I recently attended the Forbes Women’s Summit with about 300 incredible founders and leaders. There were many inspiring business and community leaders, including one of my favorites, Ashley Graham, who spoke about the origins of her modeling career, her experiences as a plus size model, and her experiences building her business. Confident, proud, and energetic, she was an incredible speaker and an inspiration for all women!
At the summit, I had a chance to be part of a panel including Sonja Perkins, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, and moderated by Dina Habib Powell. We discussed the challenges and opportunities that female entrepreneurs face in launching and building businesses and I’m excited to share a bit of what we covered.
Landscape of Female Entrepreneurship.
The whole panel agreed that the current state of women in leadership is not where it should be. There are too few women founders, too few women venture capitalists, and too few women in leadership roles. According to a Fortune study, despite the fact that just 5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women, these female-led companies generate a disproportionate 7% of total revenue. Even in retail, only 6% of top 100 companies are led by women.
Despite the current landscape, we were all optimistic about the future. We have all experienced improvement in recent years and are hopeful that the success that women are having running companies today, will lead (at least eventually) to a better representation of women.
In the bucket of optimism, I was proud to cite Stitch Fix as a counterexample to the status quo, as 50% of our board is made up of women and over 60% of our leaders are female. Sukhinder also shared some data about leadership at Joyus, where women represent the majority of leadership roles.
(Forbes/Photo by Jonathan Kozowyk)
Fundraising was another hot topic for the panel. A few years ago when I was fundraising for Stitch Fix, as a female entrepreneur with a business that was focused on a demographic of mostly women, I found myself pitching to a highly homogeneous, mostly male population of investors who don’t naturally gravitate toward the industry and the value proposition. I found it difficult to find investors who were excited to be invested in the vision and mission of the company and connected to the product.
Though it’s only a few years later, I do think that there are more women investors today and more success stories on the fundraising front. I eventually was lucky enough to have found great investors who happen to be male but also excited about and connected with the vision of the business. My co-panelists are additional examples of success stories with Sonja having funded many women in her portfolio and Sukhinder as female founder and investor.
Although there are numerous studies showing a positive correlation between women on corporate boards and the overall performance, there are too few women on boards. The Anita Borg Institute found only 19% of Fortune 500 companies have a woman on the board. The same study shows that companies that have at least three women directors, have a higher return on sales of at least 42%.
My own experience is that many are motivated to bring on more women – I’ve been asked by several male CEO friends for recommendations for women as they’d like to add women to their boards. Sukhinder found herself often fielding similar requests, and saw an opportunity. Last year, she launched Boardlist, a curated marketplace to connect highly-endorsed women with public and private companies looking to fill board seats. I was recently elected to the board of GrubHub (NYSE: GRUB) and have found board service has been an incredibly engaging and rewarding experience. I hope that the Boardlist can help in opening up this opportunity for many others. So, check out the boardlist and start nominating!
There was some great coverage of the panel links which you can find here and here and some great Tweets about the panel below.