Category Archives: WomenLEAD

Personal Advisory Boards: a New Opportunity for Women Leaders

In the classic model of mentoring, a more senior person helps guide the career of a more junior organizational member by assisting in that person’s personal and professional development.

But that approach has become obsolete. How so?

1. The hierarchical assumptions of that model don’t apply to many businesses today. The rapid spread of digital technology has boosted the stock of knowledge workers who possess specific technical skills rather than general competencies more characteristic of senior leaders. Access to those knowledge workers—who are younger and less experienced than traditional mentors, yet more up-to-date on the latest technological developments—is highly valued in organizations today.

2. As businesses expand and collaborate with other businesses—through joint ventures, outsourcing, etc.—a protégé’s work is likely to cross organizational boundaries, requiring developmental assistance from outside the immediate organization. Likewise, as organizations themselves are restructured—through resizing, mergers, acquisitions, etc.—a protégé can’t rely on one mentor being around for long.

3. The world of work has shifted dramatically in the last decade and people are communicating in networked ways through the immediacy of digital technology. People are connecting to different associates—sometimes several “degrees” removed—through social media and are becoming accustomed to receiving information and even social support from many sources digitally.

4. Many of these mentoring relationships don’t work optimally because they are arranged by the company. Such “forced marriages” often do not breed the same positive chemistry as a relationship chosen by the protégé.

5. As organizations have become more diverse, one mentor is unlikely to have the knowledge and experience to relate to a wide range of situations. To put it simply: one person can’t know everything you need to know.

All of this argues for a different system of mentorship.

One company, dedicated to giving women leaders the support they need to become successful, has found a new approach. WomenLEAD (www.womenleadinc.com) a Boston-based start-up, offers a social-network-based Personal Advisory Board™ targeted to women. In this model an individual has a group of advisors, providing an assortment of perspectives and skills across organizational boundaries.

This method assumes that everyone has a contribution to make—junior people and senior people—offering a wealth of viewpoints on any goal or subject that a woman leader is working on. Advisors can also build on each other’s perspectives—enhancing the value of the advice. In the process advisors can even learn from each other.

The many-to-one Personal Advisory Board™ combines the power of the social network with tools for advancement, providing members with relevant content to enrich learning and development—accelerating their growth as leaders and thus building a pipeline of talented women who can rise to the top of their organizations.

This approach enables women leaders to get the advice they need when they need it—advice that can be offered in three-to-ten minutes of micro-advising, or longer. Face-to-face contact is not required, but can be included. The length and depth of support depends on the needs of the advisee.

This advisory board model provides opportunities not just for individual women but for their businesses and for the global economy.

First, there is growing evidence that promoting women to senior levels increases the financial performance of those firms. A Catalyst report states, “On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent” in return on equity.­  An Illuminate Ventures white paper on hi-tech start-ups concludes, “Organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management achieve 35% higher ROE and 34% better total return to shareholders versus their peers.”

Second, there are projected benefits for the economy as a whole.  In the US, 50% of entry-level professional workers are women, yet women comprise only 14% of executives. Among Fortune 500 companies they make up 4.2%.  Goldman Sachs research indicates that increasing women’s participation in the workforce would increase the GDP by up to 9% in the US—and by 13% in Europe and 16% in Japan.

But a majority of women in STEM careers leave their workplace mid-career—according to a Harvard Business Review study.  The factors in this exodus include feeling isolated, dealing with a “macho culture,” having no clear career path, experiencing extreme work pressures, and lacking mentors, role models, and sponsors. With every woman who leaves mid-career the odds of closing the gender gap at the top of an organization diminishes. But beyond the social cost, companies pay a financial cost as well: $100k on average to replace each mid-career woman.

The solution has become obvious: provide women with the support they need. In a positive feedback loop, the Personal Advisory Board™ does this, by assisting women in their…

1. Achievement of business goals, which increases…

2.   Confidence, which improves…

3.   Performance, which enhances…

4.   Visibility, which attracts…

5.   Sponsorship, which increases…

6.   Promotions, which generates…

7.   More women in C suites and on Boards, who provide…

8.   Support for junior women, which assists them in their…

9.  Achievement of business goals—beginning the feedback loop again.

It’s a structure in which everybody wins. The advisors develop themselves as leaders. The advisees gain confidence from meeting their goals, they become recognized for their work, and they win promotions. The companies benefit by increasing retention and improving financial performance as more women move to fill top executive positions. The national and global economy benefits by having more women participating in the workforce.

Using a Personal Advisory Board™ built on social networking as a basis for mentoring and leadership development is an idea whose time has come. Women represent a majority of entrepreneurs in the US yet receive only 4.2% of all the capital given by investors to start-ups. It is time for women to receive the resources they need—to lead their companies, their institutions, and their governments. In the words of Hillary Clinton, “By harnessing the economic potential of all women, we boost opportunity for all people. And we boost the economies of all our nations.”

WomenLEADinc selected as Verizon Powerful Answers Winner

We are excited to share that we have been selected as a Verizon Powerful Answers Award Winner for the Education category. This award will further our mission of closing the gender gap, advancing all as women leaders and by doing so we will make a global economic impact.

We will  find out what we will win on 1/8/14 at the Consumer Electronic show in Las vegas

Here is the announcement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJylKV5GXSQ

Playing by the rules, surely you jest!!!

In regards to  the article Playing by the rules article in the Globe magazine section on Sunday 11/4/13  I am appalled; as a women entrepreneur, the CEO of WomenLEAD, Inc, a 2013 Mass Challenge Finalist and one of 10 Education Category finalist in the Verizon Powerful Answers competition; a member of the Boston Club (14 years); a member of the She-E-O’s  and 85 Broads.

I agree with the premise that women entrepreneurs receive only a small percentage of VC money, but Fiona Murray does not have her numbers right and her suggestions of how to solve the problem are insulting to women.

Recent statistics that relate to women in the venture capital industry come from The Diana Project, Illuminate Ventures and several other organizations that aim to expose gender inequality. The data raises huge questions: Why do big-named venture firms appear to be discriminating against women? Are the firms “old boys clubs”? Do founders struggle to trust women on their boards? Are females passed up for venture jobs?

Homophily, or “the principle that people naturally favor others like them” and networking issues apply when male venture capitalists choose to invest in certain companies.

Female-founded companies make up only 10% of venture-funded startups, and only 3-5% of female-owned businesses receive venture money.

These numbers are even more confounding when it is considered that women-operated, venture-backed companies have 12% higher revenues than those of men.

The solutions to the problem that Fiona Murray proposes in this article are insulting to women and lack a systemic perspective of the problem.

Her solutions of Wear a uniform; Speak confidently and assertively; Network ; and Watch sports does not address the issue .

The root cause of the problem is that men have a bias about women entrepreneurs, they are not aware of their biases and the VC industry has been an “all boys club”.

I was recently at a meeting with Steve Case speaking (former AOL CEO and on Obama’s team for entrepreneurial policy). He addressed this issue at the meeting offering that crowd funding would help to level the playing field for women and in fact he suggested that the “all boy’s club” needs to shift to include women.

Another man at the meeting chimed in with “well after all women start up knitting stores and catering business so they do not need VC’s they can cover all of their costs with 20K”. I was amazed that this gentleman could not see how insulting his biases were, I was also embarrassed for him. This bias and way of viewing women entrepreneurs demonstrates the same thinking that has caused such a chasm in VC funding of women owned business.

Jules Pieri; CEO of the Grommet said this in her 9/1/13 post on Huffington post;

“Starting high stakes companies depends on having access to capital. Like sports, you can’t train, compete, or win without meaningful infrastructure. With only 4-9 percent of venture funding going to women, the damning lack of infrastructure is obvious.

The good news is women stand ready with legions of investment-worthy companies. The track record of female founders even shows superior investment returns compared to male founders.

Jules  Pieri’s suggestion is that the government role could be simple: remove the lucrative carried interest tax loophole from any venture firms that do not fund women’s businesses proportionate to men’s”.

This well thought out systemic perspective will surely get to the root cause of the issue and will mandate a solution. There are also Angel investing groups focused on supporting women owned companies like Golden Seeds, Astia and Pipeline Fellowship all committed to making an impact on this issue.

WomenLEAD, Inc is out to make a global impact by developing women as leaders with our online personal advisory board platform.  We are committed to having women entrepreneurs get the resources they need through Angel and VC funding so that they can turn their big dreams into reality.

Ilene Fischer  CEO WomenLEAD, Inc

The Mass Challenge and the Hubspot In Bound Marketing conference

A shot of expresso

Just in time! Right in the middle of the Mass Challenge Accelerator program, HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing 2013 conference took over the Back Bay this week – giving me, and 5,300 marketing and social media junkies a shot of espresso! This profession attracts the same overworked, sleep-deprived work-a-holics as those found in our start-up offices at Mass Challenge, and HubSpot kept us inspired with solutions to some of our biggest challenges. Inbound 2013 was a rigorous 4-day schedule of seminars, workshops and “Big Talk” speakers, sharing insights into how to capture audiences, generate leads and build trust with customers and in our marketplaces. And these big-time communicators are big-time networkers, including myself, and idea exchanges began at happy hours every night at the Hynes Convention Center, free parties at restaurants along Boylston Street, and even a rock band concert hosted by HubSpot.

Mass Challenge Finalists, including WomenLEAD, Inc., who are creating an innovative Personal Advisory Board™ platform to help companies advance women in their careers. As VP of Marketing at WomenLEADInc., it’s a race to get the strategies in place for website visitors, driving social media channels and posting thought-leader content to support our new solution. Videos explaining the new concepts are key and startup companies need to be searchable on the two most searched channels, YouTube and Google, among others.

Serving Up the Espresso:

For all of us here at Mass Challenge, we need this shot of espresso and dedicate the hours it will take to engage all of our clients, customers and investors. So here are some quick tactics to build new audiences, even within new industries. Break through the noise and find target market audiences, and then keep them engaged.

From Inbound 2013, being helpful is where it’s at! Create Content and Context!

Content: Content should be about your customer’s problem, the marketplace, and answering those popular questions they may ask on Google – not about your product. Be a useful resource, and build a website and social media presence that generates leads and positions you as the ‘go-to’ place for answers in your community. Wouldn’t you become the thought leader in the space if you offered a downloadable white paper explaining how you solve a problem, and win the confidence of both customers and investors? What if you were their trusted resource before their customer? That’s building trust.

Context: According to HubSpot, 60%-75% of your customers already have the information they need during the buying process online before they call you. For us, this can also mean people learning about your solution to partner, purchase or even invest. Context helps segment your audiences in the buyer process, those looking for preliminary information, and those that are seeking e-books and more in depth information. By offering downloadable white papers and e-books, and collect an email or other information in exchange, you discover what your website visitors are looking for, who they are, and what they need from you. Keeping in touch with them based on their needs can make it a much better experience for the customer cycle and closing the sale.

When the Espresso Wears Off – A Holistic Approach Wins:

Inbound 2013 captured an international audience of a 24/7 marketing profession, and executives not only announced some new products to make our jobs easier (check out HubSpot.com), they also gave us Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post as a keynote to discuss the importance of ‘recharging our batteries’ for better performance and innovation. Working alongside WomenLEAD Co-Founder, CEO and Game Changer, Ilene Fischer, recharging is just one of her strategies to maintain focus and her boundless energy every day.

I share this because Huffington’s message couldn’t be more important to those of us at Mass Challenge, with the white board filled amazing workshops and events to learn from, meetings with mentors and working toward higher goals each day. The race to the finish can leave us sleep deprived and sometimes overwhelmed – so take a break and even a 20-minute nap to recharge (Huffington Post has several napping rooms that are now booked around the clock.)

We at WomenLEAD Inc. are providing a platform for women to advance their careers by building their own Personal Advisory Board ™ Platform, disrupting mentorship as we know it. We are a part of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lead In’ community, and I’m one of the many “leaning in” – truly putting my shoulder into everything I do – and I leave you with this advice from Huffington’s Inbound speech:

“We need to “Lean back to Lean in”, said Huffington, explaining you need to lean back to jump higher. When you think you are on your last leg, remember only with rest can we be effective in leadership and high productivity. So rest, wake up with espresso-like determination, and tell your story to the world every day, engaging your audiences, industries and investors!

I welcome your thoughts at [email protected]; @womenlead; Kathleen Buckley, VP of Marketing, WomenLEADInc. Kathleen Buckley is a journalist, content creator, inbound marketer and website optimizer.

 

WomenLEAD, Inc: The Big Idea and Why It will Work

WomenLEAD,Inc has just become a finalist in the MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup incubator. Between now and October we will have free office space, access to interns, and free coaching from mentors; experienced serial entrepreneurs. During that time we’ll be building the first release of WomenLEAD, and we’ll need to be able to pay for software developers to help us turn our ideas into a working system. That’s why we’re launching this campaign. Your contributions will help us get to the place where we can start getting paid by companies for our work. We expect the beta to be completed in the fall with a January 2014 public launch.

Let me give you a little background so you can determine if this is an idea worthy of your support.

In the US women and men are equally represented in entry-level jobs. But women only occupy fourteen percent of the senior executive ranks. Other than the fact that seems inherently wrong, who cares?

Well, it turns out companies do. A study by the Harvard Business review showed that 52% of women in Engineering, Science and Technology leave their careers mid-career. Not to start families, but because they find the work environment unsupportive, they have unclear career paths and they have no role models.

Companies care because it costs them around $100,000 to replace these highly-skilled women.

Equally compelling are studies that demonstrate that companies with women on their boards and on their senior teams perform better financially. A lot better ( 53-84% better on return on Equity according to Catalyst)

From my perspective, this is great news. I’ve been championing women’s rights for decades, having founded one of the first battered women’s shelters in the country, having worked on the Equal Rights Amendment Extension, and recently supporting women in their careers as the CEO of a non-profit dedicated to advancing women in STEM.

This is great new because companies now see it is in their best interest to do something. Instead of having to fight for equality, there are many companies who now are COMMITTED to do something.

So here’s the idea. I’m creating a online application for women to build their own online “Personal Advisory Board”. What’s an advisory board?

Whenever I’m facing a new opportunity or challenge, I reach out to this incredible group of women who have become members of my “Personal Advisory Board“, Their advice and guidance has been invaluable. In my last role I tripled our organization’s revenue and doubled the membership. I attribute this to the deep relationship I have with the women  and men on my personal advisory boards.

I’m inherently a networker, at business functions multiple times a week where I get to meet powerful women. Over time casual relationships turn into deeper relationships and I’ll ask them to join my personal advisory board.

I realize that not all women network the way I do, nor are they located in cities where there are many opportunities for networking, so something else is needed. Specifically, women need a way to find people for their advisory board online.

WomenLEAD is building an online platform to enable women to build their own “Personal Advisory Board“. The idea is simple. You search for advisors using a matching algorithm that helps you find people who can meet your needs. You start a conversation, either on line or on the phone, and if you find you click, you ask if they’ll join your “Personal Advisory Board”.

Once they’re on your “Personal Advisory Board”, you can talk with them individually or as a group about whatever is of interest to you in your career. Working with a multi-site team? Find out who has experience who can help. Have a challenging manager? Get advice on how to handle it. Putting together a career road map? Share it with your “Personal Advisory Board” and get their feedback.

If you have people you already know you can add them as advisors – women and men – buy just sending them an invitation from WomenLEAD, Inc.

It’s my belief that women will advance further in their careers if they have a strong supportive group behind them. And this is better than traditional one-on-one mentoring because a single mentor may not be able to provide you with what you need when you need it.

It turns out that companies also think this is true. I have four large companies, including a Fortune 150 and a Fortune 10 who are interested in making WomenLEAD, Inc  available for their employees.

But I need to show working software to be able to get their business. Once we have the first clients on board, we’ll be able to make the investments in the WomenLEAD to fully realize our vision, including online training, leadership assessment and communities focused on specific interest groups (e.g. women in biotech).

But we need that initial working system to show them, which is where you come in.

Once we get the first solid beta ready, we’re convinced we can get funding from potential customers and investors, but we need to take that first step and get development under way, which is how your contribution will be used. We are asking you to contribute to our Indiegogo campaign so we can achieve these goals.

I think that this is a tipping point for women now – businesses recognizing that it is in their best interest to support their women employees. I think we have a solution that will enable women to dramatically make progress in their career. I have evidence that companies will buy this solution. But I need some capital to get us started.

Will you help? If yes, click here and be taken to our Indiegogo campaign where you’ll be able to donate in just a couple of minutes. Thank you!