It is imperative that those who make U.S. foreign policy reflect who we are as Americans. Today, most foreign policy and national security decisions are made in centralized and closely held processes. This is true across institutions. We recently reviewed the list of experts called to testify in Congress on foreign policy from 2017-2020 and found that most of them are men.
There are now discussions about what a feminist foreign policy would look like in the United States. Most recommendations have focused on the executive branch and, among other things, call for greater representation of women in the relevant institutions and decision-making processes. Yet, the legislative branch has a key role to play. As part of its constitutional responsibility, Congress holds hearings that include both government officials and outside experts.
In order to ascertain who is called upon for foreign policy expertise, we looked at 1,143 witnesses who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in the 115th and 116th Congresses (between January 2017 and June 2020).
Overall, more men than women are called as non-government witnesses to testify about foreign policy. However, we are heartened by recent HFAC numbers outlined below and we expect that HFAC will continue to call witnesses at this rate. Further, SFRC should call at least this percentage of women to testify as experts going forward.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee: During both the 115th and 116th Congresses, the SFRC consisted of 22 men (96 percent) and one woman (4 percent). Of the 352 witnesses the committee called, 77 percent were men. Of the non-government witnesses, 75 percent of the experts were men and 25 percent were women.
House Foreign Affairs Committee: In the 115th Congress (2017-2019), the House of Representatives was controlled by the Republican Party; HFAC consisted of 38 men (81 percent) and nine women (19 percent). Since control of the House changed in January 2019, HFAC consists of 40 men (85 percent) and seven women (15 percent).
From January 2017 to June 2020, HFAC called 791 witnesses; 68 percent were men and 32 percent women. Of the non-government witnesses, 69 percent of the experts were men and 31 percent women. In the 115th Congress (2017-19), 76 percent of HFAC non-governmental witnesses were men and 24 percent were women. To date in the 116th Congress (2019-20), 58 percent of HFAC non-governmental witnesses were men and 42 percent were women.
In an effort to close this clear gap in representation, we recommend that the Senate and House leadership require a gender balance in witnesses called to testify. Informally, committee leaders should call equal numbers of male and female witnesses. At the same time, foreign policy experts who are often called to testify could pledge not to serve on a panel of three or more witnesses when no women are included.
Further, these committees must examine hearing topics with a gender lens and choose witnesses to include that point of view. Such an analysis will broaden and deepen an understanding of the policy landscape and the solutions considered. The committees must call more women to testify as foreign policy experts, on all subjects not just those related to gender. Policymakers need to understand that even “traditional” security issues, like force readiness, can be analyzed with a gender lens. Such an analysis will show how men and women are impacted differently by U.S. foreign policy interventions.
While increasing the number of women experts testifying doesn’t ensure a full gender analysis on foreign policy topics, it would be a great start to better ensure that policy is formulated and debated by a more diverse group of experts and policymakers with a broader range of expertise.
Molly Opinsky is an intern at Smash Strategies and a rising senior at Tulane University studying international relations and economics. She contributed to the research of this piece.
Analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing the role of gender in society sharply into focus. As we look at the impact of the pandemic in subjects as diverse as political leadership, violence in the home, caregiving and what constitutes “essential” work, we are confronting the role that gender plays across the world. As a point of reference, gender is the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males in societies. While many gender norms have shifted, these norms still inform our actions and roles every day. These norms translate into women being viewed primarily as caregivers, while men are viewed as leaders. In most of our societies, we see family violence is a private matter, but COVID-19 is bringing these issues to the forefront as our public and private lives have become more intertwined.
We’re able to discuss gender differently during this global crisis because gender impacts are being discussed in “real time”—as they are happening—rather than analyzed months or years after the fact. Advocates and practitioners have been working to include this type of gender analysis for years but topics like foreign policy, crisis response, and trade have traditionally—and wrongly—been seen as gender blind or gender neutral. This new focus on real-time analysis of gender impacts provides us an opportunity to create lasting change.
Women’s Unseen, Essential Role in Labor
According to a recent New York Times article, one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, and nonwhite women are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else. These women are core to a part of the labor force which keeps the country running and takes care of those most in need, pandemic or not. In health care, 77% of essential workers are women and in essential retail, 53% are women. According to the New York Times, 83% of those in health care jobs paying under $30,000 are women. We know that women are paid less than men, and this is more pronounced for women of color. In the U.S., women overall earn 81 cents for every dollar a white man earns, while African American, Hispanic and Native American women earn 75 cents. We must use this window to address the twin issues of pay disparity and how we value certain jobs and types of work.
Successful Women’s Leadership During Catastrophe
Women leaders like Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan are taking bold action to stem the impact of COVID-19. They are praised as “voices of reason” for their clear and effective communication, decisiveness and empathy in the face of this pandemic. We need more leaders like them. As of January 2020, women serve as heads of state in only 10 out of 152 countries (6.6%) and women serve as heads of government in 12 out of 193 countries (6.2%). Women hold about 25% of the seats in parliaments globally and 24% of those in the U.S. Congress. This is a time to rethink the way we view leadership and the traits we value in leaders. These women demonstrate that a leader should be both decisive and empathetic.
Domestic Violence Spikes Amid the Pandemic
With 90 countries in lockdown because of COVID-19, billions of people are now sheltering at home. While this has kept many people safe from the virus, it has put many women at risk of violent behavior behind closed doors. Stay-at-home orders put those in violent relationships in close proximity of their abusers, with little ability to leave home or reach out for help. In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., sharp spikes in the incidence of domestic violence and concurrent heightened demand for emergency shelter have been raised by government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society organizations. It is critical that countries make the prevention and redress of gender-based violence a key part of national response plans.
Shelter-at-Home Highlights Need for Caregiving Infrastructure
Finally, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality that most caregiving is still done by women. Even when both parents work full-time, women do the majority of the childcare and housework. Recent calls to build an infrastructure of care in the U.S. have gone unanswered. But now, with schools closed and large numbers of family members at home, or when people with school-aged kids or dependent parents have to go to work, it is clearer how much care and household work is needed and who does that work. Before COVID-19, many families relied on others (often women) to formally or informally care for children or other dependents, clean their homes or cook meals. Now, many of those workers are unable to continue these roles. Once again, it is important that organizations and governments recognize that many workers have a full-time job outside the office.
Make no mistake, we are facing a global crisis. But, we can use this as an opportunity to reimagine a different future, one that values gender equality, women’s participation and women’s leadership. Women must be part of COVID-19 response and recovery planning and decision making. We must value work the unseen work done by women. We must use every tool possible to restructure caregiving systems and address the causes of domestic violence. We can do this, using everyone’s talent, skill and experience to inform our choices.
Like almost everything, the current coronavirus pandemic has a gender angle. Why? Because the gender roles that each of us play – the socially defined set of roles, rights, responsibilities, entitlements, and obligations of females and males – impact and are impacted by this crisis.
While it seems that men are more likely to die of this and other viruses because of genetics and chromosomes. But men may also be more susceptible because of gender norms that cause greater stress, higher rates of tobacco consumption and a reluctance to seek medical care. When we look back, research will give us a better picture of the outcomes for all of those affected and how it was divided by sex, gender, age and race.
At the same time, women are also bearing the brunt of much of the crisis. An April 3 U.S. Department of Labor report, shows the same unemployment rate (4 percent) for adult men and women. But, according to the National Restaurant Association, women account for 71 percent of all servers nationwide. Restaurants have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. We will see in the coming weeks if a gender gap appears in the numbers due to the different kinds of jobs men and women hold.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by COVID-19, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing gender-based violence, in almost all countries. United Nations chief António Guterres put out a video statement on April 6 focused on the worldwide issue and the strains that institutions that often mitigate GBV – healthcare workers, police and support groups – are under.
Importantly, issues that are rarely part of a mainstream conversation, such as the issue of caregiving (for older family members and children) are being discussed. While women have traditionally taken care of the majority of care and other chores within the home, it has remained largely invisible. Calls from some like Anne-Marie Slaughter to build an infrastructure of care in the U.S. have gone unanswered. But now, with schools closed and large numbers of family members at home, or when people with school-aged kids or dependent parents have to go to work, it is becoming clearer how much care and household work is needed and who does that work. Once again, we will see how U.S. companies respond to the realization that many workers carry a full-time job away from the office.
COVID-19 has caused many parts of the U.S. and the world to slow down and take a look at our society. It has allowed us to examine what we value and what we have forgotten to value in our lives. After we get through the next uncertain and unhappy weeks and months, I hope the business, academic and advocacy communities, as well as individuals, take the opportunity to rebuild our institutions, like work and healthcare, in a way that is more equitable and remembers those things we valued during these dark days.
This year is the 20th Anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which reflects the global commitment to the importance of women in building peace and security, and strong, inclusive societies. UNSCR 1325, and the nine UN resolutions that follow, recognize women’s central role in peace, security and stability; women’s right to be included in negotiations around war, peace and conflict resolution; and the importance of addressing the different needs of women and men in relief, recovery and post-conflict efforts.
Over the last several weeks, I met with several groups of international leaders visiting the U.S., all working in post-conflict countries to build peace and strengthen their countries’ institutions. Some of the participants were from urban areas; some from rural areas. Some are in government; some in civil society. These women and men — and many more like them — are key to efforts across the globe to make peace and security real in communities. Every day, they translate the rhetoric of the U.N. and governments to the lives of women, men, girls and boys. Their work defines and reflects the on-the-ground reality of this work.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Every issue is relevant to women’s lives: Despite the global commitment of UNSCR 1325, we often hear that “women’s issues” will be dealt with once there is a peace agreement. That approach doesn’t work.When women are included in discussions and peace talks, women bring a broad set of issues and solutions to the table, and agreements last longer. The women I met over brought both policy expertise and knowledge of their communities. They were experts in criminal justice reform, environment and sustainability, and election systems. Their expertise, and the perspectives they bring, matters in terms of strong policy solutions and ensuring that everyone’s views are being considered.
- Bringing women together who work on these issues is critically important. There are many lessons that women can learn from each other, from how to be an effective negotiator, how to represent community interests without being seen as partisan in peace negotiations, and how to engage men as part of these processes. It’s important that from various parts of the women, peace and security “ecosystem” understand how they complement each other’s roles: women in civil society raising issues and women in government drafting policies that bring those concerns and proposals to life.
- Women doing this work to build peace don’t always see the connections to work elsewhere. The UNSCR resolutions around women, peace and security provide a global and local framework for thinking about these complex issues and for analyzing progress. But women on the ground don’t always see their work as connected to that framework, or see what they do as part of a global movement. Ensuring that their work is chronicled and captured helps them see these connections and helps international actors understand the connections as well.
- Supporting peace builders is essential and we must listen to what these peace builders need from us. Local context and local leadership matters. It’s critical to listen to, and support, local leaders. Women and men engaged in peacebuilding and conflict resolution take many risks. They live in conflict zones and communities that have often been torn apart. They put their lives on the line, and they also push boundaries around about what is possible to resolve a conflict. Members of the international community need to support what they do, in whatever ways peacebuilders identify. In some cases, it may be highlighting their work publicly; in some cases not.
- We ignore engaging men at our peril. Just as women are central to peace building and building strong post-conflict institutions, so are men. Many of the women I met with talked about what contributions they were making, but also how they work with men in their communities and countries to support women’s inclusion. Men need to be engaged so that they understand how communities can be rebuilt in a more equitable way following conflict.
As we mark these last 20 years, and recommit to engaging women in peace and security, we need to keep learning from those who make this work real every day. They bring international commitments and resolutions to life.
Today, more women than men vote in the United States. For example, in the 2016 election, 55 percent of American women voted; only 52 percent of men voted. Women voters are courted by both political parties and by candidates, and our voting behavior is constantly scrutinized. More women are also running for office than ever before. Currently, 24 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 25 percent of U.S. Senators are women. Both major political parties have nominated women for either president or vice president.
American women did not always have the right to vote. Women gained that right 99 years ago — in 1920 — when the 19th Amendment was ratified. As we mark this anniversary, there are numerous programs and exhibits illustrating the struggle for women’s suffrage, which isn’t often taught in school or widely known. The fight spanned over 70 years, culminating in the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment. The struggle here in the U.S. took place as women across the globe also fought for their right to vote. Between 1918 and 1921, women gained the right to vote in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Women in the U.S. began fighting for the right to vote in the mid-1800s, after passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, which granted African American men the right to vote. Make no mistake, the women who fought for suffrage were held back by legal barriers to their participation in public life as well as social norms about their role in society. Despite this, American women organized, marched, went to prison, committed civil disobedience, lobbied office holders and candidates at every level and in both political parties, and navigated complex political and legal terrain.
And, they organized across the country, riding trains, sending telegrams, having no access to social media and cell phones. They were called names, castigated as agitators who would tear apart society and family, and their appearances often mocked. They dealt with the legacy of the Civil War and racism, which was often used by those opposing suffrage and at times, by those favoring it.
From the time of the first bitter referendum in 1867 to ratification of the 19th Amendment, the suffragists undertook 480 petition and lobbying drives to get state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include women’s suffrage planks in their platforms; and, 56 state referendum campaigns. Women in the Western U.S. gained rights to vote before the rest of the country and in many places, women could vote for some, but not all, offices.
The ratification of the 19th Amendment came down to one state (Tennessee) and the vote of Harry Burn (the youngest member of the Tennessee General Assembly, who changed his vote because of a note from his pro-suffrage mother). It’s an iconic and heartwarming story.
As I moderated a panel last month on this topic, the lesson I took away was that women’s suffrage was not inevitable, and neither is any social change. Change happens because citizens organize and fight for it. As Casey Cep recently wrote in the New Yorker: “Apart from inaccuracy, one of the greatest flaws in any historical account is a sense of inevitability. The idea that women were always going to get the right to vote in the U.S. ignores the reality that women only got that right in Switzerland in 1971 and Saudi Arabia in 2015. It also fails to explain why the right was granted to American women in 1920, as opposed to 1919 or 1918, or perhaps more pointedly in 1776.”
It is easy to look back and see women’s suffrage, and Harry Burn’s vote, or the passage of civil rights, or the election of women to office, as inevitable. They aren’t. They happen because committed individuals and organizations lay the groundwork, take risks, challenge norms, revise laws and policies, and work to convince others. The suffragists did just that, so that each of us can participate in American politics and public life. We owe it to them and their struggle to keep working towards a society where everyone can fully participate.
Today we are launching The Smash Index to measure gender equality on each presidential campaign. Why are we doing this?
- Gender issues and the role of women in our society are on the front line of current policy discussions due to the rise of the #MeToo movement, advocacy around pay equity, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights.
- Campaigns today are multi-million dollar small businesses. They should build in strong diversity and inclusion policies, and consider gender. This is analogous to movements to push corporations and businesses to take actions to hire and retain women at all levels, and ensure that women are engaged in decision-making and product design.
- One of these candidates will begin their term in January 2021, we want to ensure that the President has considered these issues as she or he implements both domestic and foreign policy.
The Smash Index covers how the campaign is running and how gender is addressed in the campaign’s policy and programs. With regard to internal management, questions focus on women’s representation, pay at every level of the campaign and how issues such as sexual harassment, computer usage and leave are addressed. On the policy side, we question how women voters are targeted and how gender issues are integrated across policy plans.
Every presidential campaign is invited to complete the Index. Submissions are open now and will be accepted through August 15, 2019. All campaigns will be scored out of a total of 100 points based on their responses and publicly available information. Campaigns which do not respond will receive a zero. The full Index results will be released in early September.
The Smash Index is a tool for campaigns and voters. Campaigns from both parties can use it to showcase their gender equality efforts across their public policy and their campaign organizations. Voters can use it to compare the presidential campaigns on specific data points related to gender equality.
At Smash Strategies, we have decades of experience, internationally and domestically, working on politics, policy and advocacy. We understand that information is powerful in driving sustainable change. We think it’s time that voters can understand how candidates for president and their campaigns translate rhetoric into reality.
Late last week, Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek announced he would step down, the organization’s latest departure in the wake of an investigation into sexual harassment and workplace misconduct. His departure came one week after the resignation of Nature Conservancy President Brian McPeek amid swirling complaints about workplace culture.
Workplace sexual harassment and assault are wrong. And, they are costly — both to those who experience it and to employers. Between 25 and 80 percent of women in the U.S. will experience workplace sexual harassment in her lifetime. Working in geographically isolated environments and male dominated professions makes employees more prone to harassment and assault, as does not having legal status and working in workplaces with significant power imbalances (from my perspective, that is almost every workplace).
Employee cost is staggering and personal: depression and anxiety, loss of confidence, decreased opportunities, forced job change, unemployment, and career abandonment. Research shows that 80 percent of women who experience sexual harassment leave their jobs within two years (as compared to 50 percent otherwise).
There is also a large cost to employers: loss of talented employees and their skills, legal fees, retraining costs, high turnover rates, low morale, and decreased productivity. Research shows that companies lose $28,000 (in 2018 dollars) in productivity per each person working on a team affected by harassment.
No sector or workplace can afford these costs. Every institution is at risk and must take action. Mission-driven organizations, like civil society organizations, humanitarian and development organizations, and governments are not immune. In fact, there have been well-publicized incidents in these sectors over the last several years.
I recently moderated a session with civil society leaders at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Ottawa. We focused on the following questions:
- What has worked to prevent, and respond, to workplace sexual harassment, especially in mission-driven organizations?
- What can influence organizational leaders who are skeptical?
- How can you build strong support at all levels of an organization for addressing these issues?
- How can an organization create and maintain a supportive environment for those who come forward?
During this session, we heard from women who had experienced workplace harassment, and from organizations that have reformed workplace policies. Here are five takeaways:
- Organizations need both strong leadership and staff engagement: Leaders and managers set the tone for how an organization responds to anything, including sexual harassment. Leaders need to also empower and involve staff in developing solutions. These staff-driven conversations can be transformational and lead to policies that exceed legal requirements and create new norms.
- Organizations need to invest in internal capabilities, develop clear processes and safeguard those who report. Organizations need to have full time HR staff, clear standards for behavior, policies and processes for addressing complaints, and effective training. They also must support those who experience harassment, and not just address those who commit it. Everyone needs to understand the process and it must be as transparent as possible while protecting privacy.
- Non-staff actors, like board members and funders, play a key role. Boards of directors hire and fire organizational leadership. In doing so, they must hold the organization’s CEO accountable for policies she has put in place — or not — on this key topic. Not addressing workplace harassment is disrespectful to employees, is costly and undermines the organization’s mission. Funders are especially influential in the non-governmental world as NGOs are dependent on them to keep their doors open. Funders need to pay attention, ask questions about what policies are in place, and fund organizations to develop safe workplaces.
- But, having a sexual harassment policy is not enough. Addressing harassment needs to be part of developing a workplace culture that values every employee’s contribution. This includes policies that reflect how an organization values employees, such as equitable pay and promotion policies and family leave policies. This should be accompanied by regular meetings, training, and conversations on gender policy and other inclusion policies.
- Learning from others is key. It’s important to share best practices and understand how other NGOs and institutions are applying gender equality and inclusion principles. Mission-driven organizations, often with employees across the globe in remote locations, face unique challenges. There needs to be a way to share what has worked, and build in opportunities for coaching.
These can be difficult issues, but taking steps to build strong processes, implement them, and ensure that every employee feels valued will go a long way to ensuring a workplaces where people can do the best job possible.
52 women (and one man) from 53 countries. 11 cities. 21 days.
It’s not. It’s a snapshot of the itinerary for a recent U.S. State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), organized by Meridian International Center, to promote women and entrepreneurship. These 53 leaders were from Algeria to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between.
The participants were entrepreneurs, directors of business accelerators and non-governmental organizations supporting women in business, corporate executives, government officials, and academics. All play a role in their country’s efforts to support women entrepreneurs, whose enterprises contribute substantially to economic growth and poverty reduction.
I met with the group in Washington, DC both at the beginning of their visit to the U.S. and when they returned from travel to cities as diverse as Kansas City, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Pensacola, Florida. At the first session, they talked with each other about their role in the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and in supporting women entrepreneurs. They shared views about the fundamentals for advancing successful women’s entrepreneurship and business and how to ensure that more women have access to the tools they need to succeed. They each outlined their goals and objectives to maximize the IVLP for themselves, their business or organization, and their community. They listed the types of contacts and skills they wanted to gather as well as the types of policies and innovations that interested them, such as accessing supply chains, meeting angel investors and talking with successful women entrepreneurs.
We met again when they returned from their intensive program outside of Washington, DC. They talked about what impressed or surprised them, whether the IVLP changed their perspectives, and what new individuals and organizations they would connect with upon their return home. (Side note: they also talked about how their packing and unpacking skills had improved.)
They each had a unique experience, but overall, several things stood out:
- Globally, women entrepreneurs face common challenges. The most common takeaway was that women, particularly women business owners, across the world face similar issues. Participants were struck by how their everyday challenges were similar to those faced by their fellow participants from different countries and by women in the U.S. Bottom line, since there is so much we have in common, there is much we can learn from each other.
- Support systems and women’s networks matter. The IVLP participants met with organizations supporting women entrepreneurs and providing platforms for women business owners to connect. This strategic networking and relationship building is critical to business development, and to business success and growth. Many took away lessons about the types of organizations and platforms that exist in the U.S. for developing connections and business opportunities, as well as for helping women learn how to be effective networkers. While in DC, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) organized a roundtable with pioneers and leaders in building strong environments for women’s businesses. In Charlotte, NC, the group met with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which gives U.S. women business owners a place to organize as an economic and advocacy force.
- Broader policy support for women and girls is critical to economic empowerment and opportunity. Women can’t succeed as entrepreneurs if they can’t stay in school, learn critical thinking and financial literacy skills, or make their own life decisions. In several countries represented, child marriage is prevalent and the women participants are committed to changing that reality, as they see its negative impact on women’s economic futures. In the countries represented, most decision-makers are men and women are subject to restrictive laws that create barriers to business success, such as those that restrict women’s ability to get credit or have access to child care and family leave. The participants focused on the importance of advocating for changes in these laws and policies as well as those that narrowly target barriers to entrepreneurship.
- Government support of women’s entrepreneurship makes a difference. Participants were struck by the critical role that government in the U.S., at every level, plays in supporting women and business. This includes advocacy around increasing the allocation of government contracts and procurements set aside for women-owned businesses, and regulatory reforms that increase access to capital and markets for businesses.
These 53 leaders — representing almost one-third of the world’s countries — are already successful. The purpose of the IVLP, and their exposure to what is happening here in U.S, is to ensure that they become force multipliers. From my viewpoint, I have little doubt that will be the case.
Businesses ignore women — and a focus on gender — at their peril. Everyone from startup founders to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies needs to promote women’s leadership, create safe and fair workplaces, support and engage women in the community, and ensure that their products and services reflect the differential experiences, and needs, of women and men.
When women’s participation in the labor force increases, GDP rises. When women start businesses, communities flourish. When companies have more gender diversity at the top, they are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profits.
Startups founded by women are more profitable. According to the Vinetta Project, startups founded by women are 20 percent more likely to be revenue generating and there is a 35 percent higher return on investment (ROI) when financing a company founded by women.
Founding teams that include a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent, according to First Round Capital,comparing performance data in their portfolio over a 10 year period. Women founders create companies targeted at new market niches. Many of the most innovative and promising women-led startups focus on how to manage and ease the time burdens women face. For example, in 2014, Kate Ryder founded Maven Clinic, an online platform connecting consumers with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals with appointments in real time and a starting price of $18.
I spoke recently on a panel, “Women=Change,” held during DC Startup Week, a festival of programming for founders and entrepreneurs. The standing-room session addressed how focusing on women and gender can increase profitability and sustainability as well as how to concretely build this approach into business planning and development.
Four of my key takeaways:
- Good news: investors are looking to invest more in women-led companies. In 2017, only two percent of venture funding went to women-led startups and ventures. That needs to change. But, more funds are investing in companies led by diverse founders. The Helm plans to only invest in women-led companies, and Backstage Capital announced a $36 million fund investing exclusively in companies led by black women founders.
- Building a strong ecosystem is essential. Founders and new ventures need what is called an “ecosystem”: a supportive culture, enabling policies and laws, availability of financial and human capital, venture-friendly markets for products, and a range of institutional and infrastructural supports. In order to create such an ecosystem, government, business, financial institutions, investors and mentors must work together. More good news: there are groups bringing together these key actors, such as BEACON DC, a community-led campaign to make Washington, DC the most influential and supportive city for women entrepreneurs in the United States.
- Have tough conversations early. If you have issues with people assuming your male co-founder is in charge, or one of your male colleagues takes credit for your ideas, have that uncomfortable conversation early (and often). Discuss this with your co-founder (or employee) to ensure your leadership role is acknowledged. Be clear about who will represent the firm at conferences, and meetings, and how those presentations will be structured.
- Simple actions create a more inclusive culture. Rethink your recruitment and selection process. Job descriptions can be unintentionally biased by using phrases that emphasize an aggressive business culture. Use gender neutral titles, check the use of pronouns, and emphasize your commitment to diversity of all kinds. Hire people whose skill sets complement yours. Post jobs in multiple forums. Commit to the slate of candidates you interview being gender-balanced.
If you can embed this approach into your firm’s culture from day one, you are building for growth and sustainability. These actions can take time and thought, but in the end, will save you from playing catch up.
- Diversity and Inclusion
- Economic Empowerment
- Empowering Girls
- Foreign Policy
- Gender Equality
- Open Government
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- Sustainable Development Goals