Whither Women’s Enterprise in the US? A New Roadmap Points the Way

Just a few days ago, a multi-year labor of love was born – when The Roadmap to 2020: Fueling the Growth of the Women’s Enterprise Development was published. While the venue was the annual conference of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the participation of many women’s business organizations helped make this event happen: from the early support of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and the contributions from women’s business association leaders throughout the report, to financial contributions from individual women business owners as well as associations. Corporate support from IBM also helped propel the project from the idea/discussion stage to writing and publication. And, of course, the stalwart stewardship of Quantum Leaps’ CEO Virginia Littlejohn, who conceived the project and kept it moving toward fruition, was integral to its completion.

Womenable, I’m proud to say, played an important role in writing, editing, and helping to structure the project report. But, while I am blogging here to make sure that womenablers everywhere are aware of this effort and will take the time to download and read the Roadmap report news release and the full report, I’m not going to encapsulate or summarize the report’s conclusions and recommendations here; I will let you do that for yourselves (the executive summary of the 76-page report is found on pages 2-5).

No, what I’d like to do here is reflect on the development of the Roadmap, and the process we took toward its completion. It was a long, sometimes arduous and Sisyphean journey, but ultimately a very rewarding one, because – as we women know – the journey matters as much as the destination. Here’s what I’ve taken away from our multi-year, collaborative effort to bring this project to fruition:

  • Diversity and inclusion is hard, but absolutely essential: Let’s face it, we humans naturally gravitate toward people who look, talk and think like ourselves. However, diversity of thought, of backgrounds and experiences, and of vision is the only thing that gets us to move forward out of our comfort zones. In building a movement as well as charting a path into unknown territory, it is only by triangulating from several different points of view that we can reach a new destination. And we womenablers know, as we work toward leveling the playing field in the arenas in which we work, that inclusion matters;
  • Thinking ‘out of the box’ can also be difficult: It is also very hard, but likewise essential, that we try to stretch ourselves outward from incremental change to thinking more ‘out of the box’ – and to applying lessons learned in other fields to our own endeavors. While we may not have always succeeded in every topic covered in this report, we all realize that evolutionary change takes too long, and we need to be more revolutionary in our policies, programs and actions;
  • Timing is everything: While it seemed at times as though the Roadmap would never see the light of day, Virginia and I knew that – when the time was right and the stars aligned – it would all come together. In a collaborative process such as this one was, things can frequently take much longer than one might like, but for the recommendations contained in this report to be taken up by stakeholders in the public and private sectors, it was important to take the time to get everyone and everything in alignment. I think that most leaders of the women’s enterprise movement would agree that publishing a report with this level of mutual cooperation and ownership would not have been possible even five years ago; and
  • Margaret Mead was right: As the noted anthropologist once said (in one of my favorite quotes of all time), “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In this case, it means that – in addition to the involvement of many writers, thinkers, and supporters – it was only a small, hardy, and persistent band of womenablers that was able to push this ball all the way up and over the proverbial hill.

Those of us who have labored to bring this report to life urge you to take the time to read the report – in pieces or in its entirety – and share it with your womenabling friends. We hope that you will not only recognize its inclusivity, but come away with a sense of pride and satisfaction that the women’s enterprise movement in the US has progressed to a point that such a collection of combined, collaborative wisdom and vision is possible. This endeavor is also unique in that it is led by the women’s business community itself, separate and apart from public sector policies and programs. Indeed, a central philosophical core of this effort is one of shared ownership and responsibility, as opposed to pointing out gaps and expecting others to come to the rescue.

What’s next? Ownership and action, of course – but also the cultivation of “roadmap processes” in other countries as well. Stay tuned for news on that front!

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