Today, I joined more than 70 women business leaders in writing an open letter to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The message: Let's stop talking about gender bias in the workplace and do something about it--by starting at the top.
The letter kicks off the "What WE Need To Succeed" campaign--"WE" being Women Entrepreneurs. While women are starting businesses at a faster pace than men, only 8 percent of us receive venture capital. At the board level, an astounding 82 percent of public boards do not have a woman director.
Women represent the largest untapped economic and social opportunity in the country today. If women and men were equally represented in the U.S. entrepreneurial ecosystem, our annual GDP would rise by a staggering $30 billion.
For those of us who have been lucky enough to break through and lead companies, the process of getting there can make us feel like we've been transported to some other planet where zombies have killed off everyone with ovaries.
When I was seeking venture financing, I didn't go to a single pitch meeting where there was another woman in the room. Not one.
As a CEO, I regularly attend events where I'm the only woman CEO in a room of hundreds. A needle in a haystack.
Consistently being the only woman in the room is awkward at best--and soul crushing at worst. Here are a few small examples from hundreds I could list:
- At a recent CEO event I attended, I was assumed to be one of the marketing associates running it. When I explained that I was actually a CEO attending, I was congratulated for "leaning in."
- In high level meetings, answers to questions that I ask are often directed to my co-founder instead of me.
- While my accomplishments aren't often acknowledged by business partners, my appearance is.
These may sound implausible or harmless to men. They're not.
They're the daily experiences of thousands of women entrepreneurs. This consistent drumbeat of patronization, exclusion, and "otherness" contributes to our sorry representation at the C-level.
This can only be changed by changing the gender ratio of the companies we run.
Why Women Are Great for Business
There is a growing body of research that attests to the massive positive impact female leaders have on American business.
The Washington Post summed up some of the studies last month:
Companies with the highest percentage of female directors have been shown to outperform on return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital. They pay less to gobble up other firms. They have lower stock price volatility. And those with more women at the top have even been shown to have fewer governance controversies, such as bribery and fraud.
It's time to stop just talking about gender parity at the highest levels of the work force and do something about it. It's not about everyone in the room getting a trophy for showing up. It's about supporting policy that levels the playing field for women.
Having more women leaders at the top of our organizations is good for business, good for the economy, and good for our country. That's why I'm invested in the #WhatWENeedToSucceed campaign--and I hope our next president will be, too.