Support group generation — In addition to having a mentor or coach who can help, women thrive in supportive communities. This is why I am in WPO (Women’s Presidents Organization), WBENC, KNOW Women. We need peers who are walking through the journey of being a women founder together. I meet with my WPO group each month for 3 hours, we mentor one another and bring “help needed asks” to the group. These women are like my sisters because we support one another in our personal and professional lives. I don’t know what I would do without them. Therefore, whenever we are coaching a women business owner or coaching a woman who is launching her own business, we encourage them to pick at least one organization to join to ensure they have support from peers who are walking the same business owner and founder journey. These connections also refer business to one another and support business growth.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman, Founder and CEO of Inside Out Learning, Inc. (IOL), an award‐winning global leadership, team and organization development consulting business. In addition to running IOL, Dr. Sharon is a global executive and presentation skills coach, leadership and organization development consultant, speaker, writer, educator, wife and mom.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
After graduating with my Masters in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, I took a corporate job with a Fortune 500 company for five years and received incredible Human Resources and international training and development experience. I also had the privilege of working with Libbi Lepow and Ed Petka who truly taught me so much about the field of training and organization development. I traveled to several countries in Europe and Asia at a very young age and fell in love with the training and development field. Because I found my passion, I enrolled and was accepted into Columbia University’s Doctorate degree program in Leadership and Organization Development. The program allowed me to still work and attend in person one weekend a month and three weeks over the summer.
As I met incredible fellow students and faculty, they started to offer me work — amazing work like at GE’s Leadership Development Center. Also, some of the consultants I hired for the Fortune 500 company where I was working asked me to help them on consulting projects.
At the same time, I was getting frustrated working for the company. I kept bringing the senior leadership team innovative programs and ideas with plans for implementation, and it was such a struggle to get anything approved. I felt like they did not take me seriously as a tall, blonde woman in my early 20’s.
The offers I was receiving for consulting work were for more money than I was receiving working at the company who employed me, so I took a leap of faith and quit. I was very fortunate to have so many clients in my first year of business because of my fellow students at Columbia University as well as consultants I had hired at the company who employed me. Once I started to run my own business, I never looked back. My father was scared for me because he liked the security of a big company behind me. I loved the excitement of building and running a business. Later, I found an 8th grade essay I had written about my dream job, and I wrote about being an entrepreneur and running my own business. Even in 8th grade I said, I don’t want to work for anyone else. I guess entrepreneurship is in my DNA. I LOVE it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was asked to help a Fortune 50 company help turn around a program team that had intense congressional visibility. Congress was almost ready to cancel a program that was vital to our national security. The customer, prime contractor and supplier program team had built up 6 years of hatred, and were at an impasse of how to work together. Senior VP’s of the prime contractor brought me in and asked me to help, and said I would have one day to turn this around. I laughed out loud, and told them if you are only going to give me one day, you need to get another consulting company to help you.
I told them I needed 3 days one week, and 2 days the following week, and then I needed to work with the team once a month for ½ day to a full day for at least 6 months to a year. I knew that this was a huge project with high visibility as the CEO’s of each of the companies were keeping this program team under a microscope because Congress was involved.
They accepted my proposal, and after the 5 days of working intensely with the team, the program was back on track. After working with the team for a year, they completed the program which helps us stay safe as a nation.
It was interesting because I had to take a stand for what I knew the team needed. Also, there was a major old boys network on the program team. I had to navigate that while at the same time helping them clear 6 years of conflict that had built up.
Later the customer ended up hiring my company as well because they were so impressed with the turn around. This navigation included one of the “old boys” asking a government agency to subpoena my records for the project. They were trying to find out information on prime contractor and the customer who were now 2 of my clients. They decided to pick on a small woman owned business to get information they wanted. After having such a success story, this felt like bullying and it cost me 6-figures in legal expenses to respond to the subpoena and took 12 months to get them everything.
After I got them all the requested information, I never heard from them again. So they never used the information. I am not even sure if they ever looked at the information. Someone just wanted to make my life difficult. This is the type of stress and hardship that women owned businesses and founders have to endure, and why so many of them don’t even get started or give up.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started to bring on consultants, I brought on friends and did not think I needed to have employment and consulting contracts in place with friends. I soon learned that YES you do need contracts, and to avoid hiring friends as I lost some friends because we worked together. Some of my “male consultant friends” tried to take business from me. I quickly learned to always have a contract with an NDA, confidentiality agreement, and non-compete clause. I also learned to not hire friends.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many. I was an adjunct faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership where we did research and learned that women develop more from supportive relationships and men from challenging job assignments. Women need supportive relationships in their life. I have an endless number of mentors and coaches who have helped me be where I am today. I also belong to organizations like Women President’s Organization (WPO) and I am a WBENC certified company so I can be surrounded by other female founders and CEO’s.
To pick one particular person is difficult, but I keep coming back to Libbi Lepow who I worked with while working at the Fortune 500 company. Libbi had 20 years of experience as an international training and development consultant when I met her. She was amazing! She took me under her wing and taught me how to design and deliver transformative programs. We traveled the world together and we also had so many belly laughs.
I remember believing in me more than I believed in myself. She told me I had the potential to be a worldclass consultant and that I should start my own business. I also still use everything she taught me in the work that I do. I never realized my unique gifts and talents as a speaker, consultant, and influencer until LIbbi held a mirror up to me and believed in me more than I believed in myself. I am forever grateful to Libbi and just so honored that I had the opportunity to work with her.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I love parables more than boring business text books. I love this story because it is a story of authenticity and transformation — 2 qualities I live my life by and teach. A story where the main character — Santiago realizes his true self. I also love the journey he goes on and the trials he faces.
It is so interesting to me because until now I did not realize that I have modeled my own book — The Authenticity Code — The art and science of success and why you can’t fake it to make it after the Alchemist. It will be released in August 2021 and it is a parable of two professionals competing for the same job and how they have to discover their true self along the journey. In their journey to preparing for the interview and required presentation they learn about the authenticity code — Your Presence + Your Audience + Your Presentation = Your Success.
The foundation of my business (inside Out Learning, Inc) — is authenticity and transformation — we put this into everything we do from coaching to leadership team off-sites to leadership and professional development training programs.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Yes — people always want to arrive before experiencing the journey. If you want to be a woman founder you have to be willing to experience and endure the journey. You have to want your vision bad enough to experience the trials and tribulations just like Santiago did in the Alchemist.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My book The Authenticity Code will be released in August 2021. We also have an APP of this program and virtual and in-person training programs. We have been delivering this program for Fortune 500 companies for the past decade, and it has resulted in up to an 80% promotion rate (of participants within the first year of attending the program), billions of dollars in sales, increased retention rates, and drastically improved professional and leadership development skills.
Participants who go through the program say that they discover who they came here to be and what they came here to do, and the confidence to do it! They learn about how their presence + their audience + their presentation = their success. We help them transform into the leaders they were born to be.
I can’t think of a more important time in our world to have everyone doing what they came here to do and being who they came here to be. The program is life changing and so is the book — written as an engaging parable.
I hope that this book will help more women have the courage to start businesses that are in their hearts and minds. I work with a number of women founders and CEO’s or women considering starting their own company to have the courage and confidence to do so. We then coach them through the process of setting themselves up for success and growing their business.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
The obstacles that are put in our way more than our male counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, I love men, but women owners and CEO’s face more obstacles. One of my women owned business CEO clients told me yesterday that it took them 18 months to just get a building manager to allow them to build out space in their building. In the course of those months, they were asked for their husband’s tax returns and every time they would get them paperwork, it was not good enough. They said it was clear the male building manager wanted them to go away, but they persisted and eventually got into the building.
However, they also are not invited to the building parties but the white male business owners in the building are.
These are the types of obstacles that women face as founders just like the subpoena experience I described above.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
I am actively involved in WPO and WBENC and KNOW Women — all organizations of female business owners. I mentor women who are thinking of becoming women founders and get them actively involved in these organizations so they have the support they need to start and grow their businesses.
My company also provides business and leadership coaching to help women start businesses and grow their business and teams once they start it.
We provide leadership team off-sites, coaching and training programs for women owned businesses and founders to help them grow their teams and revenues.
Just recently one of my corporate CEO clients decided to take a leap of faith and start her own business.
Many times women considering starting a business will call us and get coaching to decide what type of business they want to start and discover where their passion lies. We also help them develop the confidence, courage and skills to take the leap of faith and start their own business. This is a passion of mine to support women-owned businesses be successful.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I always believe women will change the world. I think women are incredible leaders who bring the ideal combination of challenge and nurturing to lead high performing business teams. Research shows women leaders are naturally more collaborative and can build collaborative and engaged teams easily.
Also, why shouldn’t they be founders? Why should only men be founders? I love what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said when asked how many women would she like to see on the Supreme court and she said 9 — meaning all of them! We finally have a woman Vice President of the United States — let’s see
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
1 . Help our Authentic Brand Statement exercise spread to the masses through publication (e.g., my book or a magazine like your own). Women must have the support to get in touch with their authentic calling/purpose. We offer books, mobile apps, coaching and training programs that in less than 45 minutes each person has their Authentic Brand statement which includes the position they most want to hold and what they want to do and change in that position. Many times when we do this exercise, women will end up realizing they want to start their own company. They also connect with their greatest leadership gift and strength. This 5 question simple exercise is also in my Book — The Authenticity CodeTM — The art and science of success and why you can’t fake it to make it.
An example story is a woman who was in a corporate VP job at a Fortune 50 company and just doing this exercise in one of our programs, helped her see her true desire to open her own business. Within 3 months, she retired early from her position, and has already launched her new business.
2. Business Idea generation coaching and mentoring — Once women connect with their purpose/calling from #1 above, they need support brainstorming and formalizing business idea generation. Could organizations like WPO, WBENC, KNOW Women, offer mentoring on this? We offer coaching for women who are starting their own business to get really clear on their business idea and what differentiates it from other businesses out there.
3. Women should also use resources like the SBA to help develop a business plan or coaching/mentors to develop a business plan. It is critical to feel you have a plan as it helps you to implement and move forward with your business vision and goals.
4. Women need to invest in mentoring and coaching Programs. As I mentioned above, it is critical for women to have supportive relationships in business. The Center for Creative Leadership found that women develop most through supportive relationships. Having a mentor or coach can help women have the confidence and courage to take a leap of faith and start their own business. Sometimes we don’t believe in ourselves and we need someone external to believe in us and be our support system to help us believe we can do this! This is why we offer coaching to individuals to help them feel empowered to really start the business of their dreams and successfully make the transition to do so. I do know the SBA sometimes offers these services complimentary where budget is a concern.
5. Support group generation — In addition to having a mentor or coach who can help, women thrive in supportive communities. This is why I am in WPO (Women’s Presidents Organization), WBENC, KNOW Women. We need peers who are walking through the journey of being a women founder together. I meet with my WPO group each month for 3 hours, we mentor one another and bring “help needed asks” to the group. These women are like my sisters because we support one another in our personal and professional lives. I don’t know what I would do without them. Therefore, whenever we are coaching a women business owner or coaching a woman who is launching her own business, we encourage them to pick at least one organization to join to ensure they have support from peers who are walking the same business owner and founder journey. These connections also refer business to one another and support business growth.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The Authenticity CodeTM — movement to get as many professionals and leaders as possible worldwide doing what they came here to do and being who they came here be. This movement is starting with my book being released in August, 2021 — I want as many people as possible — the masses — to crack the authenticity codeTM and be aligned with their true calling and purpose and have the skills and confidence to go do it. We also offer coaching, mobile apps, virtual and in-person training programs on The Authenticity CodeTM because it is my mission to create a movement to positively impact the masses — including motivating and empowering women to become founders of their own companies.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Richard Branson. I currently consult with one of his companies — Virgin Orbit and I love working with them. I admire Richard so much as an innovator, creator and change agent and I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with him.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.