In business, it often feels as if women must climb ladders that are somehow steeper yet still shorter than those ascended by men. Sad in 2020, but it’s still true. Reaching for career success — and attaining it — can be daunting in ways that many ascending female leaders never expected. In addition to the well-reported discrepancy in compensation and the permeance of subconscious sexism, women struggle to secure funding for their entrepreneurial ideas far more than their male counterparts. It’s a multisided problem.
The access to funds is a real challenge: Research shows that a mere 2.2% of venture capital money goes to companies founded by all women. Thankfully, several new funding sources are being opened up by women, for women — from Rethink Impact, the largest U.S.-based impact venture capital firm with a gender lens, to Mary Meeker’s new Bond Capital initiative to Operator Collective, a new fund full of female operating executives from diverse backgrounds. These funding avenues are ushering in a whole new era of female entrepreneurs, ones who won’t have the trepidation or uncertainty that can derail a new business before it even starts.
I was once very much in the scrum of career advancement. Now that I’ve gained more confidence with age and experience, I’m passionate about the need to truly empower ourselves as professional women so we can pass along that knowledge and, in turn, empower the next generation of exceptional female leaders.
Balancing the Scales
Finding appropriate support is not limited to financial investments. Aspiring female entrepreneurs and small- and midsize-business owners also struggle to strike balances in their home lives. Despite earning more and more professionally with each passing year, women are still expected to handle the bulk of household chores and parenting duties in 2020. That kind of inequality is absurd.
So where do we turn? As women, we have a responsibility to one another. It can’t be lip service; we’ve got to support each other’s missions and objectives, whether that’s becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or being elected PTA president. How does that happen?
It has to start from within. We can’t empower each other unless we are already empowered ourselves. At the macro level, that requires us to have a core set of values that guide our decisions. You absolutely need to know who you are, what you stand up for, and what you show up for before you can be an effective leader of others. Whenever I feel moments of self-doubt creep in, I remind myself how worthy I am by writing myself a letter of encouragement. I think we all can help each other push through moments of uncertainty with a similar approach that elevates ourselves along with our colleagues.
Here are three simple places to start.
1. Create an internal board of directors. Family, friends, mentors, co-workers — anyone with any sort of stake in your personal or professional life can make up your internal board, and those folks should be involved in your biggest decisions. It takes a village to raise a child — and it also takes one to keep an adult on track. The support you find will make you a better leader, and you’ll feel more empowered to help your fellow female friends establish a trusted network of advisors in kind. Having such a solid foundation will only help as you begin paying it forward with other women.
2. Join a support network. There is no shortage of amazing organizations to tap into for inspiration and guidance. Some favorites include Ladies Who Launch, which has more than 100,000 members and offers free events, workshops, business plan templates, and other valuable resources; AllRaise, which gives women founders a wealth of tools and seeks to accelerate women in venture capital; and my own company’s Trailblazing Women events. Research ones that speak to you and your mission. In some cases, it may mean finding mentors (men or women) to help you build a specific skill or expertise. Then you can pass that knowledge along to help other women in your wake become successful.
3. Track your achievements. PepTalkHer is a tremendous tool that helps you track career goals and everyday wins. It’s an inspiring, interactive way to acknowledge your workplace prowess and negotiate your full value once an annual review comes around. It’s all about forging a path through the untamed forest and tracking the process — and the progress. Once you master the landscape and show other women how to leverage their potential, you’ve empowered them. When you do the legwork and know without a doubt that you are right in a contentious situation, your steadfast leadership will do more to empower your fellow women than overused platitudes ever could.
Fundamentally, we as women have a huge mission to help one another and to actually move beyond words and make things happen. Imagine the power we’d wield if we could claim our fair share of funding, perform only our fair share of the household duties, and create an interconnected network of empowerment and support for our fellow woman.