“Half of fathers with one child say they will not accept a new job that reduces work/life balance; 55% of women without children say the same thing.”
This is good news and bad news. Good news because maybe now the idea of balance will become more mainstream and be addressed on a larger scale. If not, as the report calls out, corporations have much more to lose than just the mothers who work for them.
The bad news is that this takes one more difference between men and women off the table. This used to be used to explain why women aren’t advancing in the workplace as fast as men. Unfortuantely, this excuse may no longer be valid. Where does it leave us with respect to leveling the playing field for women in business? This McKinsey report provides some ideas for the corporate world:
Help by providing better informal networks and role models
Reshape preconceived notions about what constitutes women’s work. Stop making decisions for other people about what job the can or would be willing to do.
Examine and possibly help shift women’s own mindsets
Interestingly, these same recommendations work for getting more women into successful and high-growth entrepreneurial ventures. ACTiVATE is working on all that, which is why it…works!
The best word I can think to describe what I felt when I read a report released yesterday by Lesa Mitchell at the Kauffman Foundation is: Validated. It’s been about 18 months since I stepped into the world of non-profit management and to say it has been smooth sailing would be, well, untrue. Fundraising has been HARD, as everyone warned me when Renee and I decided to form the Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Actually, I was told I was ‘crazy’ more than once (we entrepreneurs get used to that!).
The reason fundraising has been hard has a little to do with the economy, but it also has something to do with our focus. Most nonprofit foundations look to fund organizations that empower people – which we do – but they also tend to focus on programs that directly empower those in poverty – the welfare to work programs. Don’t get me wrong – there are MANY incredible programs out there that do that and they are invaluable. I’m a strong believer in teaching people to get themselves off public assistance as much as possible – to teach them to fish. And that is what we do, in a way, but with a completely different audience – our ACTiVATE program is geared mostly towards educated women. And contrary to what a lot of people think, just because these women are educated doesn’t mean they’re financially set or not in need. In today’s economy, with high unemployment, there are a lot of people out of work or working far below their capabilities. People who, instead of just taking a job, could be MAKING jobs.
My personal belief is that we have a responsibility to fully use the capabilities and gifts we’ve been given – whatever they are. Over 50% of the workforce is now comprised of women and women are actually getting more degrees then men meaning there are a LOT of smart women, capable women out there. Not all of these women are entrepreneurial, but you would be surprised at how many ‘ordinary’ women have a business idea or desire deep inside them. It is THESE women we’re working to mobilize and, well, ACTiVATE. According to the Kauffman report, this is not a “cause”, it is an economic opportunity some might also call an imperative.
We find that many of the women who come through our program want to change the world and we show them how to do that through business. Their efforts create jobs which ignites a multiplier effect that does indeed trickle down to relieve unemployment at lower income brackets. You just have to step back and see the bigger picture.
The Kauffman report cites several bits of research to conclude there are gaps in programs which, if filled, would increase the number of women entrepreneurs building growth-oriented companies. ACTiVATE is one such program, and we know Kauffman agrees because they provided us funding to develop the materials to replicate our program (which we will start doing later this year in Michigan).
Startups are hard regardless of your tax status (for profit or not-for-profit). So while we work to find funding to cross over our own “valley of death” (yes, we’re one of those underfunded nonprofits Lesa talked about, at least underfunded for now) reports like this one help us continue moving forward on our…dare I say it?….Path Forward. What we’re doing matters, and the potential impact is huge. Thanks, Lesa, for reminding us!
When I founded my software company so many years ago, I was fortunate to have an immediate client who actually paid me well for my time. As my company and my relationship with this client expanded, we were also able to get paid to develop our software product. In essence, our software was customer funded and required no more outside capital than a line of credit to get us over certain growth spurts. We were able to parlay revenues from our services into the areas of our business we needed to grow. We bootstrapped.
Although we sold software, the majority of our revenues came from services, so we determined our budget based on how many hours we might bill and projected out from there. Borrowing or raising capital never entered my mind. Oh, I remember stating early on that I wasn’t looking to be the next Microsoft, but I also remember distinctly the reason: I didn’t want to lose control. Even though our company grew to multi-millions in revenues from what I considered being scrappy, I honestly think I was afraid of too much success.
I don’t know if I’ve always been that scrappy, but looking back I realized I needed to be to get through college. I had to work 3 jobs at one time to pay for college myself (eating Ramen Noodles in the tough times) because my parents didn’t have the means at the time. But at least then, I filled out every application for a scholarship I could find and opted for all the student loans possible. So why didn’t that translate into my business years later? In my first business, I never really thought about what I could do with someone else’s money.
Over the past couple months of co-founding a nonprofit, the Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (the first nonprofit for both me and co-founder Renee Lewis), I’ve been building our financial models from what I thought we could make for our efforts – teaching the ACTiVATE program at UMBC, consulting, training, speaking, and license fees for rolling out the program. How can we make this happen by being scrappy? As we’re getting things moving, I’ve been working 24/7 and pulled in a million directions as happens in any type of start-up and have honestly never worked harder in my whole life nor enjoyed something so much. I can’t NOT do it. And then it hit me.
I was stuck in bootstrap mentality.
Although we have big ideas and visions for the Center, I kept coming back to ‘how can we earn the money to fund these great ideas?’ until I got my own boot in the butt. I kept seeing the signs – from the recent Kauffman study, to the Equity Matters seminar I helped run for Springboard, to the SBA focus group I participated in. This is also where it pays to hang around people smarter than you. All these events, the people around me, and especially the continuing success of our ACTiVATE participants and alum collectively and indirectly helped me realize that what we’re doing is SO powerful and the timing is SO perfect that it can’t wait to be bootstrapped. Bootstrapping isn’t good enough. We need to raise money from the outside.
I know this is contrary to what most people are thinking in this economy. And in fact, outside capital isn’t always the right answer for every business. But when the timing IS right and the idea IS powerful and the market IS ready, waiting to bootstrap can kill an opportunity’s momentum and chances for success as a result. It is a risk, though, as raising money isn’t easy and can consume a lot of time. It is an option that should at least be weighed by entrepreneurs when they start so they can build in the right infrastructure and value to get where they want to go. Neither fear of success nor failure should be among the limiting factors.
The transformation of my thoughts and, as a result, the vision for the Center was so incredible, yet so painful (as all growth is) I realized that many of the women who come through our programs are likely stuck exactly where I was. And now that I’ve gone through it, I am better at recognizing the symptoms in others and developing strategies to address this attitude head-on. If we’re ever going to help women reach the levels of success they are fully equipped to attain, this has to be a part of it (see friend Dr. Sharon Hadary’srecent article in the Wall Street Journal as backup!). And now I know better how to get there! I’ve always believed that pain can have an upside. And I know that ACTiVATE, the Center, and the women we touch will benefit from this pain of my thought evolution as well.
What is it that motivates people to be innovative? While it may not be the primary motivator, most people want to enjoy some benefit from their own ideas. By default, you own what you create, but that doesn’t hang true if you’re an employee. As an employee, everything you create is owned by your employer whether or not you’ve signed an agreement to that effect. So what does this do to your willingness to be innovative?
Part of this may depend on your entrepreneurial tendency and your sense of personal control. As an entrepreneur, I feel a strong sense of ownership of my efforts and ideas. It’s not about money for me, though. It’s about making sure the fruits of my labor and my creative ventures are being put to good use – that they’re helping change lives. It’s about ensuring my ideas and efforts move forward according to my personal mission. I’m curious – does that matter so much for folks who don’t consider themselves entrepreneurial?
For employees for whom the level of purpose described above is also a key motivator, it is your responsibility to align your job choices with your values. Unfortunately that is not always possible given the current job-market challenges, but ultimately, it is a worthy goal.
Companies that have benefited the most from employee-driven innovation exert effort to make sure their employees are engaged in the process. Whether it is through monetary reward or non-financial recognition, they find ways to motivate folks to contribute their creative ideas to forward the company’s mission. For an enlightening view on what motivates people (and it isn’t always what you think!) check out this great TED Talks video featuring Dan Pink.
The bottom line for employers: it is crucial that you keep in mind that different people are driven by different things and value different types of rewards. Just because something drives you, don’t assume it motivates others.
So can work-for-hire stifle innovation? Only if you let it…
These past several weeks have been absolutely crazy for me. I’ve been working almost non-stop and, honestly, I have loved every minute of it.
When working with current and aspiring entrepreneurs, I talk a lot about finding your passion. I used to say that you know you’ve found your passion when you’re engaged in a task and time passes quickly.
I don’t believe that anymore. After all, time passes quickly when I drive the repetitive 40-mile route home from teaching 2 nights a week. More than once I have arrived home somewhat surprised that I didn’t remember the drive. Has that happened to anyone else? Sure. But does that mean we’re passionate about driving? Not necessarily.
Likewise on occasion I’ve had to dig into getting my office organized or my financial records in order. I can get to a place where I’m so focused I don’t even realize I’m hungry or that so much time has passed. Does that mean I’m passionate about those activities? Hardly.
Time can pass when you’re NOT having fun. Time passes when you’re focused. So how can you identify the difference between being able to focus on a task and being passionate about it? It’s about the energy.
Last night, I gave a workshop at UMBC on Finding Value in Ideas. Following our 3-phase model for entrepreneurial innovation, Get Sparked, Get Real, and Get Results, I talked for over an hour about a topic I am passionate about. Sure, the time passed, but there was something different about this time passing and my commutes home.
My energy was MULTIPLIED, not drained.
It struck me as I was driving home that I was PUMPED. Even though I expended a great deal of energy to be “on” for the group, I actually felt MORE energetic than when the session had begun. I started thinking about past occasions when I felt that way. Teaching an ACTiVATE class. Empowering a group of women. Giving an individual a much-needed empowerment “Boot in the Butt”.
Although these tasks often require considerable energy to conduct, I am left feeling more powerful, more energized, than I did before I started. THAT, I realized, is what passion does.
Passion for what I do has allowed me to function with less sleep, to get excited about the future, and to realize, day after day, that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Sure, there are aspects of my “work” that I don’t get excited about (like finances) but because I’m able to focus on the goal – the path forward – those less-than-fun tasks are now inconsequential. It’s magic.
So how do you find out what you’re passionate about? Notice the next time you get that sudden surge of energy, of power. Stop and take a moment to think about the cause. It could be a particular task or the meaning behind it. I guarantee you if you pay more attention, the answers will become clear.
I recently organized a reception to introduce prospective members to the DC-Chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization. In addition to discussing the awesome organization and the power of peer advising, I wanted to provide some business value at the session. To that end, I invited Gloria Bohan, Founder and CEO of Omega World Travel, to an informal discussion about how innovation helped her grow the business she founded over 34 years ago into its current 800+ employees and over $1B in sales.
Gloria never really set off to start her own business. She became enamored with cruising on her honeymoon. They had been upgraded to a suite on the QE2 and had such a delightful time, Gloria caught the cruising bug. The next cruise she took, however, didn’t include an upgrade to a suite, but she couldn’t help but notice all the upgraded travel agents. She wanted what they had – access to travel opportunities. And that is how the idea for Omega World Travel was born. As she framed it, “Inspiration carries us where we didn’t even know we wanted to go”.
Over the 34+ years that Gloria operated and grew her company, innovation in all forms was at the core of the company’s success. Gloria credits their “gearshift” mentality – flexibility with ability to change directions – as crucial to survival and sustainable growth. They had to continually understand and tap into their clients’ evolving needs. She also saw huge benefits in making everyone in the company think entrepreneurial – a philosophy that we both share.
In fact, attitude is so important at Omega World Travel that Gloria wore a pin given to all employees that has the word “Attitude” on it as a reminder. She shared her belief that it is up to you to “decide how you’re going to meet challenges.” Indeed, the right attitude coupled with action can make all the difference!
We were privileged to participate in the launch of the newest ACTiVATE program at Texas State. My former co-instructor here in Maryland, Terry Chase Hazell, is leading up the awesome instructional team there and has done a fantastic job recruiting a sharp group of incredible women to join our ACTiVATE community.
ACTiVATE at Texas State
In the all-day session we led, we focused on helping them get to know each other and build community while exploring their personal goals for starting their own business. In addition to having a lot of fun, we saw some real potential. I have no doubt there will be some great new technology-based businesses coming out of that program.
At the end of the day (which FLEW by!), I asked the ladies how the day would have been different if it had been mixed gender. While I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of having ACTiVATE be a women’s-only program, I was honestly pleasantly surprised by some of their answers.
If the class had included both men and women, all agreed that the day would have had a different dynamic. One woman observed that when men are in the room, some women tend to let them take over, especially when they’re unsure about something. Having men in the room can make them more self-conscious, especially when learning new skills or trying something new – like starting a tech business.
With the single-gender focus, the women noted the free flow of ideas as well as the team spirit that began to develop among these accomplished, driven women. One woman mentioned that they “get” each other – the decisions they’ve made and challenges they’ve experienced throughout their lives and careers. Certainly, as we all agreed, the volume level in the room throughout the day remained at a higher level than it would have in mixed company.
The day left us all energized and pleased to welcome our Texas friends into the ACTiVATE community of women entrepreneurs. The whole trip left me personally jazzed about the program and prospects of helping it continue to expand.