In a brand new co-working space called Galvanize in SOMA, San Francisco, the founder of Women 2.0 — Shaherose Charania — and I met for a brief exchange.
For those who don’t know, Women 2.0 is one of the most impressive organizations that can safely say its made a difference in the lives of 55,000 women who attended its 500 events in 25 different cities around the world — eight of which I have personally volunteered for and attended. In addition, a whopping 5,000 articles were posted by female entrepreneurs on the Women 2.0 website. Beyond events and articles, the organization has empowered over 100 women to start pre-seed companies with people they met at one of the events.
After sharing my goal with Shaherose to discover the top methodologies and strategies that truly empowered women in Silicon Valley to start a technology entrepreneurship, so that I could adapt theses ideas within the Japanese context, we got started! As Shaherose has been supporting female founders for the past 11 years, she spoke with ease and immediately identified 5 key areas.
1. NETWORKING & THE HUMAN CONNECTION
The human connection behind networking is invaluable. After all, I was only able to meet with Shaherose through a valid, legitimate connection, Kathie Green, who excelled at managing the Women 2.0 volunteers in San Francisco. Thanks to Kathie’s introduction, Shaherose and I were able to meet!
By taking the initiative to volunteer for events, asking Kathie for an introduction, and Kathie’s willingness to spend the time writing an email introduction, I had a chance to meet the founder of a large, and very successful organization. And timing is of essence too. Of course, Shaherose receives countless requests to meet, and her inbox is flooded with those who want to share business ideas, gain her advice, etc., so I truly appreciate the opportunity to connect.
Because we had a legitimate connection, it lowered the barrier, reduced the formality, and allowed Shaherose to trust a complete stranger, a bit more.
Professional networking is one of the most important areas for hopeful female entrepreneurs to master. But, it doesn’t have to be aggressive, or unnatural, and it should definitely suit your personal style!
I always focus on having quality conversations with 3-5 people at networking events, often spending more than 20 minutes with each person, so that I may find a common connection. Heck, if I attend an event, and even meet one person that I like and value, then I’ve done an excellent job! It’s much better to have a high-quality dialogue with someone you truly connect with, than speaking to 100 people, and not remembering anything more than a business card by the end. Likewise, they won’t remember much about you.
As such, I always recommend speaking with 3-5 people, and discovering a mutual interest, a way in which you can help them, or one of their passions. This way, the human connection lives on, and you will be remembered as more than just a business card, or めいし。
2. FAILURE & WEARING IT AS A BADGE OF HONOR
We chatted about how women tend to internalize problems, challenges, issues, etc. and over-analyze them. Of course, it’s not all women, and men do the exact same thing too. But typically, men can more quickly turn-around from a perceived failure, and re-position it as a badge of honor.
Regardless of whether or not women over-think, the second strategy to truly empower more women is to have them view failure as a badge of honor. Instead of succumbing to the failure as the start of an inevitable downfall, women should wear it a as a point of pride.
“Yes, I was rejected by 6 investors. But I’m not going to let that stop me from pursuing the seventh, eighth, and ninth.”
No one should be afraid to keep trying, to keep moving in the direction of our dreams, and to win over perceived internal or external obstacle along the way.
Like one of my mentors Daisaku Ikeda says, “If you fall down seven times, get up on the eighth.”
After all, we are the star actors, writers, directors, and viewers of our own drama called “Life.” Let’s make the most of it, and embrace them failures!
3. ROLE MODELS
But Shaherose taught me that role models do not have to be influential CEOs or founders. Instead, they can be mid-level managers, who are somehow making a substantial difference in the lives of the women around them such as a local politician, who has dramatically increased the number of public nurseries in her local area.
Why are role models important? Well, they provide women with someone to look up too, someone to follow, and someone to replicate. When I see a female heading HP or running to become the next US President, it makes me feel like I can do the exact same thing. But these women I only see on TV, YouTube, and news articles.
What about the women in my local area like Mariko Fukui? In my university? At my previous company?
These are the best examples of role models, who may be the only female in a 50+ person room, or one of only 100 managers. But if there’s even one, we know there can be two, three, fifty, and then hundreds, if not thousands.
And because they are local, they are positively impacting the lives of women around them on a daily basis. Plus, I have significantly easier access to say, Assistant Professor Sayuri Kimoto at Kyoto University, because my advising professor can introduce me, than Professor Laura Alfaro at Harvard, since I never attended, and we don’t live in the same country.
As such, I encourage you to find 3-5 people you want to meet in your local area, and ask them for a brief coffee chat meeting. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? They say, “No!” That’s it. No harm done, as timing is important. Ask someone else, and don’t give up until someone says, “Yes!” Never let fear stop you from achieving your dreams.
4. BALANCED HOUSEHOLD PARTNERSHIPS BETWEEN MEN & WOMEN
Another critical area for women entrepreneurs is a balanced partnership within the household. Currently in Japan, women are responsible for taking care of the household cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, gardening, neighborhood watch groups and events, finances, budgeting, etc.
If there are children in the picture, then Japanese women are also responsible for packing a bento lunch box, scheduling after-school activities, managing their intense exam schedules, and attending school meetings. If there are elderly family members such as her husbands’ parents, she is responsible for taking them to physical therapy, the doctor, ensuring their personal hygiene, and making sure they take their medicine.
If a female founder doesn’t have the support of her husband, how can she take care of all the household duties and a company? It’s just not possible!
It’s pertinent that men support their wives by taking on their fair share of household duties, especially if women are making money outside of the house. With an aging population and low birth rate, Japan is losing its once healthy workforce. Now, it’s being slowly forced to change its historical negligence of women in the workforce.
Japanese businesses can no longer find enough talented labor, so they are forced to hire more women and encourage them to work after getting married and having a child. This means they have to adapt their typical working styles of long, unproductive hours at the office, and move towards a more flexible, remote workforce.
Slowly but surely, I have confidence that Japan will be able to positively change the mindsets of Japanese men, Japanese companies, Japanese government, and most importantly, Japanese society.
5. ENTREPRENEURSHIP EDUCATION
One final area that is incredibly valuable for hopeful female founders is education around entrepreneurship. While there are many online resources such as Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Talks, or TedTalk videos on YouTube, nothing beats the human connection of formal or informal educational events, talks, lectures, seminars, or conferences. And the best place is to start locally by researching opportunities in your communities such as the GTEP program, and attending free lectures at local universities.
Women are starting a whopping 45% of small-medium enterprises in the US. And they relied on the power of their network, viewed failures as a badge of honor, interacted with local role models, received the help of their partners or family network, and educated themselves through their network, online courses, videos, seminars, conferences, podcasts, and books. After all, no one is an island. And absolutely no one can start a business on his or her own. We all need the help of others to transform our dreams into a reality.