In recognition of International Women's Day on March 8, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) is focusing on female founders who represent this year's theme, "Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change."
Marsha Ralls, an EO Washington, DC member and founder of both Closed Monday Productions and The Phoenix Wellness Retreat, was recently named a US Regional Ambassador with the Women's Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO). We asked Marsha about the importance of supporting women in business. Here's what she shared.
What drives you as a leader?
Making a measurable, permanent impact in the lives of others, and helping them to see their own phenomenal potential motivates me to be a better person and leader. I find great joy in propelling others and witnessing their success and accomplishments.
My greatest role models were my parents; through them, I learned to live a life of significance, supporting others through acts of service, leadership by example and respect.
Given my personal journey, I believe I can model resilience and perseverance for both the women we are lifting out of poverty and the WEDO team I am creating. I've endured the loss of both parents, fell victim to a predatory lending scheme in which I lost my home and irreplaceable treasures acquired over 35 years, and raised two sons alone from ages 2 and 4 as a single mother.
I've learned that what matters in life is not what happens to us, but rather how we move through our experiences. Our ability to emerge from difficulty stronger and wiser, with continued faith and optimism, is what ultimately defines us.
Why is empowering women in business a significant focus?
Gender inequality is a multi-faceted problem present in nearly every society worldwide. Studies repeatedly show that when we provide women and girls with education and opportunity, they rise up to become a powerful force for change in their families, communities and nations. It causes a positive ripple effect: Education empowers young women to delay marriage and attain the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to economic development. Helping women achieve their full potential is the path to breaking the cycle of poverty.
One of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) is to end poverty worldwide by 2030. It's telling that of the 17 UN SDGs, 11 have gender-focused targets and indicators, including Goal 1: No Poverty, Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being, Goal 4: Quality Education and Goal 10: Reduced Inequity.
Gender inequality is not a women's issue. It's a human issue.
What specific challenges do women and minority entrepreneurs face?
In 2017, female founders received just 2.2 percent of overall venture capital funds invested. That's $1.9 billion out of a total $85 billion. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
Women and minorities face both unconscious and conscious biases, including a lack of access to education, difficulty obtaining funding, societal expectations, and the challenge of balancing business and family life.
Developing a strong network of support is critical to entrepreneurial success. Yet 48 percent of female business owners state that a lack of mentors and available advisors limits their professional growth. It's time for female founders to step up and raise the bar for all women by sharing business knowledge and skills in a mentoring capacity.
What does your role as a US Regional Ambassador for WEDO entail?
The organization has chapters in 144 countries and 65 universities with a goal of igniting women leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to initiate startups, drive economic expansion, and advance communities worldwide.
While Women's Entrepreneurship Day (WED) is celebrated internationally and features a two-day summit at the UN, the movement carries throughout the year. We aim to empower the world's 4 billion women to be catalysts for change by uplifting over 250 million girls living in poverty worldwide.
As a regional ambassador, I'm chairing the WED celebration on November 19 in Washington, DC. We'll convene business leaders, government officials and citizens to find collaborative solutions in critical areas of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, education and policy creation that empower women―such as affordable workspace, consistent mentorship, business education and access to capital.
What is your specific call to action for entrepreneurs?
WEDO is a grassroots organization that relies on dedicated volunteers in local communities to contribute to empowering women in business throughout the world. There are economically disadvantaged women and children in every town, city and county in the US.
Here are five ways to support women in your local community:
- Help impoverished women become independent and support their families by teaching entrepreneurial and life skills, providing micro-loans to start businesses, or offering employment with mentorship and advancement opportunities.
- Be a voice for women globally, inspiring others to use their business as a platform to empower women.
- Mentor the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
- Create an internship program that provides learning opportunities for women and minorities. EO's DC chapter coaches and mentors students at a local high school through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship program, visiting the classroom monthly and coordinating with local businesses to provide opportunities for at-risk students.
- Donate your time, money or gently used goods to organizations that empower disadvantaged women to rejoin the workforce.