By Sergio C. Muñoz for LAVA
On October 2nd of last year, Jesse Draper of Halogen Ventures, Sara Weinheimer of Broadmic and Edith Dorsen of Women's Venture Capital Fund, gathered together in the Beverly Hills home of Bernstein Wealth Manager, Jean Huang, to dialogue on venture capital in Los Angeles for the benefit of the Women in LAVA membership.
Ms Dorsen's Fund released a blog post titled: Women Entrepreneurs: An Impact Investment or Not? To pull a quote from the copy, it reads: "The accelerated entrepreneurial path as opposed to the slow corporate ladder climb may offer ambitious women far more opportunities over the next decade if, and only if, we can address the gender investment gap."
It is possible to read this two ways: First, to focus on the gender investment gap or, second, to focus on how one becomes an ambitious woman in our society. Confidence becomes a hot topic in these dialogues. It was a hot topic at the aforementioned panel discussion. How can women in this entrepreneurial eco-system increase their confidence?
I asked an executive with a doctorate in organizational psychology and her own startup called Zenyth, Dr Marissa Berman, for her ideas. She suggested the following:
Choose role models for their merit and not for how they look. Research shows that when young girls focus on how they look, it actually shuts down their executive functioning.
Re-define confidence as one's ability to try the best based on their current skillset.
Create a program that encourages and rewards girl's effort (vs outcome) and the supportive relationships that can help them overcome prohibitive cultural messages over time.
I asked Ms Huang for her thoughts. She said, "Let's feature our best role models!"
Allison Dollar, CEO of ITV Alliance
"When I was a kid feminism was fashionable, so that was supported at school. Even my baby sitters reinforced those values, along with my mother, who pursued her doctorate in Human Development, Early Childhood. Growing up in the DC market, political heroes had a huge impact, women like Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, and later Senator Barbara Mikulkski and Madeleine Albright. Mikulski was small, like me, but fierce and effective. Going into media and then tech, often I was the only woman in the room, and later I experienced the swing back to boys' club attitudes, especially with VCs. We need to not only support girls but celebrate and promote our own successes in the first place to create those new role models."
Beatriz Acevedo, Co-Founder of mitú.
"I am laser focused on building a robust pipeline of the next generation of Latina leaders. And the first step we need to take is shake off that immigrant mentality, of accepting what we are given and never speaking up to ask for what we deserve. Latinas are programed from birth to be quiet (as we are told we look prettier this way) and this is a huge problem in our community, never feeling worthy enough or that we deserve more, the economic equality is huge in our community, we are 17% of the U.S population and we only have 2% of the wealth in the country. We need to work hard to change this and the first step is to teach our daughters to find their voice and use it.”
Tina Cheng, Founder and CEO of Capsul Jewelry.
"Growing up in Taiwan, girls are often discouraged from pursuing higher education, leadership roles, and ventures, in favor of a more stable and traditional career path so they can focus on domestic life. As more women taken on executive positions or become successful entrepreneurs, it's essential for us to foster the ecosystem by mentoring and acting as role models for other young women so this becomes more of the norm and not the exception. Girls should be encouraged at an early age not only to pursue career options typically dominated by men such as STEM and startups, but more importantly, that it's ok to fail so they can expand their risk tolerance and set more ambitious goals."
Leah Michelle Burton, Director at Social Change Institute.
"The only women role models I really looked up to growing up were my mother and my 5th grade teacher, neither of which were entrepreneurs. I knew there were opportunities but I didn’t know, what I didn’t know. Today, looking back, what I would have benefited from were in-school programs that expose girls to strong women of color in powerful, impactful positions. Although, media is a useful tool, it still doesn’t replace someone’s presence. When ‘important’ people would show up to our schools and speak directly to us, it felt real and tangible, like if we just reached far enough we could touch it. That ‘it’ being certain achievements or dreams that we had for our futures. When you are poor and lack access, the presence of individuals who represent wealth and access, becomes all the more meaningful. That said, I think as women and people of color we need to be wary of feeding into a hyper-competitive paradigm that has actually fueled our marginalization. Many of the attributes necessary to compete involve reinforcing individualism and mentoring our young women is a collectivist approach, which is exactly what we need. We need to begin to model socially responsible entrepreneurism and investment, and disrupt, what continues to be, an extremely irresponsible model of capitalism in the 21st century, which is growing our divide rather than bringing us together and creating paths of opportunity for all populations. As women and people of color, our calling is to boldly forge our own path and take everyone with us."
Sonia Luna, Founder and CEO of Aviva Spectrum
"Entering the workforce at a Big 4 (Arthur Andersen) accounting firm in 1996, I had several male role models, which stood out as my celebrity roles models. Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil and Robert T. Kiyosaki to name a few. Their books inspired me to set aggressive goals and break out of my shell. Later in my career, when I finally decided to come out, I was inspired by other lesbian women such as Ellen since she had created a stir in her coming out episode in 1996. Today, my role models have changed slightly and include those fighting global climate change, such as 16 year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and I’ve now added outlandish self-help guru Gary V. to my mix of role models. Now that I’ve entered into the cannabis space as a key financial advisor, there are very few that are out in the industry claiming they have lead in this industry for several years. However, Renee Gagnon is one lady that the cannabis industry will come to respect. I’ve gotten to know her journey and acceptance into the LGBTQ community. The cannabis investment community is still wondering what to do with her. Very soon they’ll find out she’s a powerhouse to be respected."
Stacie Olivares, Chief Investment Officer at Lendistry
“Wherever we encounter adversity we can create opportunity. We must take risks and create solutions that amplify the political and economic power of girls and women of color. Where there is no role model, we must be one. How we create opportunity can be as unique as our individual backgrounds, passions, and strengths. Today, I help bring capital solutions that support innovation and lift up the communities that need it most. But it was fashion, not investment, that was my initial calling. That calling changed when I was 16 years old and working as a bank teller at Wells Fargo. It was from behind the teller window that I realized the power of access to capital and financial services, and the enduring impact of their absence in my community.”
Mary Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Circle4Parents
"Although it may seem the journey of Circle4Parents began in 2017 when I had my 4th child, it actually began 21 years ago when I became a first-time parent at age 23. With little coaching, I raised a child in an abusive marriage, had a 2nd daughter 8 years later, and immediately after, I became a single parent. While I successfully climbed the ranks in my financial career, I continued the journey of parenting alone. I did find love & marriage 2nd time with a kind-hearted physician & had two more children. To my surprise, the issues of parenting didn’t resolve, they just emerged in different forms in this new successful territory. As a Wealth Advisor, wife, & a busy working mother of 4, I realized there was no support beyond maternity leave, which I desperately needed for my mental wellbeing upon returning to work. I asked around & found I wasn’t alone, in fact, many working parents were in the same boat. With a deep passion for helping families, I created a low-cost virtual coaching solution that is non-judgmental & focused on coaching parents through life transitions. My past journey of courage gives me the strength to continue & our parent user feedback point Circle4Parents towards a vision to impact parents & families in an incredibly supportive way."
Monica Dodi, Founder and Managing Director at the Women's Venture Capital Fund
"When I was about 7 or 8 years old in NYC, my French mother, who had fought with the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Paris, was told that my father's co-signature was required to open her own bank account. Her English was quite limited back then so I had to translate what the bank officer was telling her. It became quite a heated exchange! She was utterly appalled that her adopted country, the symbol of freedom, justice and equality, did not treat women as equals. From that moment on, I realized that I had to work harder, be smarter and not take no for an answer. I think that's also when I decided that I wanted to be the 'boss lady'."
Phoenix Gonzalez, President at dotstudiopro
"As a female entrepreneur, my biggest role model to this day is my single mother who instilled two very important values in me at a very young age and boy am I forever grateful for her and them! 1. NEVER take NO as a final answer you are powerful beyond measure. No is one of the first words most of us are conditioned to learn/accept in our early childhood development when learning to function in the world, it's a word we can overcome when doing business if we understand human conditioning. 2. God gave you a mouth and if you don't use it to ask for what you want you will never know. Fear of asking is the only thing that limits you in not getting what you want. As a high school drop-out and a female who only finished one year of trade college because of a major car accident, that took me six years to recover from. It is these principals have that have helped me stay the course on my journey of success through all aspects of my life."
About the Author:
Sergio C. Muñoz is a Scout for Angel Investors. He is a board member of the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) and a signatory with PledgeLA. Connect with him via LinkedIn if you would like to be featured on the LAVA site.