By Chris Olsen
On “Motivational Mondays,” Spanx founder Sara Blakely frequently posts selfies drinking oversized cups of coffee emblazoned with inspirational messages. Her large brown eyes peer into the camera, the rest of her face completely masked by a giant ceramic mug. Along with the images, Sara shares a few of her own nuggets of wisdom about entrepreneurship and building a billion-dollar undergarment empire.
I’m a big fan of Sara Blakely because of what she does to support female entrepreneurs. Her foundation has donated millions to charitable organizations worldwide since it was formed in 2006, supporting underserved women and girls through education, entrepreneurship and the arts. Sara was the first self-made female billionaire to promise half of her wealth to charity via the Giving Pledge initiative started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
Recently, I spotted one of Sara’s “mug shots” on LinkedIn, a glossy white cup adorned with the silhouette of a woman in black with white lettering over it that said, “Empowered Women Empower Women.” The message that accompanied it:
“I’ve been empowering and supporting women for as long as I can remember. I saw my mom and grandmother’s limited options. They were held back from their true capabilities and that stirred a fire inside of me. When women empower each other that’s when we will truly be unstoppable.”
I clicked the heart emoji and was about to start scrolling again, but the comments stopped me in my tracks. I’m not sure why I was surprised that people all over the world were responding negatively to it. So many negative comments. Sara should stop bashing men and use her platform to empower everyone, some said. Others remarked that there’s no difference between men and women when it comes to starting, running or growing a small business; it’s a matter of smarts and hard work.
Here’s the thing. While I agree that intelligence and a strong work ethic are essential for anyone to succeed in business, suggesting that’s all it takes to successfully navigate the bumpy path of entrepreneurship is shortsighted. Women simply don’t have the same access to critical resources needed to start and grow small businesses. And lifting up underserved groups—giving women what they need to succeed—does not mean everyone else is pushed down in the process. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.
It wasn’t long ago that women couldn’t even get funding for a business without the support of a man. In fact, 31 years ago this month a law was passed—the Women’s Business Ownership Act (H.R. 5050)—that eliminated state laws requiring a male co-signer on a women’s business loan.
But how far have women come in the last three decades? The latest data shows that women-owned businesses receive only 16 percent of small business loans and less than 3 percent of venture capital nationwide. Female founders who secure funding receive less financial backing (smaller amounts) and less favorable terms (higher interest rates) than men.
Working Together to Empower Women
We all have to work together to change this—women, men, everyone. Empowering women is critical to our economy because female-founded businesses are critical to our economy. In 2018, women-owned businesses totaled 12.3 million. They generated more than $1.8 trillion in revenues and employed 9.2 million people. Imagine what women could accomplish with the same access to resources and support as businesses founded by men.
My Founder Story is a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women and amplifying their stories. We develop strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations aligned with our mission to support women entrepreneurs. Our goal is to work together to create abundant opportunities for female-founded purpose-driven businesses to learn, connect, collaborate and succeed.
We’re excited to announce a partnership with Laura Keller, the Minnesota ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED), to support the local initiative. WED works globally to empower women and girls to become active participants in the economy. The movement is also dedicated to educating the world about the importance of empowering women in business. The reason: When women are elevated financially, households, communities and entire countries prosper.
WED is celebrated at the United Nations and in 144 countries and 65 universities and colleges internationally. Since its first event, WED has reached more than 5 billion people. The Minnesota event features speakers and panel discussions that address innovating around equity in entrepreneurship.
Won’t you join us in empowering women?
Photo: Sara Blakely
Mug art: Kasi Turpin
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.