Forbes recently published its list of America’s Most Innovative Leaders, which shockingly included only one woman. At the same time, many female entrepreneurs were not surprised; on the last Fortune 500 list, only 33 (6.6 percent) of the companies had female CEOs.
At the same time, more women than ever are leaving corporations and starting their own companies. These women are achieving great success and inspiring new generations of girls to aspire to entrepreneurship and claim a more significant role in the business world. These leaders are also reshaping the global business community by focusing on inclusion: many are using their success to lift up other women entrepreneurs.
A few women entrepreneurs who are doing just that include:
Gelman is cofounder and CEO of The Wing, a company that oversees coworking spaces for women across the US. The Wing plans to open its first international location in London in late 2019. In addition, the company plans to launch a platform similar to LinkedIn that members can use to post jobs and hire other women professionals. Gelman created an in-house team of women—many of them mothers—who use their own experiences, as well as input from members of The Wing, to design women-focused co-working spaces. For instance, much of the furniture in these spaces is custom-built to accommodate the proportions of the average woman. The Wing also functions as a community where women are encouraged to “take up space” and make connections with new friends and business partners.
In 2016, Wasserman established Ladies Get Paid as a forum for women to share career advice. Today, the organization has grown to include workshops on a number of important topics, such as negotiating salaries. Men’s rights activists eventually sued Wasserman for being turned away from events, but she crowdfunded more than $116,000 in three weeks to cover legal fees. The media attention from the case helped Ladies Get Paid grow quickly to forge partnerships with major brands and increase its membership to more than 46,000 women. Wasserman says that the whole point of her organization is to encourage women to show vulnerability by asking other women for help—something that she herself had to do.
Recognizing that fewer than 1 percent of affluent women have invested in startups, Costello launched Portfolia, which she leads as CEO. Portfolia is a platform that aims to make entrepreneurial investing more accessible to women. So far, the company has launched eight different funds with hundreds of female investors, each of whom is asked to commit at least $10,000. Each fund has a team of expert leaders and uses videoconferencing to keep everyone in the loop. Many of the funds focus on markets that directly relate to the investors’ interests, such as women’s health and active aging. More than 14,000 women are currently waiting to join the Portfolia network, and Costello projects that it will include about 100,000 investors by 2022.
The executive chairman and chief creative officer of her eponymous fashion label, Tory Burch is paying her success forward with the Tory Burch Foundation. The organization operates a program that provides a yearlong fellowship to 10 women entrepreneurs each year. In 2019, she expanded the program to 50 fellows. The fellowship includes an educational grant, a four-day trip to the Tory Burch campus, and the opportunity to pitch business ideas to investors. In addition, Burch’s foundation recently teamed with Bank of America to commit $100 million in capital to women-owned companies. The foundation also expanded its Embrace Ambition initiative, which hosts events across the country that aim to remove negative stereotypes related to women and ambition.
As a respected fashion designer and founder of the Rebecca Minkoff label, Minkoff was frequently asked what it’s like to be a female founder. This experience inspired her to create the Female Founder Collective, a platform for women-owned and women-created businesses. Launched with 10 founding members in fall 2018, the collective expanded to include more than 3,000 women within just one month. Female Founder provides opportunities for networking and works to promote its members’ companies. Members’ companies receive a special seal to display on products, storefronts, and websites to signal that the business was started and is run by women. As Minkoff explains, a vast majority of women are more likely to support female-founded companies if they know about them, so the seal is an important step in building public awareness.
Patricia Santos and Brandy Hoffman
The former vice president of a skincare company, Brandy Hoffman teamed with venture capitalist Patricia Santos in 2016 to found Volition. The pair recognized that even in the beauty industry, which caters to women, inclusion is still lacking. They also noted a high product failure rate and an overall lack of innovation in the industry. Volition is their solution to these problems. Anyone with a new idea for a beauty product can submit it to Volition, which then works with chemists and labs to see if the idea is feasible. If the idea gains support from the Volition community, the company produces the product and the person behind the idea gets a cut of the proceeds. So far, Volition has brought to market 26 products, which sell online and at Sephora. Another 270 more are in the pipeline. Hoffman and Santos have said that the most rewarding aspect of their work is discovering the many women entrepreneurs with truly innovative product concepts.