My parents desperately wanted me to take over the family business, a retail jewelry store. After years of watching my parents work non-stop and being roped into working at the store with them, child labor laws be damned, I wanted nothing more than to be rid of that burden. I wanted a career full of clocking out of work at 5 pm and enjoying the rest of my life free of the burdens of being a business owner. I went off to college to pursue a degree in communication and they sold the store off to the highest bidder.
Even in April 2009 when my friend Damien put out the call for women to help him form womENT I had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. I would often joke that Damien was the entrepreneur and I was just the woman. We tried to put together a series of round-table discussions to happen during Internet Week in NYC in May 2009. The events didn’t end up taking place for various reasons. We’ll simply blame it on Mercury being in retrograde.
Later that month I got my dream job at a social media agency and it consumed my entire existence. I commuted three hours everyday, worked crazy late hours and traveled for work many weekends that summer. If I wasn’t working or traveling, I was usually answering calls on my work-issued BlackBerry or passed out from sheer exhaustion. My old dreams of clocking out at 5 pm and my new found passion for social media were simply not compatible. Needless to say my entire life got put on the back burner, womENT included.
I ended up leaving that agency in November 2009 for many reasons, not the least of which was exhaustion! Instead of looking for work at other agencies, I started freelancing. A few months later, a former co-worker from my old agency asked if I wanted to join her in a new social media consulting and training venture and I said sure. Suddenly I was registering business names, opening business bank accounts and writing co-founder in front of my name. I was becoming an entrepreneur through no fault of my own.
The topics and issues that Damien and I had drafted for the round-table discussions were quickly becoming issues I was grappling with on a daily basis. Now more than ever, I wanted to see these discussions take place and I wanted them to involve as many inspiring women entrepreneurs and business leaders as possible.
My biggest fear was having people moan “Why must you must you make it exclusively about women entrepreneurs?” Aren’t you hurting the cause of equality by segregating female business leaders from their male counterparts?” The fact of the matter is that women entrepreneurs and business leaders share a lot of the same challenges as their male counterparts, but there are still many aspects where being a woman brings a unique set of obstacles. I don’t see anyone claiming that men don’t want to run startups because they’d rather have children [see: http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/09/women-startups-childre/]. Women’s brains and men’s brains “are wired differently” as my friend Anna O’Brien points out in this post about men and women in social media notoriety. Women led businesses still aren’t getting nearly the VC funding they deserve. See what badass Cindy Gallop had to say on the matter in this interview. These are just some examples I have found.
Whenever I share my list of potential discussion topics with other women entrepreneurs I know, there’s always a resounding “YES! That is something I struggle with all the time!” That’s why I know these topics need to be discussed in an environment where everyone can share their unique experience and help each other overcome these obstacles.
Here’s a dirty little secret… Besides my mother and stepfather, who I was quite reluctant to tell, none of my family members know that I am going it alone. They all think I’m still working at the agency I left a year ago. Well, I have an old school Russian family who would equate me running my own business with me being unemployed and I want to spare them the worrying. Also, I’m still not entirely convinced I can make it on my own. I am technically an entrepreneur in every sense of the term, but in my heart of hearts I don’t believe it. I am in desperate need of role models and encouragement and that’s why I started the womENT Twitter chats. I’m sure all the people joining us tonight will have their own set of reasons for being there.
We don’t live in a vacuum. Women entrepreneurs have male business partners and employees of all genders. Some women have been running their own business for years, while for others it’s just a pipe dream preceded with “someday I’ll…” Some women, like me, just don’t think they have what it takes to run a business. So if you have any insight into what it is to be a woman in the working world, to work with or for a woman or to have a spark of entrepreneurial spirit, I hope you’ll join us (@woment @db @microsteph and me @bianalog) for the first of our weekly #woment Twitter chats tonight at 7 pm Eastern and every Monday night thereafter. Why? Because I need to believe I have what it takes to succeed.