The state of Georgia, where I live, is home to the second-highest growth rate of women-owned businesses in the country, according to a 2018 report commissioned by American Express.
Georgia also leads the southern U.S. for the highest percentage of women in its General Assembly, according to Georgia's WIN List, which works to recruit, train, endorse and elect women. Women comprise 30.9 percent of members, which exceeds the percentage of women serving in Congress and the average percentage of women serving in state legislatures nationwide.
I wondered at the correlation between these two statistics, as I sat in the audience last week at the largest-ever Georgia Women's Policy Day. Is there a relationship between entrepreneurism and political activity?
Kimberly Weisul, editor-at-large at Inc.com, asked this question to several entrepreneurs, and myself, for an article last year, inspired in part by the findings of the 2018 State of Women and Entrepreneurship Survey. In that survey, hundreds of female founders spoke out about topics from ambition to politics to sexism and #MeToo.
Weisul referenced my opting for an appointed rather than an elected role in Atlanta politics, and I remain involved and active in local issues especially as they impact women and girls. That was a motivator for my participation in the Georgia Women's Policy Day last week at the State Capitol.
However, as I listened to presentations by organizers and members of Congress, I was struck most significantly by the crossovers--in rhetoric, ideology, and practice--among advice to political advocates and advice to entrepreneurs.
Here are two takeaways that inspired me on both fronts.
Testify on the things that are important to you.
As several legislators underscored in their presentations last week, "stories matter here, and personal witnesses make lawmakers pay attention."
There are bound to be policy issues that entwine with the purpose of our business. It's on us to know what they are, and to seek out the opportunities to voice our opinions.
Two summers ago, I was one of very few people from the wine industry to show up at a farm-show shed in Modesto, California, at a Farm Bill listening session hosted by ranking members of the US House of Representatives Agriculture Committee. Anyone - really, anyone - could have arrived, signed in, and spoken for their allotted two minutes on a topic that mattered to them. It was extraordinary to witness, as not one of us who took our turns over a five-hour stretch of time was interrupted by any Congressman present and listening from the dais.
During my two-minute window I spoke about data, and adjusting the language of the Farm Bill to better reflect the technologies of today. This was one instance along a trajectory of communications that I exchanged with various government officials and representatives, both before and after that day in Modesto. But it was a turning point for my business and for me personally.
Lobby for policy change in order to shift politics.
Worried about - or overwhelmed by - the #MeToo movement? Lobbying for policy changes related to sexual harassment or violence is one concrete way to make an impact at the legislative level, which makes a difference at the societal level.
In Georgia, in 2016, for example, the state Senate passed Bill 304, which required the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to conduct an annual audit of untested rape kits across the state, and to submit all previously untested rape kits for testing. In January 2017 there were more than 10,000 untested kits; by April 2018 there were less than 3,000, and test results led to rapists being arrested and taken off the streets.
Or maybe gender bias in salaries is of ongoing concern to you. Right now in the state of Georgia, bills in both the House and Senate would prevent employers from relying on pay history to set salaries, to stop the cycle of women being paid less than market rate. Last week Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms banned salary history questions on city job applications, in order to prevent wage discrimination and close the gender pay gap.
Processing untested rape kits and banning salary history questions on job applications may not sound like very glamorous efforts, but they're examples of the mechanics of policy change that shifts real-world applications toward a more fair judicial landscape, for entrepreneurs and women. And for all of us.