When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? Not an email or a text, but a well-thought-out letter where every word had significant importance? Now here's a trickier question--if you wrote a letter to both candidates one week out from the election, what would you say to them?
I asked my 5-year-old daughter that same question. She said she would send them both valentines so they would feel love and make our country happy. (Genius of children!)
We asked more than 80 founders and CEOs what they would write to the next president, and they all agreed to write about one of the greatest economic opportunities--women entrepreneurs. Which is not too far off from my daughter. Women would bring $30 billion in GDP to our country if they scaled as entrepreneurs. That would make our country very happy.
I had the privilege of breaking bread with some incredible entrepreneurs and government officials at what we called the #Circle dinner series, in partnership with Dell and Deloitte. After I talked to them, we put pen to paper--or should I say, fingers to keys--and wrote an open letter to Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump called #WhatWeNeedToSucceed.
Game changers like Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the founder and CEO of Care.com; Carolyn Rodz of the Circular Board; Julie Smolyansky, the founder of Lifeway Foods; Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe; and Cynthia Gaylor, CFO of Pivotal, all shared their challenges and successes and addressed how we can improve the economic opportunity for female business leaders.
I heard about all kinds of obstacles, from the struggle to acquire funding (women only get 7 percent of venture capital) to the extraordinarily difficult balance of managing families and building a company--one I completely understand. More so, I heard inspiring stories of perseverance. A lot of important information and observations came out of these dinners, on such topics as the existing grant and loan programs at the Small Business Administration; unconscious bias initiatives for decision makers; peer-to-peer mentorships; and my new favorite: supplier diversity programs for enterprise companies and government contracting.
We compiled these recommendations into a letter, and yesterday we sent it out to the two presidential candidates. Since this election has been more Twitter-focused than ever before, it's no surprise that our letter and corresponding hashtag, #WhatWeNeedToSucceed, started trending like wildfire.
The letter contains actionable and straightforward suggestions, such as increased incentives for individuals and organizations to invest in women-owned companies; expanding paid family leave policies and access to high-quality, affordable child care; supporting trade agreements that further liberalize trade and open new markets for businesses of all sizes; and streamlining the process of registering businesses and applying for government resources.
Since the recession, women have been starting businesses at a rate five times as fast as the national average, but the unique set of challenges we face leads to a disproportionately high failure rate. In fact, companies headed by a woman CEO received only about 3 percent of total venture capital dollars.
I truly believe that the success of women business leaders is crucial to solving our world's greatest economic, technological, and social challenges. Women put 90 percent of their income into their communities and families, so it's imperative that we challenge our next leader to prioritize policy that advances female entrepreneurship. My hope is that this letter will be the valentine that our nation needs.
So what will your letter say? Tell me at #WhatWeNeedToSucceed.