WeFestival: A Conversation with Joanne Wilson and Susan Solomon

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Joanne and Susan, circa 1970

For the past several years, I’ve waited impatiently to find out if I would be one of the lucky few invited to New York to attend the annual WeFestival, a Women’s Entrepreneur Festival (and thus, the name). I’ve written previously about my experiences at the event, and when I discovered that this year I would be attending as a panelist, it felt like things had come full circle. After gaining invaluable advice from panelists in previous years, it is a privilege to now have the opportunity to possibly help someone else.

This year’s WeFestival, which already boasts an exciting lineup of speakers, is scheduled for April 13 -14 in New York. But this year’s event will be different in several ways. I recently had the chance to ask Joanne Wilson, one of the original cofounders of WeFestival, and her sister, Susan Solomon, about the changes happening within WeFestival and to learn about some of their future plans, including the exciting news that additional events are already slated for Berlin and Los Angeles.

joanne_wilson-8062Wilson, a well-known blogger and angel investor based in New York City, says shaking things up was a necessity after spending five years in partnership with New York University to host the event which brings together 400 women entrepreneurs from across the globe. “It was time to either pack it in … five years is a good run … or to change the game,” says Wilson, who had growing concerns that the current format had become too formulaic. “I knew there was more to do, but it wasn’t going to happen under the umbrella of NYU.  It had to become a business where there was a support system to build something unique and powerful based on five years of experience and feedback from many of the attendees.”

While conferences abound, WeFestival has gained a reputation as being a unique experience. “It is the only conference where I see “real women” who are in the trenches,” says Wilson. “As women, we are all in it together to be heard and connect to a community – to learn and listen.  It is quite powerful.” Among her own personal highlights from previous events, topping the list for Wilson was her opportunity to interview the iconic Diane Von Furstenberg.

meWhen Susan Solomon expressed interest in the new venture, Wilson knew she’d found the perfect partner in her sister to help steer the new direction for WeFestival. Solomon is committed to nurturing the interactions and relationships borne at the event. “Our goal is to assemble a broad, diverse set of women entrepreneurs who are committed to their venture. This includes women from all sectors of the economy, ethnicity, age and business stage,” says Solomon, adding that the decision to move the event venue was also strategic. “We looked for a space whose environment could mirror the true experience happening at the event. Instead of having the ‘closed’ doors of traditional conference rooms, we chose 1 World Trade Center for its fluid and spacious flow, allowing us to marry the experience and the environment.”

One tradition the team is keeping is requiring applications, which are still being accepted through the end of January. The limited number of slots available for WeFestival are assigned after all applications are reviewed, says Wilson. “I am blown away by some of the heartfelt stories from women. And then I am amazed on some of the applications where someone has obviously not taken the time or energy to write something meaningful.”

She adds, “We want people who are truly putting down their guard and really want to be there.” Solomon adds that, in keeping with the goals of WeFestival, the application process ensures that a broad spectrum is represented at each event.

Sisters Joanne Wilson and Susan Soloman, 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sisters Joanne Wilson and Susan Soloman, 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The new WeFestival is built like a true startup. “Susan is my side-kick here.  That’s it. She has driven the entire back-end.,” says Wilson. “We have a few freelancers, but essentially, it is just us. We like lean and mean operations.”

Despite the lean team, WeFestival’s online community is already growing. Says Solomon, “We’ve created a Slack community so women can connect all year-long – not just at the event. While we used Facebook before, we’re hoping that through Slack, we can create a real sense of community and camaraderie.”

What does remain consistent across the old and the new WeFestivals is the draw of Wilson, herself, who has cultivated a strong following of her blog, Gotham Gal. She has remained surprisingly accessible to women entrepreneurs despite the increasing demand on her time, thanks, in part, to the attention she has garnered as a highly successful angel investor who not only advocates for women entrepreneurs but invests in them as well.

Says Wilson, “I have become the poster child for women entrepreneurs.  It just happened.” She adds that, for her, WeFestival connects directly to that. “I really believe we are changing women’s lives and in turn the long tail effects families, the economy, people. I hear from women years later on how the festival changed their lives, or that they finally launched their business, or they have a meet-up monthly or have found their business partner.”

The event certainly changed my own journey by helping me realize the incredible value of finding a supportive community filled with role models who looked like me and spoke like me and made me believe in myself. And while discovering the value of this community didn’t change at all the hard work or effort required to build a company, it completely changed my mindset – and that, really, changes everything.

7 Women Who Inspire Us to Set Audacious Goals

At the beginning of each year, I set professional goals that I share with none else, mainly to allow myself the freedom of audacity. I aim high, setting my stretch goals so far outside of what looks possible that I get a little scared just thinking about them. Much to my surprise, I’ve reached more of those stretch goals than I ever accomplished when I kept within modest, safe boundaries.

When we stretch ourselves outside of our own confidence, when we are willing to live on the edge of our ability, there is an energy, a drive that isn’t present within the confines of a safe life. And using personal achievements as a catalyst to create opportunity for others is just as important. Fulfillment does not lie within the fountain of provision and safety; it lies in the joy of daring to believe in the impossible and risking everything to make it so – and then carrying others forward as a result of our own journey.

Finding role models who exhibit proof that it is possible to build illustrious careers while carrying others forward has helped me broaden my perspective. Some are dear friends and mentors while others simply inspire me by how they are choosing to spend their lives. Here are a few of the women who inspire me to believe that within each of us lies the potential to be bolder, to think bigger, and to let go of security to create, solve, and give back to something that matters.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen

LAA-Headshot-Giving-2.0-e1437699555771 Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen inspires me because she has chosen to use her life’s achievements for the betterment of others. Upon reaching what others might have seen as the pinnacle of success in the academic world, she was only getting started. She has used her successes with its resulting honors and broader network as assets to empower others through her visionary philanthropic organization, LAAF. In addition to fueling worthy social impact organizations, LAAF embraces scalable, open-source tech that can teach others how to more effectively impact society through their own philanthropic efforts. She reminds me that women should not fear success or the trajectory into the public eye, because it is a powerful platform that can serve as a catalyst for the changes that women want to see in the world.

Gabriela Dow

Gabriela Dow SC Headshot CroppedGabriela Dow, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, has already achieved success as a journalist, serving at two CNN bureaus as well as CBS, and in multiple roles in the White House and Washington D.C., including public liaison in the White House. She is a serial entrepreneur who has been named one of the top nine people to watch in San Diego, California, where she is currently raising her family with her husband while also serving multiple roles in the community and running a consulting company serving government agencies. But it is not her successful career that inspires me, although it is quite impressive. It is her grounded, pragmatic view of life. Born into wealth in Mexico, she understands clearly the perks and clout that money can buy – and the constraints that living a protected life creates. Despite being thrown into poverty when her mother and siblings started over in the United States, she views that time in her life as being given “the opportunity to fail”. She is a role model for anyone who believes that someone else’s wealth and provision are an acceptable trade off to never fulfilling one’s own goals.

Anne-Marie Slaughter

iXwSMk4UFor the past two years, Anne-Marie Slaughter has headed up the think tank and civic enterprise, New America, while also serving as Professor Amerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was the first woman to serve as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, receiving the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award and meritorious service awards from USAID and the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe for her work. She’s also served previously as the Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affair, written or edited six books and over 100 scholarly articles and has accumulated a large collection of awards and accolades. She has done all of this in the midst of raising two sons with her husband, who is also a professor. Anne-Marie inspires me because of her voice and how she chooses to use it. She can speak intelligently and with conviction on a broad range of regarding policy, government, and civic innovation but also chooses to use her voice to point out the biases and challenges faced by men who opt to be the primary parent in a relationship. She advocates for change, not through strident, provocative or angry tirades but by sharing compelling research and personal anecdotes to articulate her point of view. Anne-Marie reminds me that I can speak up, hold strong opinions and do so without creating needless strife if I speak from a place of authority and respect to others.

Carrie Hammer

Carrie Hammer-HEADSHOTI have long lived under the belief that if I am thinking something nice about someone else, that whenever possible, they should be aware of the positive thoughts going their way. This mindset recently resulted in my meeting Carrie Hammer while attending a women’s leadership forum in New York City when I approached a gracious young woman to tell her how stunning she looked in the dress she was wearing. A talented designer who is a graduate of Parsons Paris School of Art and Design as well as the Tory Burch Foundation Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, Carrie is taking the world by storm since her “Role Models Not Runway Models” fashion show in New York City in 2014 which featured the first ever model who modeled the runway in a wheelchair. She has already appeared on prestigious lists such as the Forbes 30 Under 30 and 15 Women Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2015. Carrie is an inspiration, because she is proving that it is possible to combine talent, drive and a mission to create one’s one mark within a highly competitive industry.

Joanne Wilson

150408122429-dreamit-athena-joanne-wilson-780x439Joanne Wilson is an inspiration to me on so many levels. I first discovered her through her blog, Gotham Gal, where she shares insights about her life in New York or about the places she visits, about parenting or recipes she’s recently enjoyed, and about the companies she invests in and the women entrepreneurs that she meets who inspire her. She is an indefatigable advocate for women, putting her own money behind the businesses that resonate with her own values – and racking up an enviable success ratio as an angel investor. She is also the vision behind the Women Entrepreneurs Festival, held each year in New York City and bringing together 300 attendees for a day focused on the challenges and success faced by women entrepreneurs at every stage of business. It was her festival that helped me build a network of support outside of my own city, and it was the panelists curated for the days’ sessions that often helped me resolve the challenges I was facing in my business. But she inspires because of her willingness to be accessible. Yes, she protects her time as we all must. But more than once when I needed advice about the terms of an investment offer or how to find investors while working to close my own round, she made introductions to people within her network that she thought would be a good fit. She gave me feedback on my pitch deck. And she gave me honest, raw advice. She didn’t have to do any of that; she didn’t know me from Adam. But she did, and it helped me take steps of courage while armed with knowledge. She reminds me of the importance of being willing to help others when and where we can and to remain as accessible as possible no matter how demanding life becomes.

J. Kelly Hoey

photo-3Forbes has described Kelly Hoey as one of five women changing the world of VC for women. She’s also been called one of the 100 most influential women – and one of the 25 smartest women – on Twitter. When I first met Kelly, I was completely unaware of the massive amount to accolades, awards and prestigious lists already in her arsenal. We met for a cup of coffee, and if I add in the cost of the plane ticket to New York City, it was a rather expensive cup of coffee, even by gourmet coffee standards. But it was the best investment in a cup of coffee I ever made. Through our conversation that day, I not only gained an invaluable advisor and mentor, but a dear friend who is willing to tell me the hard truths, because she understands that friends tell each other what they’re doing wrong as well as building up courage and confidence through praising what is being done right. Kelly walked away from a thriving law career to become an angel investor and went on to help found an accelerator for women in mobile. She is a highly respected strategist, columnist, author, and a consummate networker. But my inspiration from her comes from the wisdom of how and when she uses her influence and voice. She is outspoken and is not at all afraid to call someone out when she believes it is merited. But she chooses when and how to use that voice, and by doing so, is taken seriously when she does. She reminds me that a voice and platform become so much more powerful and useful when we choose when and how to effectively convey our values.

Minerva Tantoco

Minerva TantocoMinerva-Tantoco started coding in the ’80’s as a pre-med student, where she used a mainframe to run statistics for a psychology class and later studied programming. She holds four patents, has directed tech for UBS, Merrill Lynch, Fannie May and Palm, and she currently serves at CTO for New York City. An incredibly savvy, brilliant woman, Minerva inspires me because she chooses to champion other women, bringing a strong, positive voice and role model for young women both in her own city and across the world. Our company participated in this year’s NYC Big Apps competition, supporting a group of young teenage women who were part of the YWCA NYC Geek Girls Club, and it was not lost on me that Minerva cheered those young women on when they were pitching their mobile app ideas to adults who were much older and more powerful; she bolstered their courage and gave them confidence by using her voice on social media to cheer them on. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll soon discover that interspersed with posts addressing cutting edge tech, she shares kudos to everyone from young women in STEM program to women serving in leadership positions. She reminds me that is it vital that we use our position and our reach to lift others up, to use our successes to encourage young women to be brave and bold in their own choices, to not fear failure or to believe that failure is anything other than a roadblock to be circumvented on the way to a goal.

Handing Out Awards to Women: How it Fosters Success

hautehonorscheckin (1)This past Thursday morning a sold-out crowd gathered inside of Albuquerque’s Balloon Museum at 7 a.m., not for an early morning hot air balloon launch, but to celebrate fifty nominees and honor the finalists and winners. The nominees – mostly women, but some men – were being recognized for their contributions as humanitarians, leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and as advocates for women. While some of the Haute Honors 2015 nominees were well-known, for many others, it was the first time anyone beyond a select few were learning about their accomplishments and contributions.

Hautepreneurs’ Strategic Plan

The annual breakfast awards banquet and shop local event, which also provides free booth space to twenty women-founded businesses to offer attendees local options for holiday shopping, is the final event which culminates a yearlong agenda of events, workshops and classes through Hautepreneurs, an organization which I cofounded in 2013 along with Jessica Eaves Mathews, who is a national speaker and author, successful serial entrepreneur and personal coach through her Brave Wings program. With the help of our dynamic board of directors, who are all successful women entrepreneurs and community leaders, we are executing on a bold, strategic plan to create a sustainable framework built on a strong support network, targeted training and peer mentoring in order to increase the ratio of women entrepreneurs and leaders achieving high level goals and running successful companies.

Public Recognition

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Why does Hautepreneurs’ strategy include an awards event? Because it turns out that women, as a collective gender, aren’t all that good about bragging up their own accomplishments. This results in a dearth of visible examples of success to serve as inspiration and validation for other women beginning their journey or struggling to overcome barriers. By creating an environment that celebrates the accomplishments of women from a wide variety of industries and at varying stages of their journey, we create an atmosphere that encourages women to lift each other up, to share their own accomplishments, and to believe it is possible to achieve high levels of success.

Training, Mentoring, and Access to Capital

In addition to our awards program which fosters a mindset of celebrating accomplishments and our annual national women’s leadership conference, which teaches women the value of learning from successful peers, our Hautepreneurs strategy also includes Design Councils, which provides ongoing privacy-protected peer mentoring and weekly free office hours to provide one-time mentor sessions with those seeking help within the community. More focused programs address training for successful crowdfunding campaigns, access to peer-based micro lending in partnership with Nusenda and Living Cities as well as women-led venture investing, and our signature yearlong accelerator program with both a nonprofit arm for women facing significant barriers to success, Haute Hopes, and Hautecelerator, a fee-based accelerator for women-led businesses which do not fit within the more common but tightly defined accelerator models open to investable startups; Hautecelerator offers these businesses vital mentoring and training needed to achieve the next level of growth or to resolve current challenges or barriers to success.

Showcasing Successful Women in Male-Dominated Industries

One of the things I love most about the Haute Honors awards is the wide variety of industries and experience levels represented by the nominees. It includes highly underrepresented demographics like Women in Tech, like Akamee Baca Malta, who was honored for the innovative work she and her team are doing at As Girls Grow to help expand options within the hot industry of girl-focused STEM toys thanks to the continuing success of groundbreaking, women-led companies like GoldieBlox. But Haute Honors awards also include women who may not see their work as groundbreaking or worthy of praise, despite overcoming significant obstacles. This year’s honor, Kathleen Edwards, is one such woman. She cofounded Hear Kitty Studios with her spouse, initially running the company out of their home; today, she has grown the studio into a high-demand audio post-production studio that now serves New Mexico’s film industry, contributing to projects like In Plain Sight, Battlestar Gallactica, The Night Shift, and Manhattan.

Highlighting Trail Blazers as Role Models

12313620_1010233905685690_5342308703444982121_nEach year, the annual awards banquet recognizes the achievements of several women who have served as trail blazers, offering a clearer path to success through their own successful careers, such as one of this year’s honorees, Ann Rhoades, the founder of People Ink. She was part of the founding executive team which launched JetBlue Airways and continues to sit on their board. She previously served in top leadership positions for such corporate giants as Promus Hotel Corporation and Southwest Airlines. When women who are hitting the wall within their own journey, it is vital that they know where to look for inspiration. Honoring women who have served a trail blazers proves that other women have accomplished great things – and they’ve done so without losing ties to community.

Recognizing Men Who Champion Women

Haute Honors also acknowledges the inspiration we find in teens who are already pursuing big ideas as well as those making significant strides towards success. And each year, the awards culminate in recognition of men within the community who have gone above and beyond to create opportunities or support the efforts of women. One of this year’s honorees actually emailed our organization after discovering he was among the nominees, suggesting that perhaps there had been a mistake. He was completely unaware of the number of women-led startups which put forward his name for consideration for the Champion of Women honor a result of his support and mentorship to their teams. He never pictured himself as a champion for women despite his actions directly affecting the potential of success for several of those he’d mentored.

What happened this past Thursday morning was exactly what we’d hoped: several women who were initially surprised to find their name among nominees were even more surprised to receive a top award. Men discovered through anecdotes and feedback from others that their support and advocacy of women had not only been noticed and valued but that it had changed the trajectory of success for others. And new role models were held up as inspiration and hope for the rest of those in attendances.

Fostering a Culture of Support

It was a morning of celebration, support and hope for the future, with those in attendance taking to social media to lift each other up and inspire others to be braver, bolder and bigger in their dreams and goals.

Accolades as Inspiration for Growth

The Haute Honors Awards event is but one of a wide variety of programs offered as part of a successful framework for women to become successful, but it is a vital one and the perfect way to end the year. With public recognition comes confidence, and with confidence come bravery. And when bravery leads to bold new steps of growth, that is when the potential to shift the ratio of highly successful women-led businesses gets that much closer to reality.

Girls Deserve to See Themselves as Heroes: Kudos to GoldieBlox

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I first met Debra Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, when she spoke at the Women Entrepreneurs Festival in New York City a few years ago. Her vision of a toy company for girls that fostered engineering concepts inspired me then, and her continued push to bring new role models and break down stereotypes continues to inspire. Her company’s newest video reminds us of how few heroes in media are female.

For those of you who think this is a tired, worn out mantra, I encourage you to watch this video of Jimmy Kimmel asking boys and girls about what would happen if a woman was president.

We need more women running for office, running companies, and we definitely need more Debra Sterlings creating companies like Goldieblox. It is why I was so excited to see Akamee Baca Malta, founder of As Girls Grow, an Albuquerque-based startup, at our national conference for women entrepreneurs and leaders, HauteCon 2015. Like the founder of GoldieBlox, Akamee is using her talents and expertise as an engineer to create play-based, STEM-friendly products for young girls. She attended the conference thanks to a scholarship from Nusenda, a New Mexico-based credit union which recently won a national award for their creative approach to delivering wider access to capital to those with no or poor credit scores through peer-based lending. Nusenda covered the cost of attendance to HauteCon 2015 for ten entrepreneurs, including Akamee, to ensure that cash-strapped startup founders were provided access to both the content and the networking opportunities available at an event created specifically to empower women leaders and entrepreneurs to achieve a higher level of success.

Students from Sandia Preparatory School take the stage with Hautepreneurs Cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews to talk about their STEAM project. The students worked with Mathews, their school, and Central New Mexico Community College Makerspace to design flowers in Corel Draw, print them using the CNM 3-D Printer, and attach the flowers to the HauteCon banner hanging behind the girls in this photo.

Students from Sandia Preparatory School take the stage with Hautepreneurs Cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews to talk about their STEAM project. The students worked with Mathews, their school, and Central New Mexico Community College Makerspace to design flowers in Corel Draw, print them using the CNM 3-D Printer, and attach the flowers to the HauteCon banner hanging behind the girls in this photo.

 

Until there is more gender balance among leading roles in entertainment, government and corporate leadership, our sons and daughters will continue to believe the stereotypes perpetuated in the news,  media, and their everyday lives. Until more women hold leadership positions – including the White House – and the toy aisles in our department stores provide more options for girls that defy cultural stereotypes, we need to see more videos like GoldieBlox reminding us that yes, indeed, girls deserve to see themselves as heroes.

When Women are the Problem for Women in Tech

This past week, I read Meg Nordmann‘s post Why ALL Women in Tech are Women-In-Tech. She writes, “A fellow female (who is a very talented software engineer) told me to my face today that I am “NOT a woman in tech.” … Her reasoning: I was a marketer.” If you haven’t yet read her post, it’s definitely worth the read.

It is discouraging to know women are still facing this kind of blatant bias, but what I find reprehensible is when it is another woman who is the problem. I do not understand women who don’t help lift up other women, and I really don’t understand women who actively work to keep other women down. This kind of pettiness is demoralizing and cannot be tolerated.

Madeline Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.

Perhaps.

But that seems like a very long time to wait to fix the problem.

If you would rather not wait that long to address bias you may be facing, here are five methods to address the problem that you can try right now.

Lead by Example

If you don’t like how it feels to be on the receiving end of another woman’s bias about your right to call yourself a Woman in Tech, lead by example what you’d like to see in others. Treat other women with the dignity, respect, and kindness you’d like to receive. When you realize a woman may be struggling with feelings of inadequacy, boost her courage. Invite her to a tech gathering and introduce her to your peers. In doing so, you will help her build a broader network of support that can give her the courage to push forward and embrace her career in tech. Become a portal for others to enter by being a woman who makes room for other women to feel welcome within the tech industry.

Educate with Facts

When a woman’s concern over maintaining the integrity of her field of study leads to bias towards others in fields she may consider beneath her own, appealing to her emotions will rarely result in the desired outcome. Instead, try using facts to dispel her misconceptions. Share articles or reports that detail the variety of jobs that now require technical training and skills. Provide examples of your own required technical training or skills. Or point out historical, cultural or global biases which would have prevented her own entry into her chosen field. Use facts to convince her that maintaining the integrity of her own field of study is not the same as adhering to a narrow set of biases which result in the unnecessary exclusion of others.

Draw Clear Boundaries

We’ve likely all encountered the woman who believes that everyone else has a right to her opinion – and attempts to politely disengage or change the subject are useless. If she cannot or will not respond to your cues of discomfort, you may need to be straightforward. Draw clear boundaries about what is not acceptable. If she is choosing to violate your boundaries and is unaware or unapologetic for the hurtful nature of her words, responding with the same type of direct communication will clarify the boundaries that must be respected if she wants to talk with you.

Refuse to Engage

If our difficulties are the result of someone else thriving on the drama of controversy, we may find it impossible to resolve the issue. If this is the case for you, sometimes your only option is refusing to participate in her drama. By choosing to avoid interactions when possible, you limit her negative effect on you. And while the advice to not participate in the controversy is easy to give, it isn’t easy to do. When we are aware that someone else is saying things that are untrue and demeaning, our first reaction is to defend our reputation. But when we choose to engage, it rarely results in a better reputation. Refusing to engage won’t always help you avoid the pain of the situation, but it will allow you to rise above the controversy and maintain your integrity. And, with any luck, without your fuel to feed her fire, she’ll move on to someone new.

Call Her Out

Sometimes bias isn’t loud or direct but a whisper campaign of continual innuendos, digs, insults, backhanded comments. Women who may understand on some level their bias towards you might not be well-received by others may behave outwardly as if she is supportive while continuing to undermine by excluding you from activities or projects, making jokes about your weaknesses, or failing to acknowledge your successes publicly or privately. When bias takes on a subversive nature, it is often quite effective to call her out in front of others. Yes, it makes for some very awkward, uncomfortable moments when you refuse to ignore her digs but instead ask her point-blank about her intent or meaning. The good news is that it usually only takes once or twice to effectively shut down the problem.

Whether a woman participates in tech as an engineer, a developer, a marketer, or in some other capacity, there is room enough for all of us. It is a difficult industry that is rapidly changing, and we have no business making things even more difficult on each other.

Advice for Women Entrepeneurs

Since founding APPCityLife six years ago, I’ve often vacillated between guilt and gratitude – guilt over not being a stay-at-home mom anymore and gratitude for the many opportunities for growth. I’ve made peace (mostly) with the trade-offs, knowing that there is no real balance in life for anyone. Whatever we choose as our path in life, we lose out on something else – and if we spend our time regretting what couldn’t happen, we completely miss the value of what is right in front of us.

I think accepting this truth is such a big challenge for women who feel a deep sense of responsibility to their family but who also want to launch their own business or grow it to the next level. The guilt of what we can no longer give to our family can become a burden that prevents the very success we’re seeking. But a far more insidious barrier to success comes when we give ourselves permission to use obligations to family as an escape hatch when things get scary or hard.

If I had one piece of advice to give to other women entrepreneurs, it would be this: Don’t ever devalue your role as a mother, daughter, or anything else, by using it as the scapegoat for your lack of performance as an entrepreneur.

 

I recently attended a meeting where a brilliant young woman entrepreneur was called out for her lack of preparation. The accusations were pointed, public and, frankly, over the top. I learned afterwards from several in attendance that the lack of preparation on her part (as well as several others who weren’t so publicly challenged) had far more to do with miscommunication of expectations from the person who had gotten angry with her. And had she spoken directly to that failure to clearly set goals and expectations, she would have established herself as the leader that I know she is. But when she chose to use family obligations as an escape hatch to avoid the heat instead of taking it on directly, she devalued her role as a mother and her credibility as a leader. She’s a tough, driven entrepreneur, and I have no doubt that her experience in that meeting will help her make the more difficult decision the next time she faces a similar challenge.

Another friend of mine recently expressed how guilty she felt every time she had to tell her children no when they asked to do something when she was working on her business. But here’s the thing – unless our children are newborns, they don’t need our constant attention and time. In fact, it can stifle their ability to develop a sense of independence and self-reliance. And if a woman is going to take the step of becoming an entrepreneur and sacrifice some of her time with family to build a business, she owes it to herself and her family to take it seriously enough to make it worth the sacrifice. When we play at entrepreneurship, we not only severely reduce our chances of success, we cheat ourselves and our family out of our time without anything to show for the sacrifice. When we make the more difficult decision to believe that what we are building is important and deserves our full effort, we can feel better about the time we spend on our business – and about the time we dedicate to our family.

It is so tempting to tap into that calling of “family obligations” as our escape hatch. After all, who is going to call us out for doing such a noble thing as sacrificing the time we need to spend on our company to fulfill some family obligation? It’s easy to use as our excuse to step back from the edge of growth right before a breakthrough.

When we don’t hide behind our personal obligations and actually face our fears, the growth that happens is exhilarating. And whether we succeed or fail, we learn something about ourselves – that we can make decisions as a leader and still be okay with our relationships with those around us. In fact, those varying parts of our lives can co-exist far easier when we know we aren’t using one as an excuse to avoid the other. Entrepreneurship for women isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s about finding what works and being honest with ourselves about the journey so that we can embrace the changes and the growth along the way.

Why I Don’t Feel Guilty for Being a Working Mom

IMG_0251I recall the exact moment I decided that something had to change.

I’d taken on a part-time position with a local museum which I’d taken specifically for the hours when my husband would be home with our three kids. And while I actually enjoyed the work, I also missed out on a lot – my daughter’s last year of competing at nationals for climbing as well as weekend camping trips, family suppers, and just hanging out in the back yard with the kids on a warm Saturday night.

But the moment that pushed me over the edge was when I arrived home at 3 AM on a Saturday night. I tried to open our garage door but met resistance. Pushing a little more firmly, I realized I was actually scooting my youngest son across the tile of our foyer. At some point after being tucked into bed, our youngest woke up. He did the only thing a little boy missing his mother knew to do – wait at the very spot he knew I’d return. And so he waited on the cold tile until he finally fell asleep.

I picked my son up and carried him back to his bad, pulling up the covers up and kissing his forehead. I sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments, tears welling up as his little hand gripped tightly around my finger. And in that moment I knew that no job was worth doing this to my son.

Within the month I’d resigned my position and metamorphosed from stay-at-home mom to founder of a tech company. Not that being an entrepreneur eradicated Mommy Guilt. It didn’t. But it did mean I decided what I was going to feel guilty about, because I was the one choosing the trade-offs of what I’d miss to give time to something else.

There are times now that I am definitely judged as being that mom – the one who ends up parenting her kid via cell phone while boarding a plane, who is rarely available to volunteer for anything during or after school, and the one who has more than once sent her kid off to school with a still-damp uniform after forgetting it was needed for a game after school. I’m the mom who celebrates my kid’s somewhat crappy-looking science fair entry while happily ignoring the silent condemnation of his classmates’ parents who see my hands-off approach as unsupportive. Truth is I have no desire to see if my participation in his project will earn him an A. It’s his learning experience, and if I’m judged as the mom who doesn’t help her kid with his projects, I’m ok with that. I’ve made peace with being that mom.

But I’m finished with feeling guilty. Or, at least, I’m finished letting anyone else decide what should make me feel guilty. If I blow off one of my kids or ignore them when they really need me, and I do it because I am far too immersed in my own thoughts to be present and listen, I should feel guilty about that. It is a poor choice that leaves me as inaccessible as if I wasn’t there. If I don’t parent by making my children accountable for immoral, inconsiderate, unkind, or dishonest behavior, if I don’t provide comfort and perspective when my children are wounded by life, or if I’m not accessible for the average, ordinary conversations that are actually the courage-building moments when one of my children might share one of those big issues that they’re carrying deep inside – if I am not available to be that parent, I should feel guilty.

But I’m finished feeling guilty for being gone on travel and not available at a moment’s notice to help one of my children get out of a momentary problem. Yes, I’m unavailable. But, no, it’s not the end of the world. And more often than not, it simply results in the learning moment where my kid discovers they have the inner resilience and resources to manage the issue for themselves.

I’m finished feeling guilty for not being there every morning to cook breakfast. Guess what? Cooking skills are empowering. When my teenage kid discovers he can forage in the pantry and make something to eat without setting the toaster on fire – that isn’t neglect – that’s fostering independence.

And I’m finished feeling guilty for not being invincible. There are days I’m barely treading water because of the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I have on my plate, and allowing my children to witness my own moments of weakness, vulnerability, and fear – that is a gift I am giving them. When they witness the same raw emotions coming from me which often hold the same power to derail their own pursuit of goals and dreams – and when they see me get beyond those momentary emotions to move forward – I am sharing with them the honesty of the journey, the reality of the pain and emotional toll that is taken from each of us if we are to grow to meet the challenges along the journey. I refuse to feel guilty for sharing that with my children.

IMG_3102The truth is that I absolutely love what I do now. I love our company, our vision, the problems we are helping others solve because of what we’ve built. I love the dynamics, talent and energy of our team. And I love the opportunities that have arisen along the journey – the chance to build rewarding friendships, the opportunity to launch an organization with a dear friend which is focused on empowering other women, and the privilege of being inspired by others who are pursuing their own dreams. I also love being a mother, even if the mother I am today isn’t what I imagined. I’ve made peace with the messiness of it all, because it is the mess of it all, the ebb and flow of blending all of these roles together into one reality which has helped me finally feel at peace with who I am.