Blog

Heroine-Led Films Win at the Box Office, But Actresses’ Paychecks Tell a Different Story

Heroine-Led Films Win at the Box Office, But Actresses’ Paychecks Tell a Different Story

Companies in Hollywood and beyond should use these three approaches to help close the gender pay gap…

This post was originally featured on ThriveGlobal

Of the most memorable film scenes from the past couple years, one iconic moment comes to mind: Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, saving the world, using her power and determination — with the help of some super strength and armored bracelets. Not only are images like these symbolic of Hollywood’s post-#MeToo female empowerment, but it’s also metaphoric of the success of female-led victories at the box office.

Vanity Fair cites a new study that found female-led movies outperformed male-led movies for the past three years. But as in other industries across the country, the pay gap remains a significant barrier.

This story is not new. Emma Stone, 2017’s highest-paid actress, earned a whopping $26 million, a whole 2.5 times less than Mark Wahlberg’s $68 million, the highest paid actor of the same year. 2018’s highest pay discrepancy was even more astounding. Scarlett Johansson took home $40.5 million, while The Rock made over three times the amount: $124 million.

Public scrutiny of the entertainment industry coupled with the success of female-fronted films has empowered many actresses to ask for what they deserve. Yet each negotiation can’t be a one-woman show. Systemic gender inequalities within Hollywood need to change — and industry professionals and companies can support women through the simple approaches of data reporting, allyship, and improved equality policies and incentives.

Act I. Lights, Camera… Data Reporting

One of the most apparent ways to address and improve Hollywood’s gender pay disparity is through clear, fact-based evidence. In previous years, salary discrepancy has come to the forefront of the industry as seen in the aftermath of several Hollywood scandals that exposed salary data — think: Sony’s email hack or the Williams/Wahlberg reshoot fiasco — women were, and still are, kept ignorant about their male co-stars’ paychecks.

When organizations confront these issues, they’re forced to reckon with their own unconscious bias. Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of the gender parity initiative, Women and Hollywood, explains how non-transparent salary offerings keep women down and only benefit the people in power.

Speaking to Forbes, Silverstein says, “What women are doing now is taking power into their own hands and saying, ‘We know what other people are being paid and you’re not going to get away with this anymore.’”

Indeed, reports show that making salaries public helps close the pay gap in many areas because reporting measures help identify “bad performers.” When companies are more aware of the reputational consequences of gender gap and data reporting, it prompts them to action. In the UK, “naming and shaming”mechanisms provide public gender pay gap data which has notably affected employees at the BBC.

The more salary information is actively reported, the more leading ladies and other women in the industry can leverage their earning power. Under California’s new Fair Pay Act, Hollywood employees will be allowed to discuss their co-workers’ wages and ways to eliminate loopholes that allowed employers to justify unequal pay distribution between genders.

Act II. All Heroes need Allies

Sure, women don’t need saving in the movies anymore, but support sure helps. Allyship in the workplace is another way that industries like Hollywood can topple the pay gap. Cultural change only occurs when organizational catalysts act as allies and cheerleaders for the cause. Organizational shifts need to occur from the heavily male-dominated studios first.

We’ve seen many examples of male to support diversity. Male actors like Benedict Cumberbatch vowed to only work on films where his female co-stars are paid equally. Others like Bradley Cooper have publicly supported the movement.

The Harvard Business Review examines how other males in Hollywood (and elsewhere) can help topple the patriarchal pay gap. First, male allies need to be committed to the cause and community even at the risk of not fitting in with the dominant culture. Researchers suggest that men at every level can call out insults and affronts, eliminate pay and promotion disparities, and advocate for diversity policies in their organizations. The more vocal male allies call out injustices and believe in the possibility of change within the industry, the more others will unify around a culture of change.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Attorney Neil Meyer, who represented Halle Berry and Taraji P. Henson, says, “We’re a community, and to the extent that any or all of us do something to perpetuate inequality, we’re all complicit; either you’re trying to be a part of the solution or you’re trying to be part of the problem.”

Act III. Call Action on Equal Policies and Initiatives

Equal pay will not prevail until action-oriented policies become ingrained within organizations. In Hollywood, it’s reported that women make even less than the national average of 80 cents to every dollar that men make; research from Dominican University of California shows that sometimes Hollywood women may make as low as 30 cents to a man’s dollar based on a “quota system.”

But new organizations and networks are trying to curb these systems. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund has raised more than $22 million since it began to fight for equal pay and help end harassment in the various workplaces. In fact, the Time’s Up movement prompted HBO to close the pay gap across all its TV shows. Other industry firms, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and the International Creative Management, have taken on the “50–50 by 2020” pledge.

Other initiatives like Women’s Media Action Coalition (WeMac) and Take the Lead’s “50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment” project are executing multi-pronged goals to achieve intersectional gender parity in the workforce. WeMac has already sought justice through seven task forces that lobby, litigate, research and fund projects. Take the Lead aims for gender parity in film and television by 2025. Their leadership building program has created a network giving women accessible tools that help them navigate the industry and serve as an example of how to close the gap.

Of course, there are a series of federal and state laws that support the equal pay wage movement. However, none of them demand inclusive hiring or reporting. As women grow more powerful in Hollywood, they should require contracts that are inclusive of their value and other female setworkers, too. For one, it’s necessary to demand inclusion riders — a clause that stipulates on the diversity of the cast and crew to retain acting services. More actors like Frances McDormand and Michael B. Jordan now use this tool to alleviate the pay gaps that persist for gender and racial minorities in the film industry. Secondly, it’s important not only to discuss pay with co-workers, but to negotiate and stipulate transparent communications regarding salary within a contract. With building pressures on studios, Hollywood women can band together and use these tactics to close the pay gap even further.

Time’s Up, Pay Up!

Hollywood is a business like any other and merely reflects the poor state of pay inequality across the country. The Institute for Women’s Policy Researchsuggests that California, where the epicenter of entertainment studios lie, will close the pay gap by 2043. Executives need to get behind the scenes and enact fairer policies, not just condemn inequality on the public stage. The glare of the lens is on industry leaders in Hollywood to pay up. If not, women should take on the everyday Wonder Woman role and demand a happy ending to unjust policies ourselves.

3 Strategic Ways Emerging Tech is Already Fixing the Gender Gap for Women

3 Strategic Ways Emerging Tech is Already Fixing the Gender Gap for Women

Emerging technologies can create more equal economic opportunities for women across the globe…

This post was originally featured on ThriveGlobal

In today’s budding digital economy, many of us often assume social progress is bound to improve at a similar pace as technology. However, the gender gap is causing an even deeper divide than we originally expected.

According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report, the gender gap continues to widen as women remain behind in politics, health, education and economics. In fact, recent research predicts that at our current rate of progress, gender parity won’t occur for another 217 years. That sounds frightening, especially given that women earn 80 cents to every dollar men make while only 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

But there is still cause for hope. Emerging technologies now democratize access to resources like education and finance, helping improve gender equality at a faster rate than we might have previously thought possible. Not only will this kind of tech advancement be instrumental in closing the gender gap, but it will also help accelerate economic growth and promote innovationfor companies across the board.

Here are three crucial ways we can utilize emerging technologies to support more economic opportunities for women — and close the gender gap for good.

To Secure Financial Assistance

Women often lack the financial resources and infrastructure that men receive in and out of the workforce. Globally, 42 percent of women and girls remain unbanked, meaning that women are less likely to be financially informed and economically independent.

Bill and Melinda Gates’ Level One Project aims to fix that problem. It focuses on using blockchain technology to bring the financially disenfranchised, including women in underdeveloped nations, into the traditional banking and digital economies.

The project has created a model for a country-level digital financial services system designed to bring the poor into the formal economy. The system uses wireless and simple 2G cell phones to reduce processing costs for users while integrating fraud and security protections. Crucially, this transparent setup gives women in developing nations access to a bank account and the freedom to take charge of their financial futures.

Fintech also eases the financial burdens caused by collateral or credit history issues. For example, data can help financial providers assess and help clients in lieu of traditional documentation which many women in developing countries don’t hold. Companies like Kenya’s FarmDrive, Mexico’s Konfío and banking services like M-Pesa are paving the way in this realm. An MIT study identified M-Pesa as particularly effective in assisting female-led households out of poverty.

Meanwhile, developing countries are using biometric IDs to introduce financial safeguards for women, like Pakistan’s emerging fintech tools that ensure women receive direct payments to avoid going through male family members.

But Fintech’s unique tools can offer women financial autonomy in more ways than one. Blockchain is yet another innovation that allows self-starting women to send and receive direct payments via a digital ledger. In developing countries, the ledger is especially important to lowering barriers to financial inclusion for women. Further, the interface allows for quicker access to funds and transparent recordkeeping of their finances without having to deal with the (sometimes discriminatory) practices of central banks.

Genevieve Leveille, CEO of AgriLedger, is an expert in using blockchain to connect users. Leveille believes that “blockchain will give [women] not only the ability to communicate, but also…to [fully realize] themselves in ways that we can’t right now.”

To Banish Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias causes gender discrimination due to ingrained cultural notions concerning a woman’s role or ability in the workforce. But artificial intelligence is stepping in to conquer these patterns. For instance, the Seattle-based augmented writing company, Textio, uses automated technology to write job listings with gender-neutral phrasing. It helped one of their clients increase female recruits from 18 to 57 percent. Mya Systems, an AI recruitment tool, incorporates AI-based chatbots that interview and evaluate job candidates to ask objective, performance-based questions which could help avoid unconscious bias in the early rounds of hiring.

In addition, companies like Ideal are helping to eliminate bias from the hiring and promotion process. Their AI-based software connects to a resume tracking system, screening prior candidates and external databases to source outside candidates for open positions (and current employees for promotions). These tools help reduce bias during the screening process, allowing more women to take that crucial step towards a face-to-face interview.

To Create New Career Opportunities

As automated technology disrupts all industries, more and more people are getting pushed out of jobs. Women are no exception. At the same time, however, automated and intelligent technologies are creating new educational opportunities for self-starting women.

According to a recent PwC report, using intelligent tech like big data creates strategic support systems — helping women advance economically. These technologies create career advantages, lowering the costs of starting new businesses and also providing more flexibility during working hours.

Big data solutions and cloud computing innovations offer unique opportunities to connect working women in any field to educational opportunities with other industry professionals. Big data analytics help educate women in their fields, providing predictive analysis on consumer insights, real-time data and trends so that they can be on the forefront of emerging talent. EY’s Analytics and AI Academy is one such learning program seeking to educate its female employees on big data.

Companies use big data analytics to help organizations close the pay gap, too. Data reporting tools help businesses audit salaries that allow them to assess if they’re closing pay disparity on a regular basis. When used transparently, the technology can give women access to data that clarifies if they’re earning equal pay. Gapsquare, for instance, uses machine learning and cloud-based software so companies can match finance data with HR data in systems like payroll. The tool is already implemented by major companies like Conde Nast and Vodafone. With these tools, employers have no excuse for keeping men and women at separate and unequal pay scales.

Power Up and Power On

Gender parity is crucial to help all entrepreneurs, including female business leaders, create more agile and innovative growth opportunities. Emerging technologies will be a crucial driving force that helps women across all sectors achieve this equality. At the same time, major companies and society must hold each other accountable when we use technologies that reiterate gender bias. Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to create an equitable legacy so women aren’t struggling to keep up for another two centuries. It’s time to power up those devices so we can use them to empower everyone.

3 Ways Female Entrepreneurs can Disrupt VC Culture — and Gain More Funding

3 Ways Female Entrepreneurs can Disrupt VC Culture — and Gain More Funding

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Women are the most rapidly growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. In fact, female-led businesses outperform those of their male peers in many venture capital (VC) portfolios.

Yet, less than 10 percent of venture-backed companies have a female founder and less than 1 percent have a black female founder. Female-led startups only received 2.2 percent of total venture capital funding in 2018.

Investors claim that the lack of funding for diverse candidates is a pipeline problem, meaning they can’t find any female or minority females founders with whom to invest. However, it’s clear that it’s not a pipeline problem; biased structures limit women from accessing funding and support as easily as their male counterparts.

The way we construct and invest in the entrepreneurial ecosystem has to change. If female entrepreneurs are to gain more funding, traditional power bases must become more inclusive. To create a more immediate impact, women leaders can help disrupt the sector in a few simple ways to help themselves and each other earn more equal opportunities for funding and success.

1. Use Diverse Decision Makers

Nearly 92 percent of investment partners in the top 100 VCs are white men. It’s not surprising that a large majority of funding goes to similar demographics. But the system isn’t just going to change overnight. For their part, female-led startups should look for investment opportunities outside of traditional VC networks and Ivy League schools. Instead, try networking with a more diverse group and actively seek out female venture capitalists. Chloe Capital and SoGal Ventures are two examples of venture capital firms led by women seeking to fund only women-led businesses. As female entrepreneurs utilize more diverse sources of funding, they can start to diversify decision-making in the sector, and also support other women and minorities, creating an equal and unified entrepreneurial environment.

2. Redefine Cultural Rules

The rules that help cradle patriarchal, unconscious bias in the venture capital and business spheres need to be redefined. Female founders can help lead the way for the cause by promoting and supporting entrepreneurial cultures and sourcing standards that redefine and level the playing field.

First, female-led startups should start by creating new work cultures that promote diversity, equality, respect and inclusion. The #MeToo movement helped pave the way for female business leaders like Susan Fowler, Elizabeth Scott and Amelie Lamont to speak out about the harassment they’ve experienced, showing that attempts to isolate and demean female founders are pervasive within every industry. Since the ecosystem stacks its odds against women, a dedicated refocus should be set forth to maintain more equal rules of conduct.

Second, to change the culture, female entrepreneurs should encourage every industry to turn previously biased competition practices into avenues for support and transparency. One way is through redefining pitch competition.

Pitching a business is often the best way to prove your company’s worth, but women are disadvantaged due to bias. While men get asked promotion-oriented questions, female founders are instead asked “prevention-oriented” questions.

Thankfully, recent innovations are helping to reduce that bias. For example, Village Capital uses a peer selection model while Springboard Enterpriseshas a “dolphin tank” which focuses less on competition and more on channeling expertise from industry professionals who can help female entrepreneurs succeed.

3. Create Coalitions and New Systems of Power

Most female founders try to assimilate to the structures set before them, hoping it will allow them to compete with the “big boys.” However, this mindset still leads to inequality because it doesn’t address the underlying problem.

Underrepresented groups should continue to ‘lean in,’ but if they want to create a true revolution they have to join and promote new power coalitions and movements that support them. Recently, the surge of new investment funds for women by women — think Ellevest’s Impact Portfolios and The Female Founders Fund — help equalize existing power structures. Further, crowdfunding financing platforms, like iFundWomenand Seed Invest, tend to create better opportunities to redistribute entrepreneurship and democratize the venture capital space. Other female founders are acknowledging their power to disrupt the industry by joining forces with initiatives like the #FoundersForChange coalition, whose signers commit to promoting and advancing racial and gender diversity in their investment decisions.

Female leaders have the power to disrupt traditional VC culture through diversity, solidarity and actionable coalitions that propel the idea of equality forward. As more women utilize these principles, they can transform the systems that have acted as barriers to fair and equal funding — and ultimately improve the level of success for female entrepreneurs across the country.

3 Ways to Foster Empathy and Connection within your Small Business

3 Ways to Foster Empathy and Connection within your Small Business

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Entrepreneurship is normally associated with traits like power, strength and audacity, but soft skills like empathy and connection are just as important for entrepreneurial success, if not more so. According to Businessolver’s 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study, 87 percent of CEOs agree that a company’s financial performance is intricately tied to compassion.

Unfortunately, workers indicate they aren’t experiencing enough of the trait in the workplace. That’s perhaps due, in part, to the way technology disrupts the way we empathize with others. The same study found that while 96 percent of employees believe it’s essential for employers to demonstrate empathy, 92 percent of employees also believe organizations are under-valuing the invaluable trait.

By creating empathetic business environments and policies that encourage authentic connections with employees, small business leaders are able to better support their employees and develop the structure necessary to build highly successful enterprises.

Here are a few significant ways to foster empathy and connection in your small business:

1. Encourage Professional Support

If leaders want to promote a culture of empathy, it needs to come from the top down. CEOs can invest time and understanding in their employees, for example, by encouraging collaborative conversations instead of transactional relationships. As a small business leader, working in the trenches helps gain trust and insight into the everyday tasks your employees undertake.

As leaders maintain a hands-on presence, they should also require other executives and managers to meet with different employees (including workers in other departments) every week. This exposure helps higher-ups identify the personal and business challenges each individual faces while allowing leaders to practice the patience and understanding needed to create supportive and professional relationships.

2. Create Service-Oriented Practices

Incorporating service-oriented practices within your company can highlight your compassion for your team. Coined by American educator and businessman, Stephen Covey, these practices utilize empathetic traits to show employees how to treat their customers. Some essential ways to build empathy in your company are through basic communication skills:

Listen and Ask for Feedback: Learn about the concerns and need of your employees. Asking them for feedback is crucial to understanding different concerns and perspectives. Use survey findings and employee focus group interviews to examine the benefits and culture changes they need. Considering people’s concerns is a hallmark characteristic of empathy, so leaders that make listening a priority can expect to benefit from a higher level of trust loyalty.

Inspire Open and Honest Conversations: Authentic and transparent conversations allow leaders to identify any underlying issues within their companies. Leaders should consider addressing professional stress, for example, during general discussions that offer advice on how to cope with workplace issues. There are other ways to form bonds and support employees, too. Organizing a lunch meeting where leaders share inspiring stories of their own professional hardships before they reached success can provide honest and helpful examples for employees who feel pressure at work. Honesty opens up the conversation for others to share their needs at work. Empathetic leaders can better identify and understand the root causes behind poor performance and allow them to help struggling employees improve.

3. Offer Empathy Training

Soft skills don’t come easy for everybody. Two-third of employees surveyed in the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study reported that they think it’s difficult for most people at their companies to demonstrate empathy consistently. But with the right training and guidance, building empathy can become a reality for many dysfunctional work teams and companies. Proven effective in helping interpersonal relationships grow, empathy trainingteaches employees to develop their communication skills and emotional intelligence so they can connect with and understand the perspectives, emotions and motivations of others. For example, trainees are advised on how to develop interpersonal characteristics like learning to ask people more questions or focusing on coworkers’ similarities rather than their differences.

The same empathy study referenced above shows the majority of employees are interested in participating in these training workshops or consulting outside specialists. The survey also showed that 90 percent of CEOs felt they could make the case for empathy training in their organizations.

Empathy training has worked in the past. Telefonica Germany, for example, implemented such a program within their company and saw customer satisfaction rates increase by 6 percent within a month and a half. With empathy training, employees can learn valuable lessons and increase their productivity through more positive ways of working.

Empathy Helps Companies Evolve

Just because leaders are busy running a company, doesn’t mean they need to dismiss the emotional needs of their most valuable assets: the employees that help the business operate on a daily basis. Empathy and connection are the cornerstones of a cohesive business and have been shown to increase engagement, productivity, sales and loyalty. As small business owners, our role is simple: build connections through empathy to watch our teams blossom and, overall, sustain company growth.

Will the #MeToo Movement Inspire an Increase in Female Executives and Entrepreneurs?

Will the #MeToo Movement Inspire an Increase in Female Executives and Entrepreneurs?

The #MeToo movement is paving the way for female leaders and entrepreneurs…

This post was originally featured on ThriveGlobal

During Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony recalling her experience with Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, women across the nation watched with bated breath. For many, the moment was not just a condemnation of the judge’s attitude, but a sober reminder that sexual assault and harassment are deeply ingrained within our society.

Ford’s statements — representative of the #MeToo movement’s core mission — emphasized the actuality and lasting impact of sexual assault and harassment women often face in daily life. During the hearing, calls to the National Sexual Harassment Hotline spiked by 201 percent.

The #MeToo movement has no doubt encouraged an increase in awareness, education, and reports around sexual harassment and other inequalities in the workforce. Even so, the business world remains largely male-dominated with gender bias a continued barrier to entry for women. Among those hurdles is some male leaders’ recent discomfort in mentoring women and working alone with women in the wake of increased allegations.

Will that apprehension stagnate progress for female leaders? Or will the #MeToo movement’s principles support their empowerment in business and ultimately lead to an increase the number of female leaders in the workforce?

Much of that answer depends on the level to which #MeToo can extend its impact beyond education and reporting, and make a lasting difference in improving company culture, increasing mentorship opportunities, and eliminating the confidence gap.

#MeToo Changes Company Culture

Well before the #MeToo movement, we saw how harassment cases created major changes within the workforce that empowered women. After Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas in 1991, sexual harassment cases in the United States went up by 50 percent a year later. The increased awareness also spawned the election of a record-breaking number of women, reports The Washington Post.

Since the #MeToo movement began over a year ago, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that sexual harassment charges have increased over 12 percent in the past year. So far this year, the agency alone has filed 50 percent more harassment cases than in 2017.

Thankfully, workplaces are finally improving the way they react to these reports. In the movement’s wake, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)reported that 1 in 3 executives claimed to have changed their behavior, some making it easier for HR to investigate harassment reports without fears of retaliation. Additionally, an American Psychological Association survey found that 32 percent of workers said employers had taken action to prevent workplace sexual harassment after #MeToo.

The movement has also helped establish sexual harassment resources and programs. For example, Hollywood’s Time’s Up legal defense fund raised over $20 million to offer legal support to women in the workplace. Under state jurisdictions, California and New York are now required to provide company sexual harassment training each year. The Weinstein Clauses demands that businesses know if any allegations of sexual assault were made against a partnering party.

What does all this signify for female leadership? As a PwC survey examines, the more laws and protocols established to protect the safety, transparency and moral support of women in the workplace, the more female leaders will feel like their thoughts, talents and goals matter. When women can think and grow freely at work (instead of missing them out of anxiety or fear), it allows them to harness and demonstrate confidence and leadership growth.

#MeToo Means more Mentoring

The #MeToo movement has exposed another inequality for women in the workplace: a lack of mentorship opportunities. Carol Stubbings, the Global Leader of PwC’s People and Organisation practices says, “It’s important having mentoring and good female leadership programmes to constantly tell these people that they are really good, they are really valued, they’ve got a great skill set that will take them far in the organization.”

LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey poll found that after #MeToo, half of male managers are now uncomfortable participating in common workplace activities like mentoring and working alone. Rachel Thomas, the president of LeanIn, identifies that this means women are losing valuable opportunities and interaction time with senior leaders.

In response to the #MeToo backlash, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has since confronted the issue with the creation of the #MentorHer campaignwhich challenges men to mentor women in the workplace. Thus far, 38 prominent leaders and CEOs like Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Disney’s Bob Iger committed to mentor women at their own companies, setting an example for leading companies across the board.

Even if the average male leader is slow to follow suit, female leadership may very well fill the gap.

According to Development Dimensions International, 73% of women already mentor other women in the workplace. Building on the awareness of the #MeToo movement’s initiatives, the Harvard Business Review points out that when women support each other, they become more aware of information and are more united, two essential steps in learning and closing the confidence gap for potential female leaders.

Is the Future of Leadership Female?

Today, only 40 percent of small business owners are women and merely 6.4 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 are female. Yet, as the #MeToo movement gains momentum, it sets the stage for an influx of more female leaders. That’s especially the case since companies with more female executives make more money, improving their competitive edge through innovation and collaboration.

Despite the hardships that women like Dr. Ford face after speaking out, Ernst & Young reports that women are projected to own nearly one-third of all business in the world by 2028, with half of them in developing markets. The 2017 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight study indicates that most female entrepreneurs hold an optimistic outlook for the next 20 years. A further 61 percent of women business owners expect their incomes to match or exceed their male counterparts by 2037.

The #MeToo movement is helping to shape the discourse of a woman’s lead in the workplace. Women leaders must continue to be vocal about inequality and male leaders must act as allies, hiring, supporting and promoting more women. Change will occur, albeit slowly.

Calling out ingrained patriarchal systems is a testimony to the bravery and leadership that women are displaying to make their voices heard. We’ve already seen a record number of women running for Congress this year — why not female business leaders, too?

How MLM Takes Advantage of Would-Be Female Entrepreneurs

How MLM Takes Advantage of Would-Be Female Entrepreneurs

This post was originally featured on ThriveGlobal

Reasons why MLM could be a pitfall for professional women on their way to the top 

Pyramids are some of the world’s most recognizable structures—from Egypt to Chichén Itzá, you know one when you see one. It should be no surprise, then, that the pyramid shape also represents one of the world’s most notorious schemes and sale structures.

Pyramid schemes operate and turn profit via top-down recruitment—essentially built opposite the way a physical pyramid would be— and are illegal for a simple reason: they make money off the sale of distributorship rather than products and services. While the top of that pyramid reaps many rewards, mathematically as many as 99% of distributors end up losing money as it funnels ever-upward, making the structure unsustainable (another area where the parallel to ancient Egypt ends).

MLM businesses aren’t illegal, at least not technically—so long as there are legitimate products bought and sold, they can skirt the label. And who are we to deny the women that do feel empowered by the ability to make extra money while, often, doing the brunt of housework and child-rearing unpaid?

It’s a complicated topic. As a female entrepreneur myself, I try to support all women and whatever their version of success may be, because I know first-hand how harrowing it can be to prove yourself in a world that’s very eager to box you in. While it’s any woman’s choice to get involved in MLM, and business integrity is best judged on a case-by-case basis, overall MLM may be taking advantage of more women than it empowers.

A false promise of entrepreneurship

One way MLM businesses recruit is on one level an issue of semantics, and on another an issue of bombast. By calling independent sales consultants entrepreneurs, these businesses promote a false idea of entrepreneurship. In reality, those involved are salespeople with no control over the product or its prices. Like any other salesperson, they have a goal to hit and earn commission dependent on how well they do. That’s okay, but call it what it is, not entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, women targeted and too often exploited by these kinds of businesses are sold on an idea of empowerment and entrepreneurship that is, at best, a smokescreen. It may not be likely an entrepreneur will make it big, but if she succeeds she can go from zero to 100 on her merit and hard work. The same isn’t true of the “entrepreneurs” in MLM businesses. Many put their savings and social lives at stake just to break even.
These women want what we all want. Financial independence. Flexibility. Credibility. Success. And if they fail to get there, it’s less their own failure than a failure by design. Ambition can only get you so far if you’re dozens of tiers down in a pyramid where cuts of your earnings flow to those higher up, and you rely on those below you to to sell and stay loyal (often by pressuring family and friends).

Women who could otherwise put their skills to use and find success starting up a small business may have their dreams warped by predatory MLM companies. And for those that do succeed, or enjoy it enough to ignore the small paycheck? It seems a shame to channel positive energy into a system that is likely to harm more women than it benefits.

A spectrum of severity

The appeal of the modern MLM business model is no mystery. With less of a startup cost than a traditional business and a built-in network of support, many independent consultants have found happiness with these opportunities.

But it’s important to note that not all MLM are created equal after all. I won’t paint them all with the same stroke because, while the model has its flaws, so do many models including capitalism. Like anything, there is a spectrum of severity. While the crimes of one shouldn’t indict the whole, they should caution them at least.

As one example, popular MLM business LuLaRoe has a billion dollar lawsuit on its hands after a number of consultants, who paid a hefty $6K startup fee, found themselves in mountains of debt trying to sell sometimes-damaged clothes of declining quality.

If that sounds bad, on the far end of the spectrum are groups like NXIVM, an MLM organization that purports to offer professional development and mentorship for women–in addition to referring to its members as “slaves,” physically branding their skin, and much, much worse.

The line between MLM and cult, then, is finer than any of us would like to believe. A vast majority of these businesses would never abuse their members, yes, but the association is disconcerting to say the least.

Knowing the difference

Those in the business can articulate what to look for if you actually want to find success in MLM. Network Marketing professional Gino Niccoli advises seeking an upline that trains you well and brings you prospects for your downline, for example. The product should be of quality and have a unique selling proposition, he says, if you don’t want to work uphill to make less money in a saturated marketplace. Lastly, if company profit comes from distributorship fees more than product sales, that’s a definite red flag.

At the end of the day we are all responsible to approach business propositions with healthy skepticism, but MLM has earned an extra dose of it in my opinion. Many of us as women can and should do more with our talents. The world needs them more than it does overpriced leggings.

Got Money Discomfort? Here’s How to Get Rid of It

Got Money Discomfort? Here’s How to Get Rid of It

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Talking about money can be profoundly uncomfortable. The social awkwardness sets in at even the most casual times; a cheerful dinner with friends can devolve into embarrassed stammers when a waiter asks how they should split the check, or a business meeting might turn awkward when those involved hesitate over bringing out the company credit card to pay for coffers. Most of the time, we can tiptoe around the discomfort with a few halting words and split checks. For female entrepreneurs, however, the shadow of that monetary anxiety is a daily — and expensive — issue.

Women own more than 11.6 million firms in America. They employ nearly 9 million people, and in 2017 generated $1.7 trillion in sales; their owned ventures account for a full 39% of all privately held firms in the United States. Women aren’t waiting by the door for a chance to be let into the business world’s metaphorical conference room — they’ve pointedly claimed over a third of the seats at the table.

However, for all their success and progress, women entrepreneurs and employees still struggle to stand on an equal financial par with their male colleagues. A recent study conducted by the online accounting venture FreshBooks surveyed over 2,700 American professionals and found that women tended to earn around 28% less than their male counterparts. This gap, the study showed, remained even when the researchers compared male and female entrepreneurs in the same industry.

To rephrase: even when women entrepreneurs had the opportunity to determine their salary, they tended to pay themselves over a quarter less than male colleagues. For female business owners, anxiety over asking for money isn’t just a problem at restaurants and social functions — it has a real impact on their financial health.

The problem extends to the health of their businesses, too. Some studies have found that women are reluctant to be as assertive as men when asking for money at investors’ meetings. As Gloria Kolb, the co-founder of the women’s health startup Elidah and a mentor at the University of Connecticut’s tech incubator explained for Business News Daily, “When we pitch investors, we are often pitching realistic numbers. But men so often overstate and exaggerate that investors often discount the numbers off the bat.” This leads, Kolb explains, investors to assume that women are also inflating their figures. As a result, female entrepreneurs often receive lowball offers that don’t meet their businesses’ financial needs.

But why do we have such a taboo around money in the first place?

Forbes writer and senior editor Laura Shin suggests that our awkwardness has roots in old-money traditions. For many upper-class elites, she explains of her research, it was considered gauche to discuss monetary specifics and appear braggy or over-interested in others’ financials. Over time, their mentality trickled down through the classes — and with the rise of new-money entrepreneurs and an increased media focus on their financial activities, navigating money-centered conversations can become awkward, to say the least.

However, women tend to struggle more with the assertiveness talking about money requires. When you sit down at an investor’s table, you need to be firm, decisive, and unafraid to ask for the monetary resources you and your business need to grow. Social norms, unfortunately, tend to paint women in a less flattering light when they stand their ground.

As writer Olga Khazan puts the issue in an article for the Atlantic, “People expect women to be communal leaders and men to be autocratic ones. When women violate those norms — or “push” past them, if you will — they still suffer consequences.”

To Khazan’s point, women do tend to be labeled as “pushy” twice as often as men– and that negative label can have real repercussions on their business. The Freshbooks study mentioned above also noted that 20% of self-employed womenreported feeling forced to charge less than their male competitors to obtain and retain clients. Worse, multiple studies published by researchers from Carnegie Mellon found that people tended to penalize women who initiated negotiations for higher compensation more often than they did men.

Some might say that the potential for blowback means that women shouldn’t bother being assertive or asking for their due — but I couldn’t disagree more.

Fear keeps women entrepreneurs silent, and that silence leads in turn to a damaging ignorance about what they deserve from their industry. As novelist Porochista Khakpour reflects on the problem in an article for Forbes, “Because people don’t know what the rates are, [the taboo against speaking about money] creates a system in which people will say, ‘I’ll take whatever I can get.’”

This tendency towards settling thus reinforces the problem, Khakpour explains. “People are going to get cheated over and over, and it tends to be women, people of color, people in more marginalized positions — if people are silent about problems, things can be perpetuated.”

Female entrepreneurs deserve to be assertive in the boardroom; they deserve to earn, make, and claim just as much as any male in their profession. Discomfort over money is an outdated social norm that inevitably holds women back if they cede their voice to it. You can overcome your conversational anxiety about money if you remember these three steps:

Reevaluate your Discomfort

Consider the social context of your conversation. There is a difference between talking to someone at a social gathering and having a discussion with an investor or business partner. In the first case, you probably shouldn’t put someone on the spot by asking them how much they paid for their shiny new laptop or personal possessions. In the latter scenario, however, you’re not only allowed to discuss money — you are required to. It is quite literally your job to have those conversations to further your business.

Remember, no one will go out of their way to give you something. If you don’t take the initiative to ask, your chances of receiving the funding, advice, or support you need will drop to nil.

Reframe Your Questions

Trust your instincts. If you feel that it might be better to word your requests carefully and avoid the appearance of being too eager or stubborn, do so! Conversely, don’t be afraid to be assertive if showing confidence seems like the best way to make an impression. You can reframe your questions in a myriad of ways to better engage your conversational partner in a productive discussion. However, this advice comes with a caveat — never let your fear of being assertive hold you back from asking what you need to ask during a meeting.

Remain Firm

Above all, be yourself and take what you deserve. You don’t need to settle for less because outdated social norms dictate that you should feel awkward about discussing money! Entrepreneurs live in the financial spotlight; they need to talk about financial details to thrive.

More to the point — if women don’t push boundaries and ask for their due, how can we expect those outdated and confining norms to change?

3 Valuable Leadership Traits More Important Than Gender

3 Valuable Leadership Traits More Important Than Gender

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

The gender gap remains a yawning chasm. Forbes reports that just 2.4 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.

Those exalted few who have reached that rung in the ladder share many qualities with their male counterparts. One study, while a bit dated (as it was completed in 2012), went so far as to suggest that female executives are actually superior to men in such areas as practicality, organizational ability and sensitivity to people.

Suffice it to say, then, that there are leadership qualities that transcend gender. Here are three of the more important ones.

Perseverance

It is variously described as “grit” and “tenacity” in relation to female executives, but a trait by any other name is still a trait.

There is no greater example than J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Jobless, nearly penniless and a single mother to a young daughter, she wrote the first book in the series in various Scottish cafes in the mid-’90s. The manuscript — “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” — was rejected by no fewer than 12 publishers.

It was finally accepted by a small British publishing house, Bloomsbury, and published in 1997. It was an immediate hit, and over the next 19 years, seven other installments were released, and some 400 million copies sold.

Rowling was, in 2004, the first author to become a billionaire, though her charitable contributions subsequently resulted in her dropping below that threshold.

She nonetheless remains a profile in perseverance — and far from the only woman who can be designated as such. There is also Michelle Breyer, who struggled to find investors for her beauty brand, NaturallyCurly, when it was in its infancy. It was much the same for Melanie Travis, founder of Andie Swimwear.

Nevertheless, they persisted. And it made all the difference.

Creativity

Creativity is an often-overlooked quality, and one that can obviously be applied to Rowling’s prolific writing career.

Less obvious, perhaps, is how it impacted Spanx founder Sara Blakely. One night in 1998, she was looking to wear cream-colored pants with open-toed shoes. Wanting to smooth out the look, she elected to wear pantyhose underneath — while cutting the feet off the pantyhose.

That proved an unsatisfactory solution, as the pantyhose began riding up. She went in search of an undergarment that might alleviate the issue, but discovered there was no such item on sale anywhere.

Out of that grew the idea for her shapewear. She used all her savings — $5,000 — to found her company, and the first year it took in some $4 million in revenue. The second year her profits ballooned to $10 million, in large part because Oprah Winfrey gave the product a plug on her TV show.

By 2012 Blakely had become the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, at age 41.

Her advice?

“Differentiate yourself,” she once told fundable.com. “Why are you different?”

That aligns with something once said by Coco Chanel (1883–1971), the famed fashion designer: “My life did not please me, so I created a new one.”

Adaptability

Adaptability is especially critical in this day and age, where new ideas are coming down the pike with ever-increasing speed — especially in the tech industry.

As Ashley Cisneros Mejia, co-founder and Director of Communications at Chatter Buzz Media said in one report, adaptability and flexibility “will ensure you lead with a clear mind. In order for your company to grow, you must adapt to changes quickly and be open to take it in another direction.”

April Underwood, the vice president of product at Slack, is one example of a woman who has been able to reinvent herself. She branched out from her “day job” — her description, in a CNBC report — in March 2015, joining five female colleagues to co-found an investing group known as #Angels.

Two years in, that group had invested nearly $3 million in more than 50 startups.

Underwood told CNBC she sees nothing unusual about taking on this added responsibility, pointing out that men have been doing so for years.

“I am seeing a lot of female operators who are hungry and who have a bit of that — I don’t know how else to describe it — but, that ‘hustle,’” she said.

Not to mention that adaptability.

There are various other traits that are important — confidence and passion come to mind — but in my estimation, perseverance, creativity, and adaptability head this list.

3 Ways the Mentorship Relationship Improves Career Success For Both Mentor and Mentee

3 Ways the Mentorship Relationship Improves Career Success For Both Mentor and Mentee

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Whether in a small or large business, mentor and mentee roles provide mutual benefits for guidance and support that can foster promising career opportunities. One need look no further than some of today’s most impactful leaders to gauge the impact of a great mentor — Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had Warren Buffett.

Harvard Business Review survey found that 84 percent of CEOs with formal mentor relationships were able to avoid costly mistakes and become efficient in their roles more quickly. Further, 71 percent of CEOs surveyed also found that their mentors helped improve their performance.

Mentees also bestow powerful benefits upon their mentors, too. Research from Boston University supports the notion that mentoring enhances business executives’ leadership and management skills while increasing their knowledge and insights.

Business leaders and mentees who foster two-way partnerships can positively contribute to each other’s professional development and their company’s overall success. In terms of career growth, here are a few benefits which the mentor/mentee connection provides:

1. Learn How to Collaborate and Network Better

Establishing external business networks can afford both the mentor and mentee more collaborative support and new opportunities, ultimately helping to bolster your bottom line.

Famous pop artist Andy Warhol, for example, helped his mentee, Jean-Michel Basquiat gain connections to other neo-expressionist artists and patrons, ultimately leading him to global recognition. In return, Basquiat gave Warhol new and diverse artists to collaborate with while evolving his vision and talents into new areas.

Within organizations, beneficial mentorship relationships can create strong collaboration skills between various departments which allow for cohesive management, cross-department communication and employee productivity. As a mentor, take the time to educate, share ideas and ask for input on projects from your charges. When mentees feel valued and supported, they’ll be happier to be a part of the team, and more productive as well. Mentors may also find that the ideas and feedback mentees contribute fosters insightful, trusting workflows that help emerging entrepreneurs advance their business ideas.

Executives who exhibit consistent mentoring and coaching behaviors can help create highly collaborative teams that work more efficiently and engage in a more positive workplace atmosphere. The motivation to connect with team members and increase expertise can also extend to building professional networks. A successful mentor/mentee relationship not only includes engaged, flexible and authentic partnerships, but it also helps the mentee expand upon their communication skills so they can make professional network connections to which they might not otherwise have access.

2. Gain Insight into Diverse Perspectives

Adaptability and self-awareness are crucial for anyone’s professional development. While mentees can use a mentorship relationship to learn how to develop their professional skills and the necessary mindsets to execute everyday business decisions, mentors also stand to benefit by reskilling themselves to stay relevant in the changing digital economy.

As both the mentor and mentee expose themselves to different mindsets, diverse perspectives help them create and innovate. As Forbes mentions, experienced advice helps the mentee’s career blossom. Likewise, inexperienced entrepreneurs can benefit by utilizing their board of advisors to provide examples and solutions during their company’s growth stages.

Harvard University study also demonstrates that a mentor/mentee relationship helps both parties diversify their thought patterns and practices: a mentor experiences new perspectives from future members of the profession, while the mentee can absorb insights in defining business strategies and outcomes in their field.

Through open communication, both can understand major issues surrounding a leadership and an employee mindset. Besides, learning new perspectives provides you with the insight to maintain your company’s competitive edge and relevance, especially for smaller companies needing to cater to market demands and niche consumers.

3. Enhance Interpersonal Leadership Traits

Oprah’s mentor, the famous author/poet Maya Angelou, demonstrated how important humanistic qualities are to the role of a leader. Angelou taught Oprah that professional relationships depend not on who a person says they are, but how they act toward you and others.

Of course, professional relationships are incredibly nuanced, and it often takes years of experience to identify the right response to a difficult and unprecedented situation. The mentorship relationship serves that role, guiding mentees toward an effective response, whether it’s an assertive justification when finalizing a business deal or a meditative gesture when dealing with a stressful client.

For mentors, the value in guiding interpersonal effectiveness comes down to the development of their own leadership skills.

UPenn researchers found that the digital age has created new leadership styles ranging from the commander — a leader who gives orders and tells others how to accomplish it — to the collaborator role — a leader who works hand-in-hand with customers and employees. Mentors should comprise both these styles so they can act as the inspiration and an equal for their employees and mentees.

Through the steady practice — and teaching — of key interpersonal skills, mentors stand to benefit by confirming which leadership skills resonate best as they guide their mentees. This is no small feat — it could mean becoming more transparent with employees, fostering inclusive decision-making or incorporating employee feedback into managerial roles.

Oprah recalls that Angelou said, “Your legacy is every life you’ve touched..it’s every person you’ve harmed or helped.” Indeed, a helpful, two-way value exchange is essential for building a healthy mentor/mentee relationship. With consistent effort, this symbiotic association acts as a catalyst that expands learning, work ethic, leadership and, ultimately, your company’s bottom line.

Anniversary Of H.R. 5050: Not So Ancient History For Female Business Owners

Anniversary Of H.R. 5050: Not So Ancient History For Female Business Owners

It is hard to believe that women were not able to obtain business loans without a male co-signer  just 30 years ago. Up until 1988, an independent woman who wanted to start a business was denied a loan even when her finances indicated that she was qualified.

Therefore, the 30-year anniversary of the H.R. 5050: Women’s Business Ownership Act (WBOA) of 1988 is a historic and significant date. Introduced by John LaFalce, a former New York congressman, the act aimed to bolster female business owners by guarding against discriminatory lending practices. The purpose of this act was to recognize the enormous future potential of female business owners and entrepreneurs as well as women’s existing contributions to the economy.

The four tenets of H.R. 5050 included provisions that extended women rights that should have been established from the beginning: 1) Extending the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to include business credit, 2) Launching a “demonstration project” that resulted in the establishment of women’s business centers across the country, 3) Establishing the National Women’s Business Council 4) Directing the Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its quinquennial business census.

In 2018, it is sometimes hard to imagine that the principles of H.R. 5050 were needed at all. “Women business owners today are often shocked to hear about the challenges that their predecessors faced only 25 years ago,” says Virginia Littlejohn, a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). It was the NAWBO leadership team that helped the House Small Business Committee organize hearings on H.R. 5050.

Littlejohn refers to a female witness at the time, who didn’t have a husband or father to co-sign her business loan, communicating, “[She] had to ask her 17-year-old son to co-sign for her—when he couldn’t even vote,” she said.

During the hearings, many stories came to light of open discrimination by which women were asked to put significantly more money down, and required to have guarantees and co-signers that men were not required to have. But with H.R. 5050 things started to change.

“This landmark piece of legislation ushered in a transformation in women’s enterprise development by addressing key barriers that had been impeding entrepreneurism and business growth by women,” said Billie Dragoo, former Chair of NAWBO. “As a result of this legislation, women entrepreneurs were provided with long overdue access to capital, education and technical assistance offered in a woman’s voice, access to federal policy making circles, and the undercounting of the number and economic contributions of women-owned businesses were finally addressed.”

Before 1988, women’s contributions to the economy were downplayed, and unaccounted for. A big part of this invisibility had to do with inaccurate census-taking regarding women-owned business. The concluding report of the H.R. 5050 hearings, which were the most extensive ever held by Congress on women-owned businesses, was called the “New Economic Realities: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs”

Fast forward 30 years and the following statistics, though not as strong as we’d like, are still rosy. As of January 2017, there were an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States that employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue. During the 20 years from 1997–2017, the number of women-owned businesses has grown 114 percent compared to the overall national growth rate of 44 percent for all businesses.

The future is indeed female.

While Wright’s 1988 predictions have not yet come true, things are definitely looking up for female entrepreneurs. It is important for younger generations of women in business to be aware that prohibitive lending discrimination is not ancient history. Women must not forget that 30 years ago, they would probably not have had access to the capital and support necessary to start a business. Women must continue to fight for equality, but H.R. 5050–and the activists who spearheaded it–certainly helped and continue to help tip the scales.