#WhatWeNeedToSucceed: An Open Letter To Our Next President

#WhatWeNeedToSuceed:

An Open Letter To The Next President

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I grew up in a lower-middle class family where female entrepreneurship wasn’t discussed. It wasn’t even a possibility on the radar. My family and my family’s family worked to pay their monthly bills, and talk of female-led tech organizations or small businesses, for example, was unheard-of. The women all worked just as hard as the men, yet they still remained, in many ways, invisible. They were contributing women, yet they were somehow just still women.

My mother was a nursing assistant who worked the late shift when I was child, my maternal grandmother sold a small inventory at a church sale every couple of weekends and my paternal grandmother emigrated from Italy and became an X-Ray technician in the Women’s Army Corps.

When it comes to women entrepreneurs, I think of how far we’ve come and how hard we’ve worked — some of us from nothing, from systemic, sexist obstacles — to achieve the autonomy to create, to innovate and to inspire the next generation. And I think of myself and my own media company or my future e-commerce business. I think of my friends who created apps and organizations, my colleagues who digitally influence others and my friends who lead organizations to make our country better.

So when “#WhatWeNeedToSucceed: A Letter to the Next President on Behalf of Women Entrepreneurs,” was published, its purpose was to identify the ingredients for success — the very things that our country should afford our women. It was written and co-signed by several dozen women in executive positions from companies all over the spectrum — including Estee Lauder, GIPHY, Birchbox, Mogul, Care.com and Buzz Marketing Group. The signature line, to put it lightly, was breathtaking.
How could these voices be ignored?

“Women put 90 percent of their income into their communities and families, therefore we believe their success will not only benefit our economy, but will also have a positive impact on society.”

All they’re asking is for the government to consider and fight for equality. Parity. A fair chance — especially given the fact that women are starting businesses twice as fast as men, yet are facing unfathomable (yet enduring) challenges that must be addressed: receiving less venture capital and media representation.

It’s as if we’re working harder and harder, all while invisible. As if that invisibility is built into the system and hasn’t been addressed because it’s so status-quo. Well, the reality is this: it is.

In fact, according to one piece published at University of Penn, Katherine Hays, the co-founder and CEO of venture-backed Vivoom (her first start-up), says that she’s usually the only woman in the room. “Male VCs — and obviously most are — are very comfortable now giving female entrepreneurs capital for ‘girl stuff,’” she says. “Want to rent dresses or sell baby wipes as a subscription? No problem. The VCs ask their wives or girlfriends if the idea is cool, and they’re good to go.”

If women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion.

Should women have any other idea, though (like proprietary tech), it’s all crickets: “Sometimes I believe if I were a 21-year-old male in a hoodie, Vivoom would be even more appealing to VCs.”
And here’s another unfortunate anecdote ripe for change: according to Catalyst.org, women hold only 4.6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. So, if women aren’t even finding themselves in positions of leadership in the workplace, how are we expecting them to find the confidence, resources or backing to start their own companies?

This is exactly why the letter states, “If women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion.” So what’s stopping everyone?

It’s as if we’re working harder and harder, all while invisible.

To expedite the brainstorming process, the letter offered up some specific and tactile strategies that could lead to successful women-led businesses, including focuses on “gaining access to capital, expanding and supporting networks and markets and addressing the changing face of business through technology.”

The minds behind the letter believe that “access to and development of financial and human capital” is vital to encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs. From incentivizing organizations to invest in women-owned companies to “considering a shortening of government payment cycles from 90 days to 30 days for small women-owned suppliers.” While these may seem like small movements in a huge engine, they’re actually not. The little things matter. No one ever said starting a business should be easy, but unnecessary obstacles should be removed. And if those obstacles are preventing half of the workforce from even getting close to where they should be, it’s time to re-think the system.

“We believe that access to and development of financial and human capital is essential to fostering women’s entrepreneurship.”

More so, they believe that “increasing access to local and global networks and markets” is critical — including “supporting trade agreements that liberalize and trade and open new markets for businesses of all sizes,” supporting mentorship and — so important — “encouraging conscious placement of women on boards, in venture partnerships and on executive teams.”

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they ask for specific, logical and, yes, overtly obvious steps that will help future generations of women. They ask that government and business leaders help women entrepreneurs thrive in the face of changing technologies by emphasizing (STEM) and digital literacy in school, enabling access to the Internet — everywhere — and making it known to women the “hardware, software and digital resources they need to scale their companies.” Sometimes, for many people — especially those who don’t come from privileged families or a circle of entrepreneurs — just having access is enough.

Not only do all of these ideas make a real, every-day impact on the way women run their businesses, they say out loud, “We’re here. We’re not leaving. And this is just the beginning.”

Lisa Marie Basile

Lisa Marie Basile is a the author of APOCRYPHAL and the founder of Luna Luna Magazine and Community. Her work can be found in Bustle, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, The Establishment, Huffington Post and more. She’s been profiled in BuzzFeed, The New York Daily News, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls — along others. Lisa Marie Basile holds an MFA from The New School.

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