The Time’s Up movement is shining a light on the significant gap within the advertising industry for equal representation between genders, at all levels within organizations. My own journey within the industry launched me into a path of entrepreneurship when I found I could no longer advance at the male dominated agency I worked in. Thankfully, my experience did not include any harassment. Conversely, I found myself supported and even helped, when I told my male “bosses” that I wanted to leave their agency to start my own. They were eager to help and shared valuable advice, as well as introduced me to individuals within their network that needed my services as my young company launched.
My experience with entrepreneurs is that we are a community that loves nothing more than to see others succeed. We contribute our time and efforts to mentor those who want to blaze their own trail, start their own company, build a new solution, product or set of services. We share resources, we help make introductions. We even roll up our sleeves and dig in to help do the work when we are passionate about an idea, or an individual. We do this in many cases, without a stake in the game, without equity, without expectation of being “paid.” We do this within the spirit of an unwritten code, a pay it forward philosophy, to help others be successful because building a business is very hard, risky work.
Where female founders are concerned, things become even more difficult. In 2017, a TechCrunch study found that venture backed female founded companies comprise less than 20% of the overall funded startups. The sad reality is, despite trends that women are the rising tribe of entrepreneurs, the numbers are not significant. For those of us brave enough to go down the entrepreneurial path, funding is limited, and resources to support are just now coming to the surface in a meaningful way. It’s more important than ever for women to support fellow female entrepreneurs.
This is why a recent experience of mine is particularly painful as former employees of my agency launched a competitive business. Now having done the same thing myself – launched my own agency after leaving an agency – I totally understand the desire to be in charge of your own destiny, and create your own thing. But it’s in the how you go about launching a new company, particularly a competitive one, that matters. I was fully transparent and honest with my former bosses, and shared my desire to start my own agency. I let them know what my aspirations were, and also what my frustrations were, knowing there were limits to what I could achieve within their organization. They in turn understood, empathized, then proceeded to help me!
Building a competitive business is certainly a risky strategy. Yet I’ve seen new companies spin out of supportive organizations, and turn into highly successful businesses, one of them being my own company, Rational Interaction. I know part of my companies’ success is due to how we began, championed by former employers, clients, and partners who supported us, even those who were in direct competition with us. Because we stated our goals transparently, and brought our network on the journey with us, we were set up for success from day one.
I support female founders, and will do whatever I can to encourage, enable, and share knowledge about what I’ve learned along the way. I will open up my network and make all the introductions I can to help those I believe in. But my expectation, and non-negotiable, is for women to be models of integrity. We have to work to change the ratios within entrepreneurship towards equality. We have to build our seat at the table, then make sure our voice is heard while sitting at that table. Yet we have to do all these things using the strengths that we bring to that table as women. Burning bridges is a never a good idea. Business is business, but ultimately a healthy and thriving business based on transparency, honesty and integrity is the recipe for success.