Felicity Moorman was involved in politics long before Donald Trump won the White House. She'd even allowed the offices of her Philadelphia-based internet of things company, Stratis, to be used as a call center during the campaign. But by the time she got her coffee the morning after the 2016 election, she realized she would have no choice but to double down politically. "I don't know what more I can do with three kids and two companies," thought Moorman, already the chair of a registered community organization, "but I'm going to start looking."
It's been widely reported that women across the country have been much more politically active since the 2016 Presidential election. But if the country has long been split roughly 50/50 along ideological lines, women entrepreneurs took sides much earlier. In Inc. and Fast Company's 2018 State of Women and Entrepreneurship Survey, 70 percent of the 257 respondents said they voted for Hillary Clinton, compared to just 11 percent who voted for Donald Trump. (The remainder said they either didn't vote or voted for a third-party candidate.)
Less than two years in, their opinions haven't shifted much: 73 percent say they have a "strongly" unfavorable opinion of the sitting president, with an additional 7 percent saying their opinion of him is "somewhat" unfavorable. Only 12 percent have a "strongly" or "somewhat" favorable view of Trump.
Those least satisfied with the administration are taking action. Fifty-one percent say they are more politically active than they were before the 2016 presidential election cycle, and 22 percent say they'd at least consider running for office. At least three have taken the plunge, running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Others are still wrestling with how to balance their roles as entrepreneurs with a newfound political outspokenness, which could have implications for their business.
Cathy Huyghe describes the 2016 election as "a catalytic moment" for her. Soon after, Huyghe, the founder of Atlanta-based big data service provider Enolytics, went to a meeting for Georgia WIN, a political action committee dedicated to getting more women into office. They were looking to fill open positions, and Huyghe was intrigued, but overwhelmed by the prospect of running her company, raising twin boys, and campaigning at the same time. So she opted for a role that didn't require an election: a member of the city council appointed Huyghe to the Atlanta Commission on Women, on which she now serves. Eventually, says Huyghe, she hopes to run for an elected position. "As the company hires more people, and as other people take on the tasks I spend most of my time doing, then it seems more feasible," she says.
Founders also have to weigh the potential backlash of getting political to their business. Sarah Dusek, co-founder and CEO of Bozeman, Montana-based Under Canvas, the largest glamping company in the country, doesn't want to alienate her customers, who are of diverse political views. She's come to the conclusion that "I can be outspoken about the things that impact us as a business. Those cross political lines." Her company provides unique accommodations that give customers easy access to public lands. "There have been some national monuments, in Utah in particular, that have been under threat about removing monument status," says Dusek. "That's something we've been talking about internally as a company much more recently."
Charlene Li, founder of leadership research and advisory firm Altimeter, has been freed of those constraints. Li has been an activist since she was a child growing up in Detroit, the child of Asian immigrants where "we as a family went and marched" after a Chinese-American man was badly beaten in a bar. But since selling her company in 2015, she says she's been liberated to speak her mind without having to worry as much about how it might impact her company. Li has given money to campaigns, but is now looking at other fundraising vehicles, such as PACs, to see where she can make a difference. "I'm looking at anything to promote women of color, especially in leadership positions," she says.
As for Statis' Moorman? Soon after that post-election coffee, she was asked if she wanted to run for a position as a Philadelphia committee person. At the time she was scaling a 40-person tech startup, had three kids ranging in age from 10 to 17, and knew running a political campaign would be time-consuming and could get ugly. Surely there was someone with more time and resources to deal with this.
But Moorman knew pretty much everyone else in the neighborhood who might fill the slot. "A lot of the smartest people I knew were also the kindest people I knew, and I didn't think any of them were going to step up," she says. Her conclusion: "This is probably me." On May 2018, against two other contenders, she won her race.