Gender inclusion is the entrepreneurial discussion of today, from VC Ellen Pao's new book Reset to Uber's amazingly high number of inequality claims. How do we create environments that support and are reflective of more than half of the American population?
Women Rocking Business founder Sage Lavine shares how women can empower themselves and others in her new book of the same name. Lavine talked to Inc. about the focus of her million dollar company, how to discover your superpower and why entrepreneurship is a spiritual journey.
Inc.: You've been supporting women entrepreneurs for quite a few years. Why write a book now?
Lavine: I kept hearing stories of the tens of thousands of women who struggle to get their gifts to the marketplace. Women all over the world are trapped in disempowering and even abusive situations because of money. Women also aren't earning what they deserve or even in many cases what they need to survive. We are being paid less than men; women are still getting paid $.80 cents on the dollar. Minority women are getting paid 65 cents on the dollar. Women are starting businesses 1.5 times more quickly than men, but our businesses are more likely to fail.
I knew I had to do something. I'm a school teacher from Iowa who used to make $28,000 a year. My mom didn't want me selling Girl Scout cookies because she was afraid I would offend the neighbors. That's how anti-salesy my family was. But I hired mentors and applied myself even amidst being $35,000 in debt and experiencing major body breakdown. I was living in an RV when I first started my company, my husband at the time and I were sharing a laptop computer and my blood used to boil when it was his turn to use it.
In just a few years, my company grew to be a million dollar company and I discovered strategies I knew would help women entrepreneurs. I believe women are the largest untapped potential on the planet. Over the last decade I've graduated thousands of women from my entrepreneurial training programs and I've seen first hand what women entrepreneurs struggle with, particularly in regards to selling and asking for money.
When women embark upon our entrepreneurial journey in a way that honors our unique women's values, we are more successful. I've seen it time and time again. When we build businesses from a place of collaboration, integrity and sustainability, we go further, faster. I wanted to bring these tools and strategies into the hands of aspiring women entrepreneurs so that we can all create the success we deserve, together.
I believe the feminine energy we all carry is a valuable part of the solution to our planet's economic and political challenges. Not just women, but men and women who bring the more feminine values of cooperation, generosity, nurturing, authenticity and honesty into business and the marketplace.
The book begins with you in a desperate situation after your business goes south. How do entrepreneurs know when to quit and when to keep going?
If we have the desire to build the business we should never quit. Winston Churchill said it best, never give up, never give up, never give up. However, we do need to know when to get help. If we're trying to do it all alone or if we haven't found strategies we feel we can emulate, it will be an uphill battle. If we're putting all the financial pressure on a new business to provide for us and/or our families financially, we are fighting a battle that will be tough to win.
Being an entrepreneur, especially if you're starting a business for the first time, requires you to develop many new muscles and to skill up in many areas simultaneously. The learning curve is steep. 80% of businesses fail and 90% of women business owners never break the 6-figure mark. None of us should be doing it alone.
Entrepreneurship has been a popular topic for a couple decades, but the focus has been almost exclusively on young white males. Why is the conversation on diversity and inclusion changing now?
Over the last 15 years, women have been starting businesses 1.5 times faster than men and women of color are leading the way. I believe women have a "cooperative advantage" in business and that we have the opportunity to bring a new paradigm of business to the marketplace. Women are doing business from a place of collaboration rather than competition, empowerment rather than power over, and generosity, rather than hard-selling and urgency. Women have gifts of empathy, intuition, nurturing and generosity that provide invaluable solutions, balance and sustainability to challenges we all face in the marketplace.
For instance, women business owners might prefer to open a relationship with a new customer rather than closing a sale. This more feminine approach to business works for a lot of men too.
Many would agree that business "as usual" is actually fueling exploitation in the world...much of business, the way we've been doing it, is even causing suffering for millions and contributing to killing the planet. There's a growing force of business owners and CEO's who are changing this paradigm, women and men alike. More and more emerging entrepreneurs, women and men, are using business as a catalyst for social change and giving back. My company, Women Rocking Business, has raised over half a million dollars for women around the globe, women in the rainforest and in Indonesia, supporting them to build businesses that serve their communities and protect our ecosystems, this is something I'm deeply proud of.
There is a lot of spiritual context in the book. Should entrepreneurship be a spiritual journey? And is something missing if it is not?
I believe that to truly step onto a path of self-actualization and awakening, we must become entrepreneurial, whether that's within our own business or within another organization. There is no other path in the context of society that will give us the opportunity to bring our gifts to the world at such a high level as an entrepreneurial path.
Choosing an entrepreneurial path, or being chosen by an entrepreneurial path, means we no longer have a ceiling on our potential or our earning capacity. This puts us in a position to co-create with universal intelligence at an even deeper level. Furthermore, when you commit to your purpose and surrender your life work over to work that is bigger than you, it's my belief (and my experience) that this is a deeply spiritual act.
Of course if you aren't a spiritual person than it will be difficult to see your work as a sacred offering and because business is about making up your own rules, I would say... choose to see your business in whatever way works for you!
Can you talk a bit more about Buckminster Fuller's law of precession and how it changed your entrepreneurial life?
Buckminster Fuller's law of precession is exemplified by a honeybee flying from flower to flower, gathering pollen to make honey. Honey is the goal. But he argues that honey is not the purpose of the honeybee. Rather, the greater purpose of the honeybee is to pollinate flowers, although the honeybee doesn't know it's pollinating flowers. Buckminster says that your life purpose is like the side effect of the flowers blooming.
Upon learning about precession, I realized that while building my business sometimes felt painful and confusing, each small step was taking me somewhere, even when I didn't feel like I had a clue where I was going. Even during those times when my website crashed during a big online launch or when planning for a client retreat went dreadfully wrong, I would remember I was simply committed, day by day making my "honey", and that metaphorical flowers were indeed blooming, whether I could see them or not. For instance, when I most needed to hear it, appreciation would come from a client who just broke the 6-figure income level. Or, after having my nose down for weeks, some big door would open and I'd get invited on an all paid trip to Africa to speak at a women's leadership conference or I'd have the opportunity to be on the news. Day by day, amidst what felt like a grind at times, a company was birthing.
Does finding our "superpower" require diving into a past trauma or rough memory?
No, we don't have to dive into past trauma and dig around in rough memories in order to find our business superpower. However, I do believe that time spent reflecting, bringing awareness and healing to those challenging moments in our life, especially in the presence of a skilled guide, can speed up the process by which we can alchemize the life turmoil we've experienced into superpowers in our leadership and business.
I personally had to do the work, feel the feelings, and forgive those who hurt me to be in the leadership position I'm in now. As a young woman, I was painfully excluded by girls in my life. Because of these experiences, I deeply understand that the biggest driver of human behavior is a sense of belonging. It's now essential to me that my clients feel included in our community, and when I lead events, all the women who enter the room feel that sense of belonging right away. My goal is that within 10 minutes, we're family, and that every woman who attends knows that she matters and that someone in the room has her back.
Our life lessons have groomed us into stronger, more capable humans, and we have the opportunity to turn our greatest wound into our greatest gift. Our greatest challenge can become our "superpower".
What if life was like a Ph.D. program preparing us for our businesses? What if the challenges we've faced in life have been like a training program, grooming us for our work's greatest contribution? More importantly, our response to those adversities sends each of us on a unique path where we develop the skills and abilities that are absolutely necessary for our life's work.