Top Ten Womenabling Events of 2011

What events, trends and research reports top our list of the most important of the year? Look no further than Womenable’s most recent quarterly e-newsletter for our insights. Some of the items making it onto our Top Ten list include:

  • the centenary of International Women’s Day
  • the World Bank’s most recent World Development Report, focusing on gender and development, and
  • a welcome upwelling of conversations about growth – not only bemoaning the lack of women at the top (so what else is new?) but finally taking aim at some of the structural barriers impeding their progress.

CLICK HERE to read the full list. Happy holidays and best wishes for a womenabling 2012!

(And, if you liked that e-newsletter and would like to subscribe to our quarterly e-news digest, please CLICK HERE to subscribe!)

A Womenabling Manifesto

Last week, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, I kicked off the FastTrac Global Women’s Summit at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City with an opening address focused on the key global and domestic trends in women’s entrepreneurship today. So, naturally, I touched on some of the most recent knowledge from the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap report, the latest Women, Business and the Law report from the World Bank’s fabulous Gender Law Library, and US trends from the American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report (which I authored) that was published this past spring.

But I couldn’t stop there. Given that the audience numbered 200, and the address was webcast to countless numbers of others around the world, I closed this trend-focused keynote address with a bit of exhortation focused on what we all need to do next, which I called the Womenable Manifesto. In brief, here’s what I think we womenablers need to focus on in the coming months and years to REALLY advance women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurial development, and thought leadership.

  • Words matter, changing our lexicon: Discussions and definitions of business growth are currently conducted using a very male-defined, testosterone-charged dictionary. When held up to this lens, women business owners often fall short and are described as “risk averse,” owning “lifestyle businesses,” or lacking the ambition to grow. Instead of thinking of women as falling short of a male-defined yardstick, let’s develop our own measures and descriptors, including thinking of women as more aware of risk as opposed to averse of it. Also, many women don’t want to grow just for growth’s sake, which causes some to see them as lacking in ambition. We need to talk more about growing businesses as a means toward a broader end of making an even bigger difference, impacting more lives and making the world a better place – that would be much more attractive too more women than a currency-based growth exhortation. And, importantly, “growth” is not a zero-sum game. It’s not either-or, and the term “high growth potential business” should not just be used when referring to multi-million dollar, equity-backed ventures. Yes, it’s true that only 2% of women-owned firms have crossed the million-dollar threshold, but only 5% of men-owned firms have as well. So we need to make thinking and growing bigger – not just huge – a more central part of the conversation.
  • Policies with possibility, not proscription: Our public policies also do growth-oriented women – and men – business owners a disservice. Entrepreneurship support from many state and local governments – as well as the SBA – is the equivalent of primary school: they will only get a business owner so far along the educational process. While some may say that the government’s role should only be to provide a kick-start and that other players should pick up later in the journey – I would say that it is in a nation’s best interest – for international competitiveness and for sustainable economic growth – not to drop support when it’s needed the most. A case in point are the “golden handcuffs” of the SBA’s Women’s Business Center program. More about that later – and it’s covered in much more detail in my full remarks – but suffice it to say that the legislative marching orders for the program, and the tone that’s set in its management, do not support growth-oriented clients. This needs to change.
  • Building an entrepreneurial road/canal system: I used one chart in my presentation (see slide #22) depicting the canal system around Birmingham England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – to make the point that it was only when this canal was built did the revolution truly take off. We need an analogous system for enterprise development: one that provides multiple pathways for an entrepreneur to start and navigate her journey; one that provides super highways as well as local roads, off ramps and on ramps, and scenic routes as well as straightaways. One size does not fit all in entrepreneurial development assistance, so there should be a variety of routes to business growth as well.

Of course, there’s a lot more than this to be done, and each of these ideas deserves a deeper discussion in and of themselves. However, I believe that many hands make light work and we’ve got to start somewhere – AND we have to invest in areas that will have a broad and lasting impact.

What do you think about the elements of this manifesto? Any others to add? Am I off the mark on anything? Let’s get a dialogue going about how we can all work together to embrace, empower, and legitimize women’s entrepreneurial leadership in ways that allow for growth “in a different voice” and through multiple pathways.

If you’re interested, the slides from the PowerPoint presentation accompanying my remarks is available on Womenable’s SlideShare page, and the archived webcast of my address will be posted on the FastTrac Global Women’s Summit web page very soon.

Three cheers for the triple bottom line power of entrepreneurial women – hip, hip, hooray!

Ruminations on the Women’s Enterprise Movement

I’ve been traveling lately, participating in a panel on the value of mentors and role models for would-be women business owners, presenting a paper on what gets missed when business enabling environment assessments don’t include gender, speaking at the We Own It Summit in London – and meeting with a group of women’s business advocates in the UK about moving forward with new efforts in moving women’s enterprise development forward there in the wake of organizational and governmental change.

I’ve uploaded the presentation I delivered at this strategy session here:

While it’s a bit long for a quick review (just under 28 minutes), you might want to bookmark it and watch it some morning with your caffeinated beverage, or at the end of the day with a more relaxing beverage.

So, on the eve of Independence Day here in the USA, let freedom ring for enterprise creation and growth around the world. Perhaps these thoughts and lessons learned can help in that regard. Onward and upward, sisters and brothers in arms!

If We Own It, We Can Define It

I’ve just spent a thought-provoking and engaging day discussing how to “drive collaboration, energize the global discussion, and create a road map for increasing women’s participation in high growth entrepreneurship” at the second annual We Own It Summit, organized by Astia with support from the Kauffman Foundation and other growth-focused groups. The summit, an invitation-only event limited to under 150 participants designed to have an engaging, roll-up-your-sleeves dialogue, offered 12 thematic discussions, scheduled 4 at a time. More’s the pity, as they all sounded interesting. I attended three, including one in which I was a panelist.

The order of the day was to challenge assumptions and look at things from multiple points of view, which was helped by a diverse mix of viewpoints – from women entrepreneurs, equity capital investors, researchers, policy makers, and entrepreneurial support organizations. I heard several recurring themes or areas of (positive) tension during the day, so I thought I’d dash off my impressions and take-aways, while they are still fresh in my mind.

  • Cultivation vs. Gardening: One key undercurrent throughout the day was whether the focus on fostering high-growth women’s entrepreneurship should be on “picking winners,” that is on identifying and cultivating high growth potential women entrepreneurs, or on “fixing barriers,” meaning doing a better job tilling and preparing the soil so as to improve the overall yield of high growth women entrepreneurs. My reaction: why should it be either or? In business development as in gardening, both are important.
  • It Takes a Village: Even though I’ve heard some say that “eagles don’t flock,” today the importance of networks, introductions, mentors, and relationships was mentioned time and time again. In business generally who you know matters as much as what you know, and that is doubly important when it comes to the equity capital markets. That makes networks such as Astia critically important for growth-oriented women entrepreneurs. It also points out the importance of other champions as well: in government, in the equity markets, in educational institutions, and among entrepreneurial support organizations and associations.
  • Validating Variety (on Taking the Road Less Traveled): For many women entrepreneurs, growth is not a linear journey. In their pre-entrepreneurial as well as entrepreneurial careers, women have more diversions – be they family-related or otherwise – and are more likely to “off ramp” and then re-enter the workforce. In addition, women entrepreneurs lead and manage differently, and often have broader goals for their businesses – such as desiring to make a difference as well as creating wealth. This variety in the pathways to growth should not only be celebrated, they should be legitimized. To do so, I strongly believe, will lead many more women to aspire to grow their businesses to a higher level, and will provide a much more robust pipeline to high growth.
  • Do We Know What We Don’t Know?: In a growth-focused environment, data drive decisions, but we still lack data-driven intelligence on the ROI of different combinations of investment and support – especially over the longer term. And does the fact that, in the US at least, the value of angel investments now matches or exceeds that of institutional equity capital indicate a permanent expansion of funding possibilities or a temporary blip driven by recessionary times? What types of education and support are critical at various points in the entrepreneurial journey, and do they differ for women and men? More longitudinal research, including a look at the large number of high growth firms that eschew equity, can aid in the legitimization of the variety of ways that high growth can be achieved, and greater acceptance of the value of offering a blend of support services.

Overall, I came away with an overriding sense that – if we do indeed own it – we not only can re-frame and widen the lens on the discussion of what it means to be “high growth” – we must do so. The status quo, as it stands now, was not established with our input and experiences, so now that women entrepreneurs are entering into this realm in increasing numbers, we have the power and the obligation to redefine what it means to be growth-oriented, how growth is achieved, and how “success” is measured.

All Hail the women and men who showed up to engage in this important conversation. Let it be the start of a fruitful collaboration, and let the 10-year goals of Astia be realized!

Time to Raise a Ruckus

As I write this, the US House Small Business Committee is convening a “foregone conclusion” hearing focusing on the duplication of entrepreneurial development services at the SBA. Why is it a foregone conclusion? They’ve already sent in their Views and Estimates letter to the House Budget Committee – not only saying that there is duplication of business development services but recommending the elimination of funding for the nation’s 110 women’s business centers (WBCs) in FY2012. And they’ve denied any women’s business center leader or the Association of Women’s Business Centers the opportunity to testify in defense of the program at this hearing. We’ve tried, and sent in letters and research findings refuting their contention, to no avail.

Yes, the economy is still sputtering. Yes, the budget deficit is a serious issue that must be addressed. And, yes, there is most certainly some duplication of services in the economic development efforts of the federal government (as mentioned in the recent GAO report). But do we really think, at the very time we want to get small businesses booming again, that this is the time to cut programs that provide direct support to business creation and job growth? And do we really think that a “one size fits all” approach to business development will work when business trends in general are moving toward “mass customization” and the “mass market of one“?

We can’t sit idly by and allow budget-cutting fervor to outweigh the need for a variety of approaches to economic development assistance. Here’s why Chairman Graves is wrong:

  • WBCs have a proven track record of results: In an analysis of WBC program outcomes conducted by the National Women’s Business Council (see this link for a research summary), it was found that the federal investment in WBCs yielded a 14: return on investment in terms of business revenues added to the economy.
  • The services provided by WBCs are not duplicative: This same study found that there was no difference in program outcomes of WBCs based on their proximity to an SDBC – the clients they serve and support provided are different and number of firms launched or businesses created are the same. Thus, they are not duplicative.
  • WBCs differ from SBDCs and SCORE in some very important ways: 1) WBCs provide longer-term, more relational support, whereas SBDCs and SCORE are more likely to provide one-time, transactional support;
    2) WBCs provide a variety of services (counseling, training, peer groups, mentoring), whereas SBDCs and SCORE are more likely to provide 1 solution to their clients; and
    3) given that the are locally-designed and embedded within local economic development groups, WBC support is more customized and tailored to the needs of a particular community, whereas SBDCs and SCORE are more likely to look similar regardless of location.

And here’s where Congressman Graves and the GAO are right:

  • Women business owners are “the largest growing class of small business owners in the country.” (Views and Estimates letter, p. 9) Quite true, so why, then, eliminate one of only three line-itemed programs for women business owners in the entire Federal budget?
  • “Without quality data on program outcomes, these agencies lack key information that could help them better manage their programs. ” (GAO report, p. 45). Absolutely right, we need better information on outcomes and impact. We are confident that if there were better information, the value of WBCs would be clearer. An invaluable program is definitely being hampered by incomplete data.

What can you do? Write to your members of Congress – especially if they are a member of either the House or Senate Small Business committees, and tell them that the women’s business center program has been invaluable for women’s enterprise creation, and that this is no time to eliminate a program that has a proven economic benefit. All the ammunition you need is contained in the points above (plus your own personal story).

Fellow womenablers, it’s time to raise a ruckus. And here’s one more piece of ammunition: The Performance, Progress and Promise of Women’s Business Centers in the United States, published by Womenable in 2006.

“Between the great things we cannot do
and the small things we will not do,
the danger is that we shall do nothing.”
~ Adolph Monod

~ Julie R. Weeks, President and CEO of Womenable and author of the Womenabler blog, is also the Chair of the Board of the Association of Women’s Business Centers

Musings on Women’s History Month

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, to – what else – advocate for women’s economic empowerment in my new role as Chair of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, I was catching up on my business magazine reading. I ran across an article about “do it yourself” animated movie-making, and I thought it sounded interesting. So, I said to myself, why not experiment with it a bit. Here’s the result, a little ditty reflecting on the meaning of Women’s History Month. We’re calling this occasional series “The Womenabler Speaks,” and you’ll be able to find this and other video contributions from Womenable on our new You Tube channel. We’d love your comments.

Just in case you can’t make out all of the words that the Womenabler avatar is speaking, our Musings on Women’s History Month poem is repeated below:

Womenable speaks makes its debut.
A lighthearted look, from our point of view,
at womenabling news you can use.

We may not always rhyme,
our raps may not be sublime,
but our tweets, posts and bon mots,
mixing poetry and prose,
will shine a light, make you think, and be right on time.

March means women’s history.
A month-long look at all that we
have done to move that proverbial ball
up the hill and over the wall.

So let’s remember the suffragettes,
and those who bear the torch today.
From Tareer Square to High Street they gather to say
Let’s make a path so we can get
A chance to launch and find our way
to peace through business and empowerment.

That’s what our foremothers saw,
when risking life and limb.
A future bright with promise,
for all our kith and kin.

So celebrate women’s history by making some of your own!

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Madam C.J. Walker

February is Black History Month in the United States. Started way back in 1925 as Negro History Week, and set during the month containing the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, it was expanded to the entire month of February in 1976 and renamed Black History Month.

I just ran across this blogpost from Mocha Writes mentioning the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker, the first African American millionnairess. I was reminded of a wonderful presentation I attended a few years ago at the Smithsonian by her great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, who had written a book about her life and legacy, “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.” It’s a wonderful read.

Check out this video of Bundles talking about Walker’s rise to fame and fortune:

Walker was also featured prominently in a book and traveling exhibit a few years ago, Enterprising Women: 250 Years of American Business.

So sometime this month, take a few moments to reflect upon the hard work, accomplishments and enduring legacy of this phenomenal woman.

Visit these sites to learn more: