I recently attended Women's Entrepreneurship Day at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The annual event, held each November and commemorated in 144 countries around the world, celebrates women in businesses, and focuses on ways to help empower and support women entrepreneurs.
While there were many great speakers who shared powerful ideas - and I was able to livestream some of their talks to thousands of people (I will write about my livestreaming experience in a separate article soon) - here is a selection of advice (in no particular order) from several of the speakers. Some of the material is directed at individuals, and some at societies in general - but all of it applies to both men and women:
Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia:
Economic empowerment is at the center of gender equality - women being able to be mothers, and at the same time entrepreneurs and other economic actors, and having the support of society as they do both, is precisely what ultimately creates gender equality. We must work to create societies in which this is the norm.
Chef and Author Sandra Lee:
Remember that nobody is intrinsically better than you - do not feel intimidated, or unworthy of pursuing some ambition. Be fearless. Every day ask yourself is what you spent your day doing worth an extremely valuable day of your life. Make every moment count. Also keep in mind that for an entrepreneur, business is personal.
Lizzy Flores, Ambassador of Honduras to the United Nations:
Laws that guarantee equality for women are insufficient to actually deliver equality, as often women remain marginalized and vulnerable despite such laws; cultural practices, for example, may still impede participation by women in many areas of society and business. (Columnist's note: It is important that we realize that while many people in the West have a habit of viewing such "cultural issues" as symptomatic of third-world societies, the reality is that in many areas our own culture suffers from the same ills. I have written about sexism in the tech sector - it is something that we, as a society, need to change.)
Antonio Lucio, Global Chief Marketing & Communication Officer at HP:
Diversity will not happen unless businesses treat it as a business imperative with a formal plan, and have within them a champion who can explain the business case for achieving a diverse workforce with diverse leaders. Organizations will fail to achieve their desired results if they have fuzzy goals such as "to become more diverse."
Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN:
Don't underestimate the power of using humor to call out a problem, especially if there was no mal-intent in creating the issue. (Grossman cited an example of using humor to effectively communicate the problem that a business faced in marketing to women when she noticed that she was the only person in a room full of people at a basketball-related event.)
Katia Beauchamp, CEO & Founder of Birchbox:
Do not waste time and energy agonizing over decisions. Make decisions and move forward. Understand that there is not always just one correct way of proceeding.
Moira Forbes, Publisher of ForbesWoman:
Be confident. And help instill confidence in others. (Forbes pointed out that she and her four sisters were all taught by their parents that with hard work and perseverance they could achieve their ambitions. That value helped give her the confidence to pursue business interests, including founding ForbesWoman - a multi-media platform providing content for business-oriented women - which she presently runs.)
Kate Rogers, Reporter at CNBC:
People often do not realize how difficult it is to start and run a business, so do not be surprised by big challenges. Get involved in peer groups that can help you become your best, and do not be afraid to ask people for a few minutes of their time in order to get help. Some will likely say yes. (I heard similar advice from Jessica Mah in a recent interview.) Also, keep in mind that recent studies show that women are starting companies at the highest rate in 20 years. So, as much as sexism still persists, we do see signs of progress.