For Rahama Wright, the founder and CEO of Shea Yeleen, there was a great deal at stake in the U.S. presidential election.
Wright launched her company as a social enterprise out of Washington, D.C., paying African women a higher-than-standard wage of $10 a day to make and package cosmetic goods. "For me, coming from an immigrant family, this election felt very personal," says Wright, whose mother immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana in 1984. "I run a business that's working on economic development issues for women in northern Ghana. All the values that I feel are American were going to the election poll."
So when Donald Trump emerged the victor in the early hours of November 9th, she and countless other female entrepreneurs were shocked. With the election of Trump, suddenly the U.S.--with varying degrees of intensity--stopped looking like a safe place for immigrants, women, and people of color.
Trump has proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country and building a wall across the United States' southern border. The billionaire businessman has also threatened to remove basic protections for women under his term, by defunding the health care nonprofit Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in 1973. That's not to mention the dozens of women who have accused the president-elect of sexual harassment or assault.
To be sure, millions of women--entrepreneurs included--voted for Trump. Yet for every Trump supporter, there's an entrepreneur like Wright who is concerned about how America under President Trump will look and whether it might continue to welcome minority groups--and women in general--in the future. They're also coming to terms with Hillary Clinton's loss, less because they like her policies and more because of what she represented: If she had won, she would have been America's first female president.
It's a "wake-up call," says Jenny Fleiss, the co-founder and head of logistics at fashion rental service Rent the Runway. A Clinton supporter, she too was disappointed by the election's outcome. However, Fleiss is urging women--as well as her fellow entrepreneurs--to look at the positives and realize that Clinton's defeat doesn't mean that women should also feel defeated.
Years ago, the idea that a woman could get as far as Clinton did in her bid for the White House was inconceivable. Fleiss is also optimistic that the checks and balances built into U.S. government will prevent Trump from acting on some of his more incendiary proposals. Plus, she notes that there are many others out there who are actively working toward ensuring that women get a seat at the table.
"There's still a lot more work to be done," adds Fleiss. She encourages women to reach out to one another, and to keep the conversation going in the months and years to come.
Farnoosh Torabi, the Iranian-American journalist and personal finance expert, agrees. "We need to be more vocal and more deliberate in letting it be known what we expect through the way that we hire, to the way that we build our businesses, to the way that we call out discrimination," she says. "This is going to require us, men and women, to be more proactive."
There are concrete steps that women can take to combat sexism and promote women's empowerment, but before all of that, it's important to wallow, suggests Tiffany Dufu. She should know: Dufu is the former president of the White House Project, a nonprofit that aimed to get women represented in government. (The organization closed its doors in 2013 due to lack of funding.)
"The first step, especially if you're still distraught and angry, is self-care," says Dufu, who is now the chief leadership officer at the Millennial networking startup Levo. "Honestly, one of the most courageous things a woman can do is to just stop and take care of herself." Some examples of healing activities: have a glass of wine. (Or a bottle.) Get a good night's sleep. Binge watch television, or listen to uplifting music. (Dufu has been playing Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today" on repeat.)
Once you've begun to process the election, it's time to mobilize. Find a women's empowerment or entrepreneurship meet-up near you. While you can protest the election--and that may well be cathartic for many--the more positive way forward is to commune with like-minded women and figure out how to be stronger together in the years to come.
Wright, the Shea Yeleen founder, encourages women to donate to existing organizations that promote gender equality. While the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation is one example of a platform for women to gather, "we also need to look at organizations that have been around for decades that have been doing this well," Wright says, including the nonprofits Emily's list and Vote Run Lead.
Next, take stock of the ways in which the election actually has pushed women forward. "What got lost is that some really badass women got elected to the Senate," Dufu says, referring to Kamala Harris (Democrat, California), Tammy Duckworth (Democrat, Illinois), and former attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto (Democrat, Nevada). That's a record number of minority women elected to the governing body.
Women should also consider how to make their individual voices heard. Write an op-ed, or publish a story on a blog site. "I think that the worst thing we can do is retreat," Dufu says. "This is the time for us to send the message that we are here and we are powerful and we are strong, and you [Trump] will not crush our ambition."
Finally, to the women entrepreneurs who feel lost after Clinton's defeat, remember just how important failure is for learning. "Of course, given the choice, you wouldn't want to fail," says Fleiss. "But entrepreneurship is all about how you learn from that and how you move forward."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the wages Shea Yeleen pays employees in Ghana. They receive $10 per day.