I grew up in a lower-middle class family where female entrepreneurship wasn’t discussed. It wasn't even a possibility on the radar. My family and my family’s family worked to pay their monthly bills, and talk of female-led tech organizations or small businesses, for example, was unheard-of. The women all worked just as hard as the men, yet they still remained, in many ways, invisible. They were contributing women, yet they were somehow just still women.
My mother was a nursing assistant who worked the late shift when I was child, my maternal grandmother sold a small inventory at a church sale every couple of weekends and my paternal grandmother emigrated from Italy and became an X-Ray technician in the Women’s Army Corps.
When it comes to women entrepreneurs, I think of how far we've come and how hard we’ve worked — some of us from nothing, from systemic, sexist obstacles — to achieve the autonomy to create, to innovate and to inspire the next generation. And I think of myself and my own media company or my future e-commerce business. I think of my friends who created apps and organizations, my colleagues who digitally influence others and my friends who lead organizations to make our country better.
So when “#WhatWeNeedToSucceed: A Letter to the Next President on Behalf of Women Entrepreneurs,” was published, its purpose was to identify the ingredients for success — the very things that our country should afford our women. It was written and co-signed by several dozen women in executive positions from companies all over the spectrum — including Estee Lauder, GIPHY, Birchbox, Mogul, Care.com and Buzz Marketing Group. The signature line, to put it lightly, was breathtaking.
How could these voices be ignored?
"Women put 90 percent of their income into their communities and families, therefore we believe their success will not only benefit our economy, but will also have a positive impact on society."
All they're asking is for the government to consider and fight for equality. Parity. A fair chance — especially given the fact that women are starting businesses twice as fast as men, yet are facing unfathomable (yet enduring) challenges that must be addressed: receiving less venture capital and media representation.
It’s as if we’re working harder and harder, all while invisible. As if that invisibility is built into the system and hasn’t been addressed because it’s so status-quo. Well, the reality is this: it is.
In fact, according to one piece published at University of Penn, Katherine Hays, the co-founder and CEO of venture-backed Vivoom (her first start-up), says that she’s usually the only woman in the room. “Male VCs — and obviously most are — are very comfortable now giving female entrepreneurs capital for ‘girl stuff,’” she says. “Want to rent dresses or sell baby wipes as a subscription? No problem. The VCs ask their wives or girlfriends if the idea is cool, and they’re good to go.”
If women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion.
Should women have any other idea, though (like proprietary tech), it’s all crickets: “Sometimes I believe if I were a 21-year-old male in a hoodie, Vivoom would be even more appealing to VCs.”
And here’s another unfortunate anecdote ripe for change: according to Catalyst.org, women hold only 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. So, if women aren’t even finding themselves in positions of leadership in the workplace, how are we expecting them to find the confidence, resources or backing to start their own companies?
This is exactly why the letter states, “If women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion.” So what’s stopping everyone?
It’s as if we’re working harder and harder, all while invisible.
To expedite the brainstorming process, the letter offered up some specific and tactile strategies that could lead to successful women-led businesses, including focuses on “gaining access to capital, expanding and supporting networks and markets and addressing the changing face of business through technology.”
The minds behind the letter believe that “access to and development of financial and human capital” is vital to encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs. From incentivizing organizations to invest in women-owned companies to “considering a shortening of government payment cycles from 90 days to 30 days for small women-owned suppliers.” While these may seem like small movements in a huge engine, they're actually not. The little things matter. No one ever said starting a business should be easy, but unnecessary obstacles should be removed. And if those obstacles are preventing half of the workforce from even getting close to where they should be, it's time to re-think the system.
"We believe that access to and development of financial and human capital is essential to fostering women’s entrepreneurship."
More so, they believe that “increasing access to local and global networks and markets” is critical — including “supporting trade agreements that liberalize and trade and open new markets for businesses of all sizes,” supporting mentorship and — so important — “encouraging conscious placement of women on boards, in venture partnerships and on executive teams.”
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they ask for specific, logical and, yes, overtly obvious steps that will help future generations of women. They ask that government and business leaders help women entrepreneurs thrive in the face of changing technologies by emphasizing (STEM) and digital literacy in school, enabling access to the Internet — everywhere — and making it known to women the “hardware, software and digital resources they need to scale their companies.” Sometimes, for many people — especially those who don't come from privileged families or a circle of entrepreneurs — just having access is enough.
Not only do all of these ideas make a real, every-day impact on the way women run their businesses, they say out loud, “We’re here. We’re not leaving. And this is just the beginning.”
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.