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.

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5 Things I’d Like to Tell My 7th-Grade Self

  I recently was invited to keynote at a Microsoft Digigirlz Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And while I was very honored to keynote the event, I struggled a bit with what to say. I kept thinking back to what I was like in 7th or 8th grade and wondered what that girl would have wanted to hear. And finally, I decided that was the girl I needed to talk to. Here is the advice I would have given to the 7th-grade Me:

Never, Ever Play Dumb

I’m not sure when it happens, but somewhere beyond those first early grades when we, as girls, raise our hands high and eagerly answer questions in class, we somehow learn how to play dumb so others around us don’t feel bad for not knowing something we know. I know I did this – a lot – and I never felt good about me when I did.

As girls, we do this thing of pretending we don’t know an answer so the guy we’re with doesn’t feel bad that maybe, just maybe, we might be smarter than he is. Or we stay silent about how easy we thought a test was when our girlfriends at lunch are all saying how hard it was. But here’s the thing: if someone has to think you’re dumb to hang out with you, you’re making the choice to hang out with someone who will never like you for who you are, for all the special, unique quirks that is the wonderful version of you that lies awake at night imagining great adventures or ideas. So be true to that girl. She deserves it. I’m not saying to rub anyone else’s nose in how smart you are; I’m not saying that at all. I’m just asking that you make a promise to yourself that you’ll never, ever pretend to be dumb to make someone else feel better. Just be you, be humble, and be nice.

Be Adventurous

Have you thought you wanted to be a part of a sports team and decided to try out only to discover halfway through the season that you really didn’t like it all that much? Well, if your mom is anything like mine, you had to finish out the season so you didn’t let your teammates down. And then the next time you were curious about something and wanted to try it, you thought about getting stuck half a season doing something you didn’t like and, instead of exploring this new curiosity, you held back and decided it wasn’t worth the risk of getting stuck with it if you didn’t like it.

Well, those lessons are good for us – about not letting down teammates, about keeping our word and living up to our commitments. But we also need the freedom to explore new things in a way that lets us back out if we don’t like it. How will you ever know if you don’t try it? Find ways to explore things that you’re curious about. There is nothing at all wrong with dipping your toe in the pool to decide first if you like how the water feels; you don’t have to commit to diving into the deep end or doing nothing at all.

Check Your Stereotypes at the Door

How do you decide what it takes to be a good doctor or teacher or artist? What does a doctor look like? How about a teacher or artist? We build up these stereotypes, and we try to put ourselves – and everyone else around us – into this box that easily defines who that person is, what their role is, and what skills and traits they should have to be good at that particular role.

Don’t put yourself in box by deciding that you don’t fit the stereotype of what someone in STEM looks like. And don’t decide that it is all you can be if you do fit that stereotype. There are so many approaches to doing things that integrate across different disciplines that the possibilities are endless. Find something that strikes your passion, that you can’t stop thinking about how to solve that problem, and go do that. If you love art, don’t think you can’t be a part of STEM. You have no idea how much we need artists in this new digital world – artists who know how to think outside the box, to imagine how to communicate through color and lines and thickness of letters or shading to evoke just the right experience for someone accessing a website, a mobile app, an interactive kiosk in an airport that needs to appeal to multiple ethnicities and cultures. That is no easy task, so bring your talents to help solve problems that excite you.

Don’t Make it Hard for Other Girls

This one is so important. There is this part inside all of us that we want to create this environment where we feel comfortable, and we can unconsciously make it harder for other girls if they don’t fit inside of what we think our world should look or feel like. The next time you’re talking about something that’s a higher level idea and a girl you may think isn’t all that bright or isn’t interested in topics like yours – the next time one of those girls asks what you’re talking about, don’t dismiss her. Tell her. If she isn’t interested, she’ll disengage on her own. But don’t be the girl who doesn’t let girls outside of the stereotype into the smart girls club.

Mayim Bialik, who plays a scientist on Big Bang Theory, actually just became a neuroscientist in real life. But she pretty much fits that stereotype, right? What about Alicia Keys? Do you picture her as brilliant – smart enough to discuss ‘hard’ topics? She graduated at 16. And Elizabeth Banks graduated magna cum laude from UPenn. The point is that we sometimes jump to snap judgments about others based on what we see on the outside, but most of the time we’re wrong. Don’t be the girl who makes it hard for other girls to feel welcome in STEM.

It’s Your Life, So You Get to Choose

Don’t ever live someone else’s dream or become the character that someone else believes you should play in this thing called life. Even if it is that you are so good at math that everyone keeps telling you that you have to go into something that uses math – as if you owe it to math. You owe nothing to math. You owe everything to being true to yourself. So if there is this thing inside of you that says I may be good at math but I love art – then listen and explore that idea. Maybe you’ll land back at something in math but maybe you’ll do something really cool with art that no one else could have ever imagined without your incredible math skills. And if you’re a fantastic artist but you are curious about how cells break down and become cancerous? You have no idea how your ability to imagine things visually may play into this whole world of discovery around science and curing diseases. Don’t live someone else’s dream or let others define your life or your interests. Your unique view of everything around you may be just what the rest of the world has been waiting for. Anything is possible – so embrace your curiosity, embrace those around you, and explore your interests so you can contribute something amazing to the world that can come only from you.