most beneficial thing I find is 85% of my patients are women," says Chapas. "So as soon as they walk in the door, I’ve either been in the situation that they’re in or I’ve seen my mother go through it, so right away there’s an instant connection,” she says. “I know if they’re a little bit anxious, I need to put them at ease or if it’s for a cosmetic reason, it’s going to be natural and we’re going to help them feel better about how they look so they can get ready in the morning faster and get their kids to school and get to the office.”
We can see the privilege - and the flexibility - in being a woman.
Though the battle for equal pay in the United States continues to fight on, even in 2016, Ireland-based founder and CEO of Vita Liberata, Alyson Hogg says instead of looking at being a female as a setback, consider it a privilege. Why? We are born to be flexible.
“I think it’s a huge privilege that only 50 percent of the population get. I think we’re very lucky. Part of that is because we have children: People say to me, ‘we’re seriously considering a crash and going back in our business because so many women are having babies at the moment.’ Or they say Ashley’s pregnant. Or Louise is pregnant. And I say that’s fantastic because these girls are going to come back just different people with a whole set of skills that they never even knew that they had,” says the vivacious beauty CEO. “Also I think that because you have to prepare, even if it’s subconscious, that something life-changing is likely to happen to you in your future, you have to be much more flexible. That flexibility is what business is, girls. That is it. Is there any single thing that you have to be it’s flexible. You have to be able to move with the wind. You have to be able to look at a problem and realize you’re not thinking about it right and go from there.
We can have it all - just not all in the same day.
Zuckerberg is the proud mom to two boys - Simcha and Asher - and also a pioneer in the tech industry. But does she really have it all, or can she? For her, it’s about choosing your top battles each and every single day.
"I have a mantra that I say in the morning — ‘Work, sleep, family, friends, fitness — pick three.’ You can pick a different three tomorrow. In a 24-hour period, you can only pick three,” says Zuckerberg. “You can’t do all of those 5 and do them well. For me, I like to give myself permission to be a little more lopsided instead of feeling like I have to be perfectly balanced and do all of those things in one day. And you hope it just balances out in the long term.”
The evening, which was filled with insights and laughter was a refreshingly honest meeting of the minds. If this was any indication of what is to come, the future is more than female, it's also fabulous.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.