If you want to be a successful female entrepreneur, put down the Boston Globe

I am a 32-year-old entrepreneur and student at Simmons School of Management. I am the CEO of Yoga by Numbers, a Massachusetts benefit corporation. When I saw that the Boston Globe Magazine had an issue on female entrepreneurs, I was excited! And then I saw the feature title: Playing by the rules: How female entrepreneurs can get in the venture-capital game.

 In her article, Fiona Murray offers four pieces of advice to female entrepreneurs, each designed to help women behave more like men. One of her suggestions is "watch sports", which she says gives women something to talk to male venture capitalists about. Murray's advice  can be boiled down to “assimilate to the structure I just described as being biased and arbitrary”. It fits squarely into the approach described by the Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO) as “equip the women”.

 In Making Change: A Framework for Promoting Gender Equity in Organizations (written in 1998), CGO described the traditional approach to advancing women: that is, train women to behave like men in the workplace. All four of Murray’s suggestions fit squarely within this framework- reinforce the patriarchy and hope they throw you some crumbs! This approach is old news and won’t help the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

 The Center for Gender in Organizations shows that the most effective way to advance people professionally is for organizations to actively create work cultures that do not privilege some and exclude others. This is simple to follow for any group of fully evolved adults who understand that the most innovative people are sometimes those who have not developed inside a bubble of privilege. Finding and funding these people is good for business and good for society.

 My personal experience has shown me the power of looking outside the traditional networks Murray suggests you assimilate to. My company is less than one year old, and has grown quickly based on the women-led and women-friendly networks in which I participate. One great part of being alive in 2013 is that we don’t actually need to beg for entrance to the boys’ clubs: we have fast growing clubs of our own.

 I am part of a networking group called the She-EOs, which convenes monthly meetings of female founders and CEOs for networking and educational panels. I have found the more experienced members of the group to be wonderfully generous with their time and willingness to offer advice and important introductions to newer CEOs. It was through a She-EOs introduction that my business took its biggest leap.

 Jules Pieri, CEO of The Grommet, hosted an early summer She-EOs meeting at the company’s Somerville headquarters, and invited members of The Grommet staff to join us. At this networking event I met Ericka Basile, the Senior Director of Partner Programs, and explained my business and the values that led me to form a benefit corporation, a new type of entity for Massachusetts.  Ericka encouraged me to apply to The Grommet’s accelerator program. I did, and was thrilled to sign a three-year business development deal with an amazing, women-led, fast growing strategic partner.

 In the few short months since then I have been able to launch a socially responsible business because of the information and education available at Simmons, the networking opportunities offered by the She-EOs, and the training, support, and partnership I have received from The Grommet. What do these three organizations have in common? They are founded by, led by, and strengthened by women.

 So I would like to offer revisions based on my experience as a female entrepreneur to Fiona Murray’s advice for the next generation.

  1. Do not assimilate. Be who you are. Some people will like you (and your clothes) and some people will not. Get over it. Focus on finding people who will judge you by the strength of your ideas, not something as superficial as your outfit, whatever that is. These are your teammates.
  2. Be SO confident that you do not have to play anyone else’s game. Be mindful and considerate, but unapologetically write your own rules.
  3. Yes, network as if it’s your job- BUT, with people who want you there and want to help you. If you have to change yourself in order to be allowed a seat at the table, find a new table. It may not be made of mahogany and overlooking the seaport, but if it’s the right table it will get you even farther. 
  4. Watch whatever you damn well choose, but keep in mind that people will buy into you if you show them you are the smartest, most hardworking, most authentic person you can be. Human beings (and VCs!) will be interested in hearing what you have to say if you show them passion, not a feigned interest in something you think they want to hear. 

This is an incredibly exciting time to be a female entrepreneur. It is a time to drive our companies and our culture forward, and it is time to build businesses that create value for both their customers and their neighbors.

Most importantly (I will end with a sports metaphor in Fiona’s honor), it is time to wholeheartedly thank our mothers and grandmothers for struggling to make room for us on an uneven playing field. And then it is time to have the courage to put down the old playbook and let everyone know: there is a new league in town. 

Elizabeth Morrow

CEO, Yoga by Numbers®


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