“I’m a fashion entrepreneur.”
That’s what I heard myself telling the guy at the cocktail party who asked what I do for a living. Yet again. Even though my company, Leota, had just notched its best e-commerce sales month ever. We’d just been featured on a primetime news show. And I had just won a major leadership award.
Yet, just like so many women, I didn’t want to sound braggy. And as a result, the guy was clearly unimpressed: “Oh, so you sell stuff on Etsy or something?” he asked. “Is that, like, a full-time thing?”
I’ll get to the end of the story later. But this kind of response is why I’m honored and proud to be one of 100 women founders joining the F Project, a social impact initiative with a big hypothesis: If we can leverage the collective power of female founder networks, and their potential to drive consumer acquisition and conversions, incredible things can happen. We’re committed to building a database of consumers who care and convert for female founders; to growing every member business regardless of size; to raising the profiles and influence of women leaders; and so much more.
I’ve seen firsthand how much we need this change – and it goes far beyond an offhand comment at a cocktail party. Companies with all-male founders receive funding after their first round nearly 35% of the time; for female founders, it’s only 2% of the time.
The truth is, we don’t take women’s work seriously. When I was a Wall Street investment banker at a top bulge bracket firm, men still asked me to bring someone’s suit to the dry cleaner, refresh the coffee, or take notes at the meeting.
Even now that I run my own company, people still think a man must really be in charge. A few months ago I hired a fantastic man to run Leota’s operations, and I gave him a title commensurate with his experience and abilities: President and Chief Operating Officer. Soon afterward, I noticed people who set up meetings with me began requesting that I “have my CEO join the call.”
Ha! The title isn’t the point – I’d just as soon call myself “Grand High Witch” from Roald Dahl’s The Witches. And my COO is always quick to point out I’m his boss. But it all goes to show that we minimize women’s work.
Women do it too. Including me. I recently found myself explaining about the fashion business to a female VC, only to find out she had spent her entire career in consumer retail. I was mortified for having insulted her, and it revealed my own deep-seated bias.
We all need to be retrained to value the work of women.
That’s what I realized when I was talking to that guy at the cocktail party. I smiled winningly at his Etsy question and finally spoke up: “Yes, it’s a full-time job. My brand, Leota, is a global women’s fashion company that sells to all major retailers including Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. We were recently named one of the fastest-growing private companies in America.”
I’ve come to think of this as my “puff up” speech, created to remind people – including myself, honestly -- how accomplished I am. Because unfortunately, experience doesn’t always speak for itself when it comes to women’s work.
I’m joining with F Project because I want to “puff up” all women. We start with less money and fewer opportunities, and even when we manage to succeed, we’re sometimes questioned and belittled. But what if we could band together to become more powerful collectively? What if we celebrated each other’s brilliant inventions? What if we cut through traditions of undermining each other and instead lifted each other up?
That would be incredible, wouldn’t it? It is possible. And we can start now.
The F Project asks us to take a pledge:
- To proactively Seek Out, Buy, and Gift female-founded brands.
- To Mentor & Support female founders building their businesses.
- To Share and Promote female founders and their brands on my social networks to expand their reach, revenue, and influence.
I invite you to join me in this pledge, and in the F Project movement. Let’s support and celebrate the powerful work of women.