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How Women Can Define Success on Their Own Terms

How Women Can Define Success on Their Own Terms

How many years have you spent trying to meet somebody’s standard of success or even chasing society’s measure of success? If you’ve committed a good amount of your life working at a job you hate just to pay the bills, being in a relationship even though it’s unhealthy for you, or working hard to maintain an image of success, you may have compromised on your own happiness and satisfaction.

Being a woman can make this an even more difficult quandary. Some schools of thought say that being a wife and mother is the ultimate goal; others put down the domestic life, and still others urge women that they must have it all: the high-paying job, the family, the body, and the respect of the world all at once. And because women are often caretakers, those who put their goals first are too often derided as selfish. What’s a modern woman to do?

I had a gut instinct about what success meant to me early on—in my case, it was the financial independence of entrepreneurship. I was able to achieve this through a lot of hard work, but I would be lying if I said society’s expectations never got to me along the way. The truth is, it can take a while to extract our own goals from the rest of the world’s. If you’re not truly happy with your life and find yourself wondering what’s missing, some self-reflection will give you a chance to take a closer look at the choices you are making every day. This way, you can decide whether they are aligned with your definition of success, or somebody else’s.

Here are three ways to define success on your own terms.

Set Your Own Expectations

The amount of external forces at work telling women what’s right for them is mind-boggling. There are your family’s expectations, the media’s, your social circle, and that’s only scratching the surface. My ambitions as a young woman were unusual because there were very few, if any, female entrepreneurs I could have looked up to. I had to come up with my version of success from scratch.

Take some time to decide what is meaningful to you and only you. Not what’s popular, what’s trending, what your friends and family are talking about these days, or what you might have read in a magazine. Think about how you feel when you engage in certain activities over others. Think about the people you admire the most, the people that are living the life that you want to live ‘some day.’

Then, set your expectations and goals to create that type of life. Consider how you would spend your days, what you would be looking forward to and what you would simply say ‘no’ to. This is the first step in setting your own expectations, and doing so will help to define goals that truly mean something to you.

Stop Judging

Humans are judgmental by nature, but being the first to judge—yourself and others—is nothing but shortsighted. When you judge you are projecting your own expectations of success onto someone else. If they haven’t met your ideal in some way, you are giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down without a full context. If you don’t want this done to you, examine how your own judgments may be harming others. Then, reel them back.

Women are often judgemental of one another, a fact that isn’t helped by all the competing narratives of what is the right and wrong life course for modern females. Consider that each person is responsible for defining their own path and may be working on how to achieve their goals, in whatever they may be, in their own way. Refrain from judging others and be kinder to yourself, too, instead of criticizing yourself for not meeting a certain standard.

Letting go of this need to judge will not only give you some peace of mind but will also give you some breathing room to accept yourself, and others, for what and who they are. Part of defining your own version of success is letting go of the need to have other people meet them. All women are different, and that’s something to be celebrated. At the end of the day, people who help each other will get a lot further than those who keep each other down.

Decide What You Want, and Don’t Give Up

Success, happiness, and ‘the good life’ are not all out there waiting to be experienced. You can have them all right now when you take the lead on keeping things in your life that help you grow and motivate you, and doing away with things that pull you down and cause stagnancy. But having it all probably doesn’t mean what you think it does: it doesn’t mean perfection, or pleasing everyone.

Decide, right now, what you want in your life right now. A better relationship? Make peace with your significant other and renew your commitment to each other. A better job? Start sending out resumes and mark your calendar for the day you are going to leave, no matter what. Less stress? Reorganize your schedule for the next few days so you can clock in some rest and relaxation.

Taking steps to change something, right here, right now, is one of the easiest ways to put yourself on the path to success on your terms. Don’t let anybody or anything convince you that your choices to change are wrong or inconvenient to them. When you are busy defining success on your terms, you’ll need to accept that there will be many changes ahead. You get to decide what you want in your life and you get to pursue it in your way. Then, you need to work really, really hard to get there, because success won’t be handed to you.

Living a life defined by somebody else’s standard of success can put you on the path to misery, depression, and complete disengagement with life. Be brave enough to define success on your own terms and live a life aligned with that perspective. Whether your goal is financial independence or a nuclear family, taking upward steps, even when it’s hard, will drive your ambition. Even if your exact dream isn’t realized, your life will be enriched by everything you accomplish on the way.

What the Google Memo Gets Wrong About Female Leaders

What the Google Memo Gets Wrong About Female Leaders

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

There’s a reason former Google engineer James Damore’s internal memo on gender diversity went viral. For one, it resonated with a lot of people — largely men in the tech industry — who have been rubbed the wrong way by diversity initiatives in increasingly progressive workplaces. And while some quietly agreed, others have vocally called the memo out for what it is: a one-sided attempt to undercut Google’s efforts to hire, motivate, and promote more women in its ranks.

Among the memo’s most egregious offenses was the implication that women are both less suitable and less inclined to become software engineers and leaders. Since I’m not a software engineer, I won’t speak to this argument (others have articulated the issue far better than I). But as a female entrepreneur, I feel it’s my duty to condemn the type of thinking that only further serves to alienate talented women in male-dominated fields.

It may be a promising time for female leaders, but frustrating misconceptions are never far behind. Here are several of Damore’s claims in regard to female leadership that I think should be reconsidered, or at least interpreted much differently.

Overstating biology, downplaying sexism

While Damore cites some legitimate science (with a too-heavy reliance on evolutionary biology) his conclusions fail to take into account known and proven research on sexism in the workforce. And while he admits that there may indeed be sexism at play, his attempts to conflate “biological” personality differences with differences in ability are dubious at best.

There is no shortage of women qualified to lead, yet the leadership gap is undeniable. Most Americans believe men and women are equally capable of leadership — which research supports, often edging in women’s favor. What women lack is opportunity, and according to Pew research, double standards and high expectations are cited far more often than any biological factors as obstacles to power.

That’s because biology simply isn’t a factor. While men and women have their differences, male and female brains are virtually indistinguishable, and even personality traits differ far more by individual than any group. On the other hand, we have concrete proof of the glass ceiling. That anyone would emphasize biology as a cause of the gender gap is quite strange.

On work-life balance and neuroticism

Damore has a point on work-life balance — it’s hard for anyone to lead if 100+ hours a week are a requirement, but I’m not so sure men are more suitable for this, or that they even desire it. In reality, most men want work-life balance too, and would stay home or work fewer hours if given the choice. That men feel less comfortable taking on traditionally female roles is a fault of society, not biology.

Then there’s the whole “women are neurotic” stereotype. According to the author, “Women, on average, have more: Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress [sic] jobs.”

This may be true on some levels, but again, the argument is fairly easy to poke holes in. What about the high-stress jobs in which women are overrepresented? Nursing, teaching, social work, and service jobs, which are majority-female, are also notoriously high-stress. When it comes to leadership, are we expected to buy into the notion that all CEOs necessarily are under more stress, or work harder than inner-city teachers or cancer ward nurses? Or that given the choice, women wouldn’t opt for the former?

On people-mindedness vs system-mindedness

Damore argues that women choose not to code because they prefer to focus on people, and men on things. This ignores a long history of women in computing, but is also baffling because even if this dichotomy were truer on average, it would lower women’s competence at coding — especially at Google, which draws from elite universities where women are represented more evenly in CS programs.

More importantly, being system-minded in no way lends itself better to leadership than being people-minded. In fact, if we were to buy this law of averages, women would be overrepresented in positions of power, since managing and communicating with people are essential leadership skills.

Further, hormones, which actually are biological, tell another story: too much testosterone leads to excessive risk-taking, and the ideal traits for leadership have been found embodied best by women over 55.

On discrimination and de-moralization

Lastly, even if some good science is used in Damore’s memo, his conclusions are, in a word, absurd. Even if women and men have different tendencies, choose different career paths, due to nature or nurture or anything else, that doesn’t mean that diversity and empathy should be de-emphasized in business, as the author claims. Given Damore’s contradictions, however, it’s hard to take his suggestions at face value — he’s quick to denounce the ideological echo chamber of Google, but in the same breath advocate for the preservation of a male-dominated echo chamber. What gives?

Providing opportunities for women does not amount to discrimination against men, plain and simple. Despite the author’s protests, such initiatives not only benefit businesses, but also prevent harmful groupthink so that products are developed to serve the entire population, not just half.

No one — none the least Google — is attempting to oust men to create an authoritarian version of equality, as Damore claims. This accusation accounts to fear-mongering, and while it’s sad to give the notion airtime, it’s also proof of a path toward progress.

‘Girl Boss’ Representation Has a Long Way to Go

‘Girl Boss’ Representation Has a Long Way to Go

After a lukewarm reception to its first season, Netflix decided to cancel GirlBoss, a series loosely based on NastyGal founder Sophia Amoruso’s book of the same name. To viewers who gave up after the first episode, the choice is hardly surprising. Amoruso, portrayed by Britt Robertson, was not just a deeply unlikable heroine–she embodied the “privileged, insufferable millennial” stereotype to a T, fabulous leather jacket notwithstanding.

Though GirlBoss is one of the entertainment industry’s more recent depictions of a female boss, it was not a very novel one. Sophia comes in a long tradition of supposedly empowered characters that have, somewhere in the writer’s room, succumbed to stereotypes of what it means to be a female leader. As a female entrepreneur, it’s difficult to see myself reflected in characters portrayed almost exclusively as villains or anti-heroes. And considering how important it is that young women can freely aspire to lead and for society to recognize talented women in all industries, it’s a missed opportunity for real, positive representation. 

We all know that life mimics art and vice versa, so when it comes to entertainment, it’s important to portray diverse and nuanced characters in categories like this one. That’s not to say that all female bosses should be “likable,” per se—just that reverting to tired stereotypes is helpful to exactly no one, especially in 2017.

Sadly, leadership skews so far male today that any representation is disproportionate to reality. Just six percent of Fortune 500 companies are women, a number that improves only slightly when expanding to include all female executives. More troubling is the fact that female bosses are plagued by negative perceptions. A 2015 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found substantial evidence of implicit bias against female leaders, while research as recent as 2010 found a shocking 90 percent of MBA students preferred a male boss.

That can’t be helped much by the heartless female boss trope. One of the earlier examples of this emerged in the 1988 film Working Girl, in which Sigourney Weaver portrays a conniving boss named Katherine Parker who steals an idea from her receptionist, played by Melanie Griffith. Almost twenty years later, not much had changed: In the 2006 hit The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep plays the devious fashion editor Miranda Priestly, who has a similarly contentious relationship with her assistant, Andy (Anne Hathaway). While both characters are arguably iconic, they enforce the stereotype of cold, ruthless female leader, proving that two genders can play that game, but only one gets labeled a bitch.

The second stereotype is that of the sexy, unhinged female boss. Take the popular TV show The Office as an example. While the show’s cringe-worthy manager Michael Scott is ultimately humanized, his boss (and sometimes-lover) Jan is unstable, mean-spirited, and sexually aggressive. In the movie Horrible Bosses, Jennifer Aniston plays the deranged Dr. Julia Harris, who besides being a horrible boss is guilty of sexually harassing her subordinate.

More recently, the trope has evolved to inject concern for the female leader’s wellbeing into the plotline. This trope assumes that for a female boss to be successful, she must be making huge life-altering sacrifices, something you rarely see male bosses in film or TV grapple with. In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock plays a high-powered book editor who must pretend to be engaged to her assistant to avoid deportation. As it’s revealed that she has no love life to speak of, she “relaxes” considerably after falling in love. On a similar note, Anne Hathaway plays a young entrepreneur in The Internship whose marriage suffers due to her commitment to the job. Good thing her intern, played by Robert Deniro, is there to convince her of her self-worth.

It is true that family responsibilities continue to fall to women, making work-life balance a reality most must face. Even Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, juggles her job as head writer with her various social ineptitudes and love life. Needless to say, her boss Jack Donaghy does not have the same issue.

Still, the complexity of Liz Lemon is laudable, and part of this is likely a result of Tina Fey’s hands-on involvement as the show’s producer. The same can be said of The Mindy Project, in which Mindy Kaling both produces the show and plays the title character, a female gynecologist. Even then, the show revolves around Mindy’s attempts to balance the personal and professional. 

It’s true that there are absolutely exceptions to these stereotypes. One is Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec. Leslie handles her responsibilities with aplomb, and then some, with the show rarely dwelling on her “sacrifices” and allowing her to be immensely likable and professionally demanding all at once. And sure, Leslie is not like most women. But most women could use role models like her. 

In the end, the point is not that all female bosses have to be inspiring and heroic — just that the tropes are overdone and there are fewer excuses than ever to fall back on them, especially with the glass ceiling dissolving by the minute. When it comes to GirlBoss, Amoruso herself was less than thrilled by the caricature Netflix turned her into. But it didn’t have to be this way. We have all the resources to tell the stories of complex, empowered female leaders facing new and interesting issues. I have a feeling those are the depictions that will be the ones that have staying power.

AI won’t help female entrepreneurs bridge the gender gap

AI won’t help female entrepreneurs bridge the gender gap

This post was originally featured on VentureBeat

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Female entrepreneurs are required to work tirelessly to earn their well-deserved spot in the corner office and at the head of the table.

Yet statistics show that more often than not, hard work literally doesn’t pay when women are at the helm of a company. Only 3 percent of money from venture capitalists and 4 percent of commercial loans go to female entrepreneurs — even as the number of women-owned businesses continues to skyrocket. According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Reportfrom American Express OPEN, “Between 2007 and 2016, the number of women-owned firms increased by 45 percent, compared to just a 9 percent increase among all businesses.”

Still, the language venture capitalists use to describe female entrepreneurs is tinged with negativity — words and phrases like “high maintenance” and “cautious” are viewed as traits that could lead to disaster.

A new AI platform from The Circular Board in partnership with Dell and Pivotal claims to be the missing puzzle piece needed for women to finally receive their due. “Alice” connects women with mentors and potential funding partners, along with resources like financial planning advice and relevant event listings. The goal is to provide female entrepreneurs with everything they need to eliminate the gender gap and succeed in a workforce that is actively pushing back against them.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, when I was first navigating the workforce and establishing my footing in a male-dominated field, I didn’t have apps that taught me how to budget or sent me in the direction of the right networking events. But now that there are apps and platforms for almost anything, it’s important to remember that there are still a multitude of skills and strategies that can only be performed by you, the woman in charge.

So what are the old-school keys you need in order to open those doors?

1. Have a dream and stick to it

Technology can help you accomplish your dream, but it certainly can’t come up with your passion project and end goals for you. Mina Lux, CEO and founder of Meelo and a 2016 Stevie Award winner, described having a dream as the primary motivator behind her success as an immigrant and woman in tech. “‘Immigrants take the risk because of a dream,’” she said. “‘It’s the passion of making a better life and having that chance to actually carry it out. Does risk come into play? From time to time it does, but then we flip right back to that dream of having an opportunity unavailable elsewhere. That’s always been the root of my strength.’”

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Admitting to yourself and others that you can’t do something entirely on your own takes courage, but few people can honestly say that their success came with no outside help. For me, that came in the form of asking a friend for a loan in order to start my business. While online tutorials and multi-purpose platforms like Alice are useful for filling in knowledge gaps or leading you to the best resources, eventually, you’ll find yourself in need of another human — even if it’s just for moral support. “I have definitely not launched my business by myself,” said Michelle Garcia, owner of Heirloom Catering in Denver Colorado. “You’re always going to find yourself at a roadblock, whether it’s learning about a sales tax, developing a new website, or creating a new marketing plan. Always just ask for help. It’s so simple and it sounds so trite but it’s true.”

3. Learn to communicate

Being able to communicate effectively is always going to be a necessary skill, regardless of how advanced artificial intelligence becomes. While the methods of communication have evolved, the need to master professionalism, eloquence, and the ability to articulate your ideas in a manner that is compelling and convincing hasn’t changed. As female entrepreneurs, we’re already doubted, judged, and ignored more than our male counterparts, so it’s imperative that we take the time to refine our presentations, review our emails before sending, and learn how to be assertive and demand respect through the words we say and the way we say them.

4. Know your worth

While knowing your worth definitely includes demanding fair pay and not settling for the standard 80 percent of a man’s paycheck, it also means taking ownership of your work, staying confident in your ideas, and not giving in to the voices that say you’re not equipped to run your own business or create a new product. It would certainly be easier if technology could boost our self esteem and determination to pursue our path of choice, but this one is completely up to you.

The 5 Best Cities Globally for Female Entrepreneurs

The 5 Best Cities Globally for Female Entrepreneurs

As more women trailblaze into what were once considered traditionally male careers like business and leadership, more cities are becoming global hotspots for female entrepreneurs. But no two cities are created equally; some have an ideal environment that female business women may want to consider for optimal success and networking. One list that highlighted some of those cities is the Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index.

As a New York-based entrepreneur and woman, it certainly wasn’t easy building my own business. But I often wonder how much more difficult it could have been elsewhere. And as someone who has been there, I try to do what I can do advocate for young women looking for a foothold. One way to do so is by highlighting regions with politics and environments that help women succeed.

Here’s a close look at the 5 best cities for female entrepreneurs:

New York City:

I may be biased when it comes to New York, but just so you know that it’s more than an anecdote, the Big Apple and self-proclaimed “Capital of the World” is touted as the best city in the world for female entrepreneurs on Dell’s list. The city also ranked first in the Index’s top five entrepreneurial cities for culture, capital, talent, and market.

Thanks to the abundance of cultures, resources, and myriad of different businesses and organizations to work with, New York is definitely the place to be. City government has also made a point to support women-run businesses and ideas. New York’s Department of Small Business Services, for example, recently announced the launch of the Contract Financing Loan Fund, which gives minority and women-owned businesses to apply for low-interest financing loans of up to half a million dollars. Interest rates on the loan will be capped at 3%, which will give all kinds of women the opportunity to expand or embark on new projects.

Bay Area:

When most people think of startups, their minds spring immediately to Silicon Valley—and not without reason! Like New York, the Bay Area on the West Coast also placed in the top five for capital, market, and talent. The overall area includes various cities like San Francisco, Napa, and Santa Clara. The area also includes Silicon Valley, which encompasses an area filled with all kinds of startups and widely successful technical companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, which make it ideal for getting new ideas off the ground.

London:

Despite fears of how changes like Brexit will affect business in the future for the United Kingdom, London is still an international city and the largest metropolitan area throughout all of the United Kingdom. It’s also one of the most important financial areas in both Europe and the world.

It competes with cities in the United States in that 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have offices inside of London. That makes it easier to find funding and organizations to collaborate with for entrepreneurial purposes.

Stockholm:

This Swedish city is a hotbed of nascent potential. It’s one of the richest regions in the European Union and also one of the fastest growing cities. It also ranks as number one on Dell’s Women Entrepreneurial Cities Index as the best city for tech.

Sweden is also listed among the top five in Forbes’ “The 10 Best Countries for Women” list from 2012. Other aspects of Stockholm that make it promising for curious female entrepreneurs looking outside of the United States? It’s home to various organizations, including the Professional Women’s Network, a federation of over 24 professional networks that promote gender equality. This makes the city, and country an ideal place for women who prefer a welcoming environment.

Singapore:

Though most of the best cities on the Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index are dominated by US- and Europe-based locations, Singapore is definitely a location to consider for the future of women in entrepreneurship. The Southeast Asian city ranks third on Dell’s best cities for tech and fifth in the top five cities for culture.

Recent developments made in the city include the country’s push to create a multi-million dollar fund to help innovative companies in an effort to boost future economic growth, according to Bloomberg. Several websites have also highlighted Singapore as an ideal location in Asia for women’s access to capital and equal rights. Moreover, it’s currently touted as the best places in Asia for women owned businesses to thrive.

This city seems to be ideal for anyone who constantly does business in Southeast Asia, or is considering overseas collaborations that don’t always include Europe or the United States.

It’s great to see so many cities global embracing and supporting female entrepreneurs. Just remember: success isn’t always a physical state as much as a state of mind. While cities like these will give you a boost, your own drive can make a world of difference, too.

Leaning In, Then and Now

Leaning In, Then and Now

Women have been leaning in since before the phrase was coined, and we’re finally seeing some real progress. Since I entered the workforce as a secretary in the 70s and forged a name for myself in the 80s, a lot has changed, and overall the trend is a positive one. Though battles remain for women far and wide, my own experience serves as a reminder of the hurdles we’ve collectively overcome.

Others have said it, but it bears repeating, that we are finally entering a golden age of female entrepreneurship. This new age will give the economy a boost and help increase employment opportunities for a diverse range of people—men included! If developments in the next thirty years are as significant as those in the past, our future is most certainly a bright one overflowing with female empowerment.

But don’t just take my word for it; listen to my story and those of other women who have been there. I think you’ll find that what we’ve experienced is illustrative of progress made, and progress still to come.

Growing up: Unprecedented goals  

As the daughter of an immigrant butcher, monetary success did not always seem like a goal in the cards for me. I often say that the best thing my father did was be poor: he would get up at the crack of dawn and work 14-hour days, a demonstration of hard work and perseverance. Though my own hardships are nothing compared to those of my parents, who survived the Holocaust, I credit my all of my grit to them.

A drive to live my life on my own terms has dwelled within me since I was a child, when I desperately wanted to be respected, successful, and financially independent someday. For a man, this kind of ambition was all but assumed. For a woman, it was virtually unheard of.

How many little girls are told they can do anything they want by people who believe it? I like to think that in the 21st century, it’s most. Today, business skills are nurtured in children of both genders, through smart parenting as well as toys that promote entrepreneurship. Though progress is not always linear, young girls have better odds of success than ever before.
Growing up, there were no iconic female leaders I could model myself after or see myself in. I’m certain other girls my age didn’t realize entrepreneurship was an option available to them for this very reason. But this, too, has changed dramatically. Young women today can look to female leaders–both in the public and private sector–and emulate their successes.

Entering the workforce: Unchartered territory

After graduating high school in 1974, my real journey began. I landed a job as a secretary late that year at a real estate management firm for a small salary of $115 a week. This role was a learning opportunity and the first of many stepping stones, though it turned out I was better suited for management. I stepped into a role as property manager, and started Bach Realty Inc., an all-female real estate brokerage, after college. I became the first woman to own a commercial firm in New York City at the age of 23.

As a young professional woman I was definitely an outlier, and felt this fact keenly in an industry full of men. Today (as I’ve written about before) ambitious young women are no longer anomalies. Girls are no longer expected to stay at home, and though gender stereotypes still persist when it comes to career development, most women are prepared to enter the workforce after school.  

Opting out of the workforce in today’s economy is rarely a realistic option. Career expectations are placed on both men and women, meaning there is more competition, but also greater equality. That doesn’t mean things are easy. When I started working I was following my dreams, while many of today’s young people are following the motions just to get by, and if they’re lucky, discover where they fit into a changing economy.

Entering the workforce can be a struggle for anyone, but today’s young female professionals, at the very least, benefit from having female peers and a culture that values their worth.

Launching a business: A test of strength

When I started at Bach, I borrowed 2k from a friend and made $100k in my first year. All of a sudden, I was off and running. A lot of hard work, persistence, and a little luck helped me achieve my goal of entrepreneurship and succeed beyond my wildest dreams.

But the 80s weren’t the easiest time for a woman to launch a successful business. As Sheryl Sandberg discussed in her 2013 book “Lean In,” ambition was (and often still is) viewed as a negative trait in women. As Sandberg describes, the trip to the top for a woman is more like a jungle gym riddled with obstacles than it is a ladder. I was determined not to be shaken by this. Instead, I made being the only woman a positive and used it to my advantage.

Just as I lacked female role models as a child, I didn’t have any women to emulate when I was building my business. Even better, there are support groups today specifically for women that provide invaluable resources and connections for female entrepreneurs.

Next steps: Crunching numbers, breaking barriers

The past 40-odd years have blessed us with more than just anecdotes like my own; now, we have the numbers to prove why it matters. Today’s women not only have example of successful female entrepreneurs, but the data to support their worth.

For example, research has shown that startups with female leadership outperform those with men at the helm by 63%. Studies also indicate that female leadership has an edge when it comes to overall effectiveness, emotional intelligence, communication, and teamwork.

In addition, the barriers to entry for female entrepreneurs have been significantly lowered. In the 70s and 80s, the entire world was a barrier. This is no longer true! Part of this change is thanks to technology, which has cut the costs of launching new initiatives, and the changing nature of work, which allows for more flexible solutions like freelancing. There are also more funding opportunities for women than ever before.

Still, implicit bias could linger for a very long time. This is evident in the fact that women still only comprise just 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, and are subjected to double standards in and out of the workplace. While this could take years to overcome, I have great faith in how progress is unfolding.  

I look forward to a future filled to the brim with female success and representation, and if you want a robust economy, you should too. Let’s break that glass ceiling together and discover just how much we’re capable of achieving. Progress may not always be a straight line, but if the trajectory continues upwards, the sky’s the limit.

Why Female Entrepreneurs Excelled in 2016

Why Female Entrepreneurs Excelled in 2016

More women-owned businesses, more money raised to grow those businesses, and peer recognition prove that 2016 was a great year for female entrepreneurs.

Last January, Forbes magazine declared that 2016 would be a great year for women entrepreneurs. Forces would align, they predicted, and women would prosper. Reasons cited included marketplace trends, low interest rates,  leadership training, and the positive press that surrounds the story of a successful business woman.

On the surface, 2016 may not have shaped up to be the historic year for women that many had hoped for—a shortcoming felt most keenly following Hillary Clinton’s loss of the US election this November. But when you dig a little deeper, especially in the private sector, it looks like Forbes got it right: not just because of the overall business landscape, but because of the actions of women themselves.

There are three ways women excelled as entrepreneurs in 2016.

First, they got in the game.

In 2015, 9.4 million businesses or firms were owned by women. In 2016, that number grew to 11.3 million according to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report, commissioned by American Express OPEN.

The number of women-owned businesses has grown by 45 percent since 2007, which is five times faster than the national average.

It takes careful attention to market opportunities to get started on a viable business. For example, entrepreneur Katerina Schneider realized, after taking a closer look, that too many vitamins have outdated formulations. A savvy business woman with a background in both the investment and entertainment industries, Schneider launched Ritual, a vitamin company. The business landed a spot on Business Insider’s “Top 17 Start-Ups of 2016.”

Start-ups aren’t relegated to big cities. Women all over the country took skills, often learned working for others, to start their own businesses, from restaurants to retail stores and financial firms.

Then, they got the funding.

“Don’t let money run your life, let money help you run your life better.” This quote by John Rampton, CEO of Due, applies to businesses even more than to daily life.

Women-led businesses consistently receive less outside funding than other businesses, but that didn’t stop scores of women from getting the money they needed.

Mary Apple, founder and creator of Pretty Pushers, a line of maternity-specific hospital gowns, struggled to get business loans ever since the inception of her business in 2008.  But the need to develop a line designed for, and sell directly to, hospitals drove her on, and this year she secured financing through alternate means: securing a loan through the online “matching” platform Kabbage.  

The result was a line of credit that allowed her to move forward.

Karla Fried, CEO and co-founder of NVoicepay, secured her sixth round of venture capital funding in 2016. She’s been so successful at raising money, she wrote an article for The Huffington Post that offers advice to other women.

Finally, they got recognized.

From the prestigious Stevie Awards to more local awards, like New Jersey’s Leading Women Entrepreneurs top 25 list, women were recognized for their innovation and contributions to the world of business.

The types of businesses ranged from tech, to online retail, to real estate, the service industry and just about every other realm imaginable.

For instance, in 2008 Jessica O. Matthews imagined a world where playing would generate power, and that power would change lives. At the time she was working on a class project at Harvard University, and helped invent the SOCCKET ball, an energy-harnessing soccer ball. Matthews co-founded Uncharted Play, a company that “makes energy generating products that power and empower communities worldwide” according to the website. From its launch in 2011 until now, Uncharted Play has used their proprietary MORE technology (scalable, multi micro-generator energy systems) to turn “anything that moves” into a source of power.

In 2016 she was named a Gold Stevie Award winner, and a female entrepreneur of the year. In Matthews’ case, it’s not her first award. As her company grows, so does her list of accolades.

Suji Park earned a Silver Stevie Award for Suji’s Korean Cuisine.  The company, based out of Omaha, Nebraska is part of Food Dreams Made Real, “a tight-knit family of professionals who know the food cultures of both Korea and the United States.” Suji’s Korean Cuisine products are marketed in the U.S., where the demand for Korean food is growing.

So, as 2017 begins and goals are set both personally and professionally, remember that the horizon for women in business is a bright one. Get in the game, get your funding in place and someday you, too, could be successful and earn the praise of your peers.

How Entrepreneurs Can Accommodate for Religious Holidays in the Workplace

How Entrepreneurs Can Accommodate for Religious Holidays in the Workplace

As entrepreneurs grow their companies, maintaining a positive work atmosphere and boosting employee morale is a must. Doing so may involve recognizing an employee’s need to take time off for religious reasons — in fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires all employers to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of both applicants and employees. This is mandated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion.

For company founders running small or large teams, it’s important to understand that all employees have a life outside of work and may have obligations that interfere with the standard scheduled work week. Since non-Christian holidays are often not paid time off days, many Jewish employees will be requesting time off for Hanukkah celebrations, Passover, and Yom Kippur and are available during Christian holidays.

My Jewish faith and heritage is a big part of my identity, so I’ve always been grateful to have the ability to observe holidays on my own time. Now that I’ve built a successful business of my own, I make sure that I recognize the needs of associates and encourage other entrepreneurs to do the same.

Here are some ways I recommend that entrepreneurs accommodate for religious holidays in the workplace:

Provide Flexible Scheduling Options

While many Christians go to church on Sunday, some employees may need to leave work earlier during a weekday to attend services at a synagogue or other place of worship.

In an entrepreneurial environment, you have the opportunity to build a flexible culture. Still, many startups are by nature of the venture quite demanding. Whatever stage your company is at, you can work to provide flexible scheduling options.

Consider giving these employees the flexibility to make those days a little shorter and make up the time on another day so they can take care of their personal commitments without any stress. You can have employees request scheduling changes several weeks ahead of time or on a monthly basis to coordinate projects or delegate tasks if needed.

Coordinate a Holiday Party

Even if you practice a different religion, you can show respect for associates who are observing a religious holiday by sponsoring a holiday party around the celebration; for example, I celebrate Jewish holidays, this has not kept me from respecting and even celebrating the holidays of my teammates.  

Whether it’s Hanukkah or Passover, there’s no rule that you need to host only a Christmas party during the holiday season for your team. If your company has the ability, it can work with human resources to organize holiday events and celebrations that honor all religious beliefs.

Keep Communication Lines Open

Accommodating religious requests is not the same as excusing work responsibilities. If employees are working non-standard working hours, they should make up time for time they take off — the same goes for those who are taking partial days while working on a big project with other team members. This requires great communication.

These employees need to have a point of contact when they are not able to get in touch with their immediate supervisor during non-business hours and may need to be open to receiving work-related emails and phone calls when they take time off during a standard work day.

Make sure to set expectations and keep the lines of communication open so everybody stays on track and there is less room for mistakes during a team member’s absence.

Set Expectations on Requests for Time Off

Make sure employees are clear on when they can request time off for religious reasons or otherwise. You may need to review requests at least three or even four weeks in advance to accommodate for all your scheduling needs, depending on your industry and business. Young startups with smaller teams will need to be especially diligent in this regard.

Let employees know you are more than happy providing time off for religious holiday celebrations but need to know what days they need off at least a few weeks in advance. This ensures they know they can take time off for religious purposes as long as they follow company policy.

Be Prepared for Conflicts

No matter how organized you are and how well you schedule everybody’s time off requests, you may run into some scheduling conflicts where some employees are not granted the time off requested. You need to be well-prepared for these situations and be careful that you are not violating any laws that require you to accommodate for employees who are requesting modifications to their schedule for religious reasons.

Again, clear communication is key and you can take steps to offer alternative days off if you were unable to accommodate an associate’s request. Allowing everybody to have the time off they need at the same time when you are already short-staffed may not be feasible so both employees and employers need to be prepared for that.

Anything entrepreneurs can do to honor an employee’s requests for time off or schedule changes for religious reasons will help the organization as a whole. For me, having the space to practice religion has helped shape my professional identity in a way that compliments my personal one. We are all multi-faceted humans with varying beliefs — when entrepreneurs are open and accommodating to these differences, it makes us all stronger.

Why Is the Public Sector More Welcoming to Women Leaders Than Business?

Why Is the Public Sector More Welcoming to Women Leaders Than Business?

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com

While women make up more than half of the U.S. population and nearly 52 percent of these women hold professional-level jobs, only 14.6 percent end up as executive officers, according to the latest statistics from the Center for American Progress. This figure tells us what many women already know: In spite of gains in the workplace, plenty of today’s career-oriented woman are still struggling to break the glass ceiling.

To understand why, it helps to take a closer look at how female leadership roles develop and evolve in both the private and public sector. Are women better off exploring leadership positions with the government or working for private firms and corporations? With Hillary Clinton gunning for the most executive position in the country, the outlook is not all that bad. Even so, it’s clear that challenges remain — both in the government and the private sector.

Elle Magazine’s list of the 10 most powerful women in Washington featured women, who have overcome many challenges in the White House and beyond, providing us with inspiration on what it takes to succeed in an otherwise male-dominated sector. Author Rachel Combe emphasizes how many of these women are key players, leading their teams and colleagues to great levels of success.

It’s not news that women have the skills needed to excel, though opportunity is a different story. According to the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, women tend to have the chops to become transformational leaders.

These leaders inspire people to follow them by working on gaining their trust and respect before attempting to persuade or change their views. They encourage a mutual relationship among everyone they work with, regardless of role or status. The experts at Business Professional Women’s (BPW) International point out that women have a tendency to encourage participation and collaboration when running an organization. Unlike men, they rarely use threats to change behavior, instead focusing on improving performance. They also have the ability to work with a clear vision, and earn people’s trust because of that.

All of these traits and characteristics allow them to play a pivotal role in both private and public sector jobs. But to what extent? Women in top management positions and on corporate boards are stalling,according to the Center for American Progress, with only nine percent of women remaining in top management positions.

Overall, it appears women have excelled more in the public sector than in the private.

Women make up 34.4 percent of senior executive services (SES) in the federal government compared with 14.6 percent of senior leadership roles in the private sector. The study highlights the fact that women have filled more leadership roles within the public sector than in the private sector — a trend we see more of at the federal level.

There are few skills unique to men or women, but the argument that men are better leaders innately has been definitively debunked.

In fact, the same skills that are rewarded in men can hinder women, and traditionally feminine leadership traits are downplayed in spite of their importance in a professional workplace. For example, a recent study showsthat female executives outshine their male counterparts when it comes to fostering a collaborative environment. Collaboration, along with other traits, such as compassion and honesty, are cornerstones of good leadership. Unfortunately, popular opinion still regards men and stereotypically male traits as superior. Due to this discrepancy, some organizations are taking a stand to level the playing field.

Anne Abraham, founder and CEO of LeadWomen, says, “The Commonwealth has successfully achieved significant levels of women in political leadership in some regions. The same emphasis must now be placed on women in senior leadership roles in public and private offices.”

More women are taking the lead on representing their female colleagues and counterparts in board meetings; leading critical planning and development discussions; and serving as key decision makers for an organization. However, women are still underrepresented, regardless of industry and fail to meet anywhere near the employment level of their male counterparts in executive and leadership positions.

So what’s it going to take for more women to fill positions of power in the private and public sector? While it appears that more leadership job opportunities within the federal government are available — or accessible — to women, women who are pursuing career growth in the private sector, may have a more difficult time. As I’ve written about before, it is up to leadership to recognize female talent and to provide the opportunities to excel.

Women can also consider working with a mentor, or furthering their education, to explore high-level management positions. Some companies offer formal mentorship programs for internal employees so they can partner with an experienced executive and learn the ropes to get ahead in the organization.

Another option is to develop stronger interpersonal and team-building skills to serve as a leader at every opportunity within the organization. This can encourage managers to take notice and increase the chances of a promotion.

Women are still struggling to break through the glass ceiling in many organizations, but many do find rewarding leadership opportunities both in the private and in the public sector. While many firms and corporations in the private sector encourage women to join the organization and grow their careers, others are finding opportunities to excel working for the federal government.

At the end of the day, I believe we are amidst a cultural shift toward better inclusivity. It took much more effort for the women before us, and it will take extra effort for women today. But someday our hard work will pay off for the women of tomorrow.

Women & Success: The Real Estate Industry

Women & Success: The Real Estate Industry

After ages of institutional disadvantages, women today are quickly gaining power in the workplace. Time and again, they’ve proven their worth in academic and professional settings, and in all tiers of business have made clear the importance of female representation — leadership included.

When I began as a secretary in the 1970s, I was among a minority of women in the real estate industry. With hard work and luck, however, I was able to climb the corporate ladder and build a successful business from scratch, forging the way for a new generation of female entrepreneurs.

The environment in which I did that — New York City — has always been a progressive microcosm. Here, where the country’s best-paid family-leave law was just passed, some of the nation’s finest female leaders and entrepreneurs are flourishing, thanks to a combination of ambition and diversity and growing cultural support for equality.

Still, as a born and bred New Yorker, I admit that the rest of the country remains a bit of an enigma to me. In fact, I have come to realize that my own success in the real estate industry may be an outlier. According to a survey of female members of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a multidisciplinary real estate organization with more than 37,000 members, there exists a deficit of women in our industry’s executive roles.

Women in real estate

My wish is for all women to have the opportunity to advance in the workspace if they have the talent and desire. But, according to ULI’s survey, there is still a clear gender imbalance, especially when it comes to leadership.

The survey found that women make up about 25 percent of ULI members but represent just 14 percent of CEOs. Female leaders are also more likely to be at the helm of smaller firms than larger ones. ULI speculates that this is likely because roadblocks in larger organizations box them out of senior roles, leading them to either start their own businesses or leave for smaller firms where less bureaucracy prevents their advancement.

Fortunately, the women surveyed displayed great optimism about their careers: 70 percent said they felt they were on track in their career advancement, or else were moving even more rapidly ahead than expected.

Supporting women’s career growth

Clearly, women in real estate are ambitious, talented and hungry for advancement: Roughly 68 percent of those surveyed said they aspired to hold executive positions in their companies or own their own business. In New York City, I’ve found, conditions are right to encourage such female success.

But the fact is that many women still face obstacles in seeing their ambitions come to fruition. That is why I believe we need the right support to develop their talent, to carry them forward unhindered by “gender” limitations.

ULI makes some astute suggestions for real estate companies to help women in the industry not just succeed, but earn positions at the top of the totem pole. Here’s what they propose:

Accelerated learning
One of the most important requests by women surveyed was the provision of visible and challenging assignments to accelerate on-the-job learning. When high-profile assignments and job openings arise, organizations should think and act with an eye toward both talent and diversity, then challenge those with potential.

Giving female employees responsibility and testing their ability to act under pressure opens doors for those that might not be obvious choices, giving them the chance prove their worth and exercise their skills.

Culture creation
Another important factor is an inclusive workplace culture, within which both men and women have the tools to succeed. Inclusivity starts from the top, with leaders taking actions to include women as mentees and to demand the same quality from all, regardless of gender.

Already, many millennial women report being paid and treated as equals with their male counterparts. Since mid-career women are more likely to report their careers stalling, it is imperative that this culture extend to women of all ages.

Talent mindset
According to women in the industry, having managers who coach them on the job is more beneficial than formal female leadership programs. Programs as stand-off interventions — while potentially helpful — aren’t considered as important to career growth as internal attitude and mentorship.

For example, a senior-level executive advocating for a woman goes much further than a simple HR training session. Managers should practice objective hiring and mentorship to challenge those with raw skills and ability.

Flexibility for all
The ULI survey found that the women surveyed indicated workplace flexibility as a sign of trust by senior leadership. These women wanted to be trusted with flexible working hours while also being measured on results; in the survey, this goal was even more important than family leave.

Work flexibility allows both women and men to dictate their own schedules, to optimize work time and family time without sacrificing quality in either. As long as these offerings don’t put an undue burden on other colleagues or lower the performance bar, those able to take advantage of it will have ample room to thrive.

Mentorship
Internal mentorship can be crucial in allowing women to hone their leadership skills.. But challenges persist in regards to gender dynamics that may impede coaching’s efficacy: For example, a male superior may feel uncomfortable critiquing or bonding with a female inferior, and vice versa.

Women may want to turn to female superiors, then, for advice. But as long as men occupy leadership roles, they shouldn’t hold back from offering support. Organizations can also offer women the opportunity to form external networks fostering professional relationships with men and women outside their firm. Both outsiders and insiders can become future work connections and provide valuable feedback to working women.

What’s next?
Women in the real estate industry have reason to be both optimistic about and hopeful for the future. Progress comes when culture shifts, equity is sought,and respect is earned; every year, more women are earning advancements due to organic change. I’ve witnessed this first-hand, and am confident that women around the country are capable of the same success.

Is there more to accomplish? Certainly, which is why ULI’s suggestions should be used as guidelines to accelerate the processes.

Overall, the macro trend is one of rising inclusivity and equality. So long as industry leaders continue to push forward and prioritize the elements that help women excel, I believe talented female leaders will emerge to both earn and flourish in executive positions. Take a leaf out of New York City’s book — trust me, it makes a difference.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.com