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5 Actions Top Female Founders Say Help Women Succeed

From the number-one thing to ask when networking to the best way to pitch your ideas, these five brilliant tips shared by women leaders at Wide Awake: A Day For Female Founders can propel your career or business to the next level—and boost your confidence along the way.

Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound, talks with attendees at Wide Awake. (Photo by Adam Kargenian/BFA)
Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound, talks with attendees at Wide Awake. (Photo by Adam Kargenian/BFA)

“Ideas are great, but execution is everything.” This statement by Eloquii founder Mariah Chase at Wide Awake: A Day For Female Founders was the overarching theme of a conference organized by female founders for female founders that debuted on March 6th in New York City, just before International Women’s Day.

It’s almost unfair to describe Wide Awake’s intimate, interactive experience as “a conference.” After all, most women’s conferences — inspiring as they may be — are a one-sided affair. Famous names preach their philosophies from a grand stage to a crowd of hundreds, and you leave filled with big dreams of what you too might achieve one day.

But then what? How do you go from the person listening in the audience to the person sharing her success story up on that stage? The “then what” is precisely what four hugely successful women want to teach female entrepreneurs, helping them acquire the skills, tools, and connections they need to create a thriving business from soup to nuts.

“You may have an amazing idea for a company, but that doesn’t mean you’re skilled in all areas of starting and running a business,” says fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, one of the event’s organizers, who last fall launched the Female Founders Collective, a platform for women leaders to connect with one another and support each other’s businesses.

To help educate and empower women, Minkoff and Jennifer Meyer, founder of Jennifer Bett Communications — a media relations company whose client roster is 80 percent female-founded companies — teamed up with Meyer’s business partner Melissa Duren Conner and Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, a women’s co-working space and community in New York City where the event was held. The four created Wide Awake as a forum for female heads of successful businesses to share what they know and have learned along the way with entrepreneurs whose companies are brand new.

The creators of Wide Awake (from left): fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, Luminary founder and CEO Cate Luzio, Jennifer Bett Communications founder Jennifer Meyer and her business partner Melissa Duren Conner. (Photo by Adam Kargenian/BFA)

Scrapping all traditional conference formalities, Wide Awake was free to all attendees, who got to connect directly with 39 female leaders in tech, fashion, finance, and more. In between keynote speakers like Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg of theSkimm, and Sallie Krawcheck of Ellevest, attendees broke off into small group sessions that served as educational workshops hosted by CEOs and business heads where they could chat one-on-one with these influential women.

Here are five of the most valuable pieces of advice shared at Wide Awake that can help you flourish in your career.

1. Ask for what you want

“Women often let our insecurities talk us out of getting what we want,” says Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. Whether it’s asking for a raise or an introduction to a key contact, don’t let intimidation silence you. “I tell women, leave every big meeting asking for one thing from the person you just met with that could help your career,” says Carly Zakin, co-founder of theSkimm. “No one’s going to say, ‘Since you’re too shy to ask, allow me to introduce you to my five most influential contacts.’ The only way to get what you want is to come right out and ask for it.”

2. Get comfortable with hearing the word no

In addition to making your wants and needs heard, “you also have to get used to hearing no,” says Danielle Weisberg, co-founder of theSkimm. “You’ll hear it a lot throughout your career. Eventually, it loses its sting and doesn’t stop you from moving forward.”

3. Focus on ideas that solve problems

We all have big ideas brewing, whether it’s a concept for a company or a way to expand your current job role. “The best way to convince people to take a chance on your idea is to show them how it solves a problem,” says Mariah Chase, founder of Eloquii clothing. If your idea is creative, like say a plot for a novel, identify why it’s unique and unlike any other story out there.

4. Talk to people who are where you want to be

When you’re face to face with a woman whose career you admire, ask her to share some perspective. “I always ask successful women who are further along in their careers than I am, ‘What’s something you’ve been through that I haven’t yet experienced, and how should I deal with it when it comes my way?’” says Weisberg. “Instead of seeing women ahead of you as competitors, treat them like mentors.”  

5. Think of setbacks as lessons, not failures

Setbacks suck, no two ways about it. But every successful woman has faced her share of rejections and missteps. “I never call my mistakes failures,” says Shannon McLay, founder of The Financial Gym. “I call them lessons, because they’re opportunities to learn and push me toward doing better. And forgive yourself — everyone makes mistakes, so don’t beat yourself up over what went wrong. Focus instead on what the experience has taught you.”

But the biggest takeaway that every woman who spoke at Wide Awake reiterated again and again: trust your instincts. As Chase put it, “If you can’t bet on yourself, who can you bet on?”

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