“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!
Last week, I attended a focus group of sorts at the SBA headquarters in DC sponsored by the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) to talk about women business owners and capital. It was an exploration of the issues as they prepare to give a summit on the topic for women business owners this Fall. Admittedly, I almost didn’t go. For me, home to downtown DC can be anywhere from a 45 minute trip when I drive and there is no traffic (and I make every green light) but is more often an hour to an hour and a half. These days, I have so much going on that I try to cut out any extraneous out-of-the-office excursions but something drew me downtown that day. I didn’t know what to expect but absolutely got more out of it than I had anticipated.
What the group lacked in size (there were only about 5 of us) we made up for with enthusiasm and diversity of perspective. The experiences varied from those of us with fairly low capital needs in the past (I had a line of credit in my first company that I only tapped into two or three times) to the real estate developer whose assets include more than one multi-storied building and borrowing needs well into the millions. Without breaching confidentiality I can only say that it was a heated, animated discussion which, at times, involved more than one 4-letter word, which really
caused me to think: how many women believe or behave as if wealth – or even money – is a four letter word? Does a woman’s relationship with money impact her business approach and, ultimately, goals?
Over the past 5+ years of teaching in the ACTiVATE program, I’ve seen my fair share of women whose motivation for starting her own business is to change the world. I would say that a good majority actually fall into this bucket at some level or another. I am quick to relay to them, however, that it is easier to change the world when you have money, meaning to get them focused on the success of their business as a means to that end. Oftentimes, my bold statement is met with a skeptical or uncomfortable expression, which tells me more about their relationship with money than anything else. They believe, whether they recognize it or not, that focusing on money and wealth are bad.
Many books on entrepreneurship will tell you that starting a business purely to make money without following your passion is a recipe for lackluster or at least short-term performance or early burnout. The lucky folks are those whose passion actually leads them to a way to make money, which is exactly where we focus our ACTiVATE participants. But we’ve found that unless they challenge their relationship with money and wealth beyond just a desire for nice material things and into a way to build value, they’ll never be able to cross that chasm so many businesses fail to get across: real, sustainable, profitable growth that can take them a long way to really making some lasting impact.
As I was musing over this phenomenon, seemingly from afar, I realized I had my own mind-shift that needed to happen. To learn more about that, look for my next blog on “Bootstrap Mindset.”
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.