“I’m not so comfortable being up on a pedestal, unless you are standing up there with me.” – Amy Millman, Springboard Enterprises
Have you ever felt that horrible sensation when your throat closes up as you try to choke back tears? Every fiber in you wants to scream and cry as you try to hold your chin up and move forward. I have faced this sensation several times as a young leader, and it has almost always been caused by another woman thoughtlessly trashing my reputation.
Unfortunately, I’m sure that moments like these will happen again — but that’s why it’s so important for young women leaders to surround themselves with empowering women. Positive experiences far outweigh the negative, and luckily, the opportunities for young women to find support are growing. There are now venture capitalist groups that exclusively fund female entrepreneurs. Several new accelerators for female founders launched recently too, including MergeLane, Equita, and Refinery, joining others. And several prominent venture capitalist groups recently announced new female partners, like BBG Ventures (Susan Lyne) and Rothenberg Ventures (Fran Hauser).
I’m also encouraged by a new wave of female investors starting their own funds: Theresia Gouw Ranzetta and Jennifer Fonstad with Aspect Ventures, Aileen Lee with Cowboy Ventures, Cindy Padnos with Illuminate Ventures, Kirsten Green with Forerunner Ventures and Adele Oliva with 1315 Capital. Groups like Pipeline Fellowship, 37 Angels, Portfolia, BELLE Capital, and Golden Seeds work tirelessly to increase the number of women investors. There is a wealth of professional networks that are specifically targeted at women, including the OWN IT Summit, EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program, the S.H.E. Summit in NYC, The Leadership Foundry and many more.
Though the role of women has evolved in the professional space over the past 50-plus years, there is still an unfortunate shortage of women in leadership roles. Now is a more crucial time than ever to stand by our fellow women, and there’s much we can do on an individual level to grow ourselves and other women. Below are some simple ideas to get started:
Write thank-you letters. After several woman backstabbed me early in my career, I began putting situations into perspective. My method of venting and moving forward was through writing thank-you letters to all of the women (and men) who had a positive and transformative impact on my career. I made it my prerogative to treat others like I wanted to be treated. A useful first step was demonstrating my gratitude with a simple thank-you letter — the old-school kind that involves handwritten notes. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself when you’re expressing gratitude.
What makes a great thank-you letter? Keep it short and sweet. People are busy, so you don’t want to take up their time with a long letter. You do, however, want to make your letters meaningful: be sure to include a personal note with specifics about how the individual added value to your career. If the person gave you advice or mentored you in a way that truly resonated, reflect on specifics in your letter and what the positive results of his or her mentorship have been.
I would also suggest ending the thank-you letter by touching on next steps. Discuss how you plan to continue the relationship and when you plan to connect again. A simple “let’s meet for coffee this fall” will do the trick.
Hire more female colleagues. Both men and women managers could do more to hire women. In my career at The Global Good Fund, it helps the entrepreneurs we serve to have women as colleagues. The women I hire are not only remarkably talented, but they offer diverse perspectives and have been understanding as I transition into the next stage of my life: being a working mother. I am expecting my first child early this fall and my female colleagues have been incredible resources while helping me set realistic expectations.
A few additional ideas for hiring more women:
- Get in touch with your college or university and engage in recruitment activities such as career fairs. During these efforts, focus especially on recruiting from women-focused groups on campus.
- Attend local networking events (and speaking opportunities) that are specific to professional women. These platforms will get you in front of a network of women who may be seeking new employment opportunities. Some examples include The Ellevate Network, Local Levo Chapters, and The National Association of Professional Women.
- Word of mouth! Ask for referrals from the incredible women already working at your company and from women colleagues at partnering organizations. They’ll likely know of promising women who are looking for a new job in your industry.
Seek out opportunities to mentor other women. After facing negative experiences early in my career, I became even more empowered to support other women. Instead of letting these obstacles bring me down, I wanted to set an example with poise and grace. Understanding that effective mentors and mentees are hard to come by, I decided to do my best to be one.
I made it my business to mentor other women in my core team at The Global Good Fund, through the boards that I sit on, and through The Global Good Fund’s Fellowship Program (where we prioritize at least 50 percent female representation). Through these various channels, I am personally committed to professionally developing 10 female leaders, with my longest personal mentoring relationship lasting six years now. This group of women represents people who are both older and younger than me, gay and straight, from different races and cultural experiences, and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. The world is changing and our commitment to mentoring needs to as well.
We as women represent the future of the social impact industry, this country, and our world. It is my societal responsibility and moral imperative to grow myself and other women, not to mention men who believe in supporting women. We can either build people up or tear them down; I have found myself on both sides of the equation.
As you reflect on yourself as a leader, I ask you: Which side do you want to be on? Why should anyone be led by you?
Carrie Rich is the co-founder and CEO of The Global Good Fund, an adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University School of Nursing, and the author of Sustainability for Healthcare Management.