- By Lenora Rand, SmallGood Co-founder
We’re imagining a world with more women-led businesses. Here’s what we think it would look like.
In my early twenties, before I got a “real job” in advertising, I was writing songs with my singer/songwriter husband and we were trying to make it in the music business, which is every bit as hard as you’ve heard. Possibly harder. One sad little Monday we found ourselves in Huntsville, Alabama, basically destitute until the lounge Gary was singing in would pay him at the end of the week. We found a super cheap motel that rented rooms by the week to stay in, which was every bit as bad as you can imagine.
On Friday some friends from Chicago, traveling through Huntsville on their way to a vacation in Florida, stopped by to say hello. They were spending the night in town so when they came to our motel to see us, I said, “Hey this place isn’t so bad and it’s really cheap – you might want to stay here, too.” They politely refused, said, “Oh, that’s OK, we already have reservations at the Holiday Inn.” They offered to take us to dinner that night and we met them at their hotel. As I walked into their truly typical Holiday Inn room, it took my breath away, it was like scales fell from my eyes and I could suddenly see the abject awfulness of our desperate little motel room across town…something I’d been able to see clearly on Monday when we originally checked in, but had adjusted to, and forgotten, by Friday.
When my business partner Mylene and I formed our branding and marketing consultancy, SmallGood, a little over two years ago, one thing we didn’t say was: “We need to start a women-run business because there aren’t enough of those in the world.”
We’d both worked in big global ad agencies for many years and we knew a lot of things we wanted to do differently in our own company. We wanted to be able to be more flexible and collaborative and creative in our approach. We wanted to be more efficient and not waste our client’s time or money. And we wanted to be able to work with businesses and organizations that were trying to have a positive impact – that were really trying to leave the world better than they found it in some small (or huge) way.
But we weren’t really thinking that much about the fact that we’d been working in ad agencies that had been mostly run by men throughout our careers and that one of the things we really wanted was to work in a “woman-owned,” “woman-led,” and “woman-run” business.
I’m not sure why we didn’t immediately recognize that would make a huge difference. Maybe because we’d spent so much time in spaces where white males being in charge was so “normal.” And accepted. And just the way things are.
Maybe because human beings can get used to anything.
And then we started SmallGood. And it was like walking into a Holiday Inn (or possibly an even nicer hotel) after having been someplace much, much dingier, for way too long.
Not working in a male-owned and-run corporate environment has definitely been a breath of fresh air for Mylene and me these last couple years. And it’s also convinced us, the world needs more women-led businesses.
In case you need any convincing, here are a few of the ways we imagine it would make things better.
1. We’d all have kinder, more human-centric places to work.
Forbes said it best: “Workplaces and the financial system were designed by men, for men.” Men invented the structure for our current workplace because, realistically, what else did they have to do? It wasn’t so long ago that women were the ones getting the kids ready and sending them off to school, cleaning the house and running errands, picking the kids up from school, taking them to activities, and making sure there was a piping hot homemade meal on the table when dad got home. But now, when you need to pick your kids up at 3:00, but both parents work until 5:00 or later — what’s a parent to do?
Luckily, we’re already seeing positive changes happening in the workplace, especially in startups and other businesses run by women. These workplaces tend to have more flexible working hours and time off, more generous paid parental leave, and better health benefits for individuals and families. And the more women leaders there are, the more employees will likely receive these necessary benefits.
2. There’d be more opportunity for EVERYONE.
Here’s the truth: If you’re not a straight white male in the workplace, it’s significantly more difficult for you to work your way up the career ladder. Think about it — we love inspirational stories about women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, and other minorities in leadership. Why? Because for those of us who are part of those minorities, we know exactly how much these leaders had to struggle to get to where they are — and how much backlash they had to face to get there.
In 2016, a study conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that 70 percent of women and people of color feel that they don’t get the same opportunities at work as white males. But with more women in leadership, we believe that this number could drop — drastically. Because as women, we have struggled, and are still struggling, for our equality. We know what it’s like to be ignored, to have our success go unseen, and to be downright shut down by men. And many of us want to make sure everyone…whether you’re black, Latinx, queer, disabled, whatever… has a voice — not just white women. Because this isn’t simply a struggle of men vs. women. It’s a struggle of those without power rising up to show those who do how this whole thing could be done when we’re all on equal footing.
3. There will be less pain in the workplace.
Women face all kinds of painful moments in the workplace — from weird little comments, you wouldn’t say to a guy like, “You should smile more,” to being required to wear high heels (yes, that’s still a thing) up to and including sexual harassment. Because of movements like Me Too and Time’s Up there’s a greater awareness and acknowledgment of that reality than there’s ever been. But, real change comes slowly. And more slowly for those with the least power and privilege. For example, in a study from the Harvard Business Review, they found that the group most likely to experience harassment in the workplace are women of color.
And even for women that do eventually claim a leadership position, the harassment doesn’t stop there. A report by Inc. found that 62 percent of female startup founders experienced bias while seeking funding for their business. And 53% still experienced harassment.
But, in the wake of #MeToo, many female entrepreneurs have responded quickly and dramatically by creating more open and collaborative work environments, improving sexual harassment training and by helping women see that they aren’t alone and that they will be listened to and taken seriously. With more women in charge, we can imagine a time when going to work in the morning isn’t an idea that fills you with dread and despair. (It could also mean fewer donuts piled high in break rooms because as we all know, donuts are the best quick fix for dread and despair.)
4. Our businesses will be more successful.
It’s as simple as this: women-led businesses often outperform businesses led by men. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that although startups run by women typically receive less than half of the funding, they generate 10 percent more revenue. And it’s not just about money, either. Employees of diverse workplaces are forced to get outside of their personal bubble, consider other points of view, and problem-solve more creatively. They have to strategize to serve people who don’t look just like them — which means a more diverse audience gets to take advantage of their product or service. And in our view, that’s a huge win.
Not sure if you knew this, but October is National Women-Owned Business Month. We aren’t surprised if you missed this – it’s not making a lot of headlines. And perhaps rightly so.
But we have come to believe that having more women-owned businesses is crucial – maybe even life-changing - not just for women, but for all of us.
So, we are thanking our lucky stars that we can count ourselves among the 12.3 million women-owned businesses across the US. It’s making us happy – and it seems to be working well for our SmallGood clients too. One of them (a man, by the way) recently described Mylene and me as the “Thelma and Louise” of Advertising – and he meant it as a compliment. Believe me, we took it as one.