There’s big buzz about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic rehashing the tired trope that women “can’t have it all.”
Personally, I think, most people, male and female, would love to have this high-powered woman’s problems (She was the first female director of policy planning at the U. S. State Department and is currently a Princeton University professor, author, and public speaker with a professor husband who shares child raising responsibilities).
All of life is about making choices. Everyone struggles. So I wish Slaughter, and others who lay the responsibility on women for difficulties we didn’t create, would quit whining already and tackle the real problems like pay inequity, implicit gender biases, and the need for structural change in the workplace so everyone can have a life and earn a living.
That’s why I’m impressed with an extraordinary group of women venture investors and entrepreneurs at She Means Business. They’ve launched a new campaign that when funded will do far more to create new solutions than Slaughter’s public angst about her personal life choices.
The She Means Business Kickstarter site, seeking to raise $200,000 by July 10 in order to produce a documentary to inspire greater investment in women-created businesses, describes what She Means Business aims to do:
Women Entrepreneurs are trailblazers. We create businesses…and the jobs, salaries, economic growth, and futures that follow have a powerful but little-known impact. As entrepreneurs ourselves, we are amazed at how rarely the media tells the incredible stories of women braving new frontiers, succeeding (and sometimes failing), and building legacies. We want to bring some of these astounding journeys to the screen.
SHE MEANS BUSINESS is a documentary about women entrepreneurs. We will show authentic, human stories of brave businesswomen to the world so everyone can see just what these wonder women do despite the challenges they face.
Jackie Baptist serves as She Means Business executive producer. She views the film as an important opportunity to drive change:
“In all honestly,” says Baptist, “when this project begun we did not realize the timeliness of our efforts…. And women are a large part of this movement.”
According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women-owned businesses account for approximately 40% of all privately-held business in the USA, employ more than 13 million people and generated $1.9 trillion USD in sales in 2008.
To be sure, working at the State Department, as Slaughter did, is not the same as starting an entrepreneurial business in which the founder has greater control over structuring her work.
And many women say they start their own businesses in order to circumvent rather than try to change the corporate world’s lack of flexibility—so well described by international talent management strategist Dorothy Dalton who observes that the current corporate models based on nuclear families with one partner focusing on childcare while the other brings home the money is simply no longer functional.
Still, much of the entrepreneurial experience can be profitably applied to ameliorating the problems that Slaughter describes, and more importantly to disrupting the “norm” in workplace design, allowing for new modalities to emerge.
Sonja Hoel Perkins is a venture investor currently starting a new fund, Broadway Angels, to back women in information technology. She’s an unpaid advisor to She Means Business, contributing her time because she likes the positive message and wants to inspire women and girls to realize they can become successful entrepreneurs.
The photo atop Menlo Ventures’ partner biographies page is striking. Hoel Perkins’ face pops out as the only women in striking contrast to the firm’s other eight partners.
Yet Hoel Perkins, who joined Menlo Ventures in 1994, says she didn’t join women’s groups because she didn’t want to call attention to herself as a woman. And she thought she didn’t experience discrimination. But after her child was born, she realized how challenging it was being a working mother in the existing workplace structure.
Now she says, “There should be more talk about what businesses can do to maximize the potential of their women employees rather than focusing on what women should do to work better in a man’s world.” She urges new models like the results oriented workplace, where rewards are based on achieving tasks. “It is to the advantage of businesses to figure out how to keep their top performer engaged when she’s had twins.”
Women shouldn’t have to feel guilty about wanting to meet your responsibilities as a parent and partner, observes Hoel Perkins. “The flexible workforce has to include men as well as women and that will change the way work is done.“
She Means Business is already capturing attention from investors and the media, according to ForbesWoman.com contributor Kathy Caprino.
Stewarded by top advisors including Hoel Perkins, Jeanne Sullivan of Starvest Partners, Judy Robinett of Illuminate Ventures and Grow America, Joy Marcus of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Janet Hanson, CEO of 85 Broads and successful entrepreneurs and filmmakers Jacqueline Baptist and Elizabeth Dell, respectively, She Means Business has already garnered attention from leading movers and shakers in the world of entrepreneurial women, and various large media outlets.
It counts among its supporters Tim Draper, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Paul Holland, Foundation Capital, Monica Smiley, Publisher/CEO of Enterprising Women, Marsha Firestone, Founder and President of Women Presidents’ Organization and many others.
Baptist says the realization that many women who want to start businesses lack role models or mentors got her interested in the project. “Figuring out how we would help the current generation of women entrepreneurs and inspire the future generation as well had to be something with a lasting impact beyond the summits, networking events and blogs, something that would have tremendous reach.” She believes getting the message out through women’s lived experiences in the documentary can change things dramatically for the better, resulting in greater investment in women-owned entrepreneurial businesses.
Journalist Rebecca Traister, writing for Salon.com, contends that the phrase “have it all” should be excised from the feminist lexicon…The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to ‘have it all’ recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.”
She Means Business is in its way doing just that, rewriting the workplace narrative for women and men while creating businesses that grow the economy and enrich all our lives.
Follow @shemeansbusiness to stay up to date on their work.
Make your pledge and become part of the movement by going to their Kickstarter campaign page.
Watch these women define their own terms for how they want their lives to be and how they will accomplish what they want to do. And isn’t that an apt definition of “having it all?”
This article was originally published in ForbesWoman. View it here.
About Gloria Feldt:
Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Interested in learning more tips and power tools that have worked for other women? Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop here. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+