Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making Change Happen From the Inside Out, From the Bottom Up

What does it take to get on an entrepreneurial board or onto the board of a company in the formative stages? Chances are, if a woman is qualified, she knows what to do. She has to be either the entrepreneur or the investor.

Should that discourage women from learning how they could become candidates at the formative stages of governance? Sometimes, it seems as if women who made it to the private boardroom as investors are discouraging others from following in their footsteps -- "in reality, it is not entirely practical to get on a formative board" may have described the past, but does it describe the next ten years or twenty years? 

Historically, one of the major paths into the boardroom, for men, has always been as an expert advisor to formative, entrepreneurial, young, small businesses.  The way men became proficient in board service was to become proficient in new business formation and ongoing technical support -- SCORE, Tech Coast Angels, Pasadena Angels, plus all of the Silicon Valley angel and venture capitalists.  That is WHERE boards are formed.

The typical pattern is this: when a founder is starting a business, he or she might seek out someone who has an important expertise, such as the former executive of a major company in the target customer industry sector, a successful entrepreneur in the space, or someone with key technical expertise.  

Even with entrepreneurs who have successfully exited their company and want to get involved with another start-up, they do not go out and simply find a start-up board on which to serve. More likely they are invited in either because of their expertise or their investment.

Yes, in the past, women were not as actively involved as investors as they are today. Now, look at Cindy Padnos, Renee LaBran, Lauren Leichtman, Leslie Myers Fr├ęcon, Debi Coleman, Kathleen A. Cote and other women directors covered in my book, Outstanding in their Field.  Then look at Kay Koplovitch, Amy Millman, Laura Roden, Myra Hart and their like in my latest book, Women Leaders at Work. 

Yes, in the past, women were not as actively involved in creating investable businesses as they are today.  Now, look at my posting late last year, summarizing some of the incredible entrepreneurial funding tracked by Alice Krause at NewsOnWomen.com: http://championboards.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-do-these-firms-have-in-common.html

These new businesses create new board opportunities for women business experts -- just as they tapped men business experts in the past.  These new ventures offer investment opportunities for women capitalists as much as men.

As I said in my snapshot of women added to boards in January 2012:

"Women Entrepreneurs:   In addition to the ever-increasing number of new women directors, women are forming their own entrepreneurial businesses and accessing angel and venture capital in increasing numbers. Alice Krause's NewsOnWomen.com reported that 10 women-owned/co-owned businesses received seed, A series or C series funding totaling $46.8 Million in January 2012. The high was $14 Million to Jesse Lee's Polyvore - the web’s largest online fashion community. The smallest was $1.8 Million for Beatrice Pang et al.'s Modewalk luxury goods shopping site. Seven of the ten received seed or series A funding. Seven of the companies were based in California, and one each in New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
These are the women building businesses and boards of the future."

This is EXACTLY what we ought to be teaching women who might be interested in boards.  Don’t simply focus on the F500 companies. Look at all of the entrepreneurial businesses being created in your market sector and in your market area.  Are they viable?  If not, what are you doing to help them succeed? What ones require your expertise as an advisor? As an investor? As a director?  (Unless you only want to give away your time to nonprofits, that is.)

Otherwise, women are simply waiting like wallflowers on the side of the ballroom for the Prince to come and invite them to the “boardroom ball”. Or worse, they're waiting for the King to change the rules with quotas in an effort to make the Prince invite them to the dance.

If women are getting 60% of the degrees, whether in law, medicine, business, STEM, or whatever, then they too have a responsibility to be building the next generation of businesses -- from the inside out, from the bottom up, and from the top (the board) down.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Asking the Tough Questions

Perhaps it is time for women to begin asking the tough questions of themselves, rather than simply waiting for that last Prince Charming, the corporate CEO, to bring them their fairy tale world of perfect diversity.

1. If women are now 60% of the educated candidate pool, and significant percentages of law school graduates, medical school and business school graduates, are women crafting the next generation of entities required to retool our American economic system? Or are they just sitting back on their stilettos waiting to be handed the perfect job?

2. Are women obsessed with forming nonprofits that avoid the real economics of the marketplace? Are women only capable of giving away, volunteering their hard-earned knowledge and skills? Are women so dependent on public sector coffers that they cannot imagine a revenue-generating business model that would sustain their creative enterprise over the long term?

3. Aren't women just as capable as men, today, to fabricate law firms with the diversity traits they consider appropriate? Can't women today build medical practices that are both creative and diverse in their delivery of services to clients as well as their ownership and operation as an organization? Can't women also build the profitable and diverse businesses to address real world problems, economically, as they seem to expect all men to do for them?

4. If more women in leadership were that alleged perfect predictor of greater returns, why don't women themselves build businesses WITH greater returns, WITH more employees, and then re-invest profits in OTHER viable, profitable, revenue-generating women-owned enterprises that solve the substantive problems that confront families, women, and yes even men?

5. Are women persisting in the age-old practice of building only businesses that pander to their shoe-shopping fantasies, their fascination with excessive fashion consumption, personal beauty products, and other behaviors of mate-searching and -attracting rather than substantive problem-solving for the benefit of 100% of society's members?

Whenever you read the next article from a "woman's advocacy network or organization" ask yourself, Is she describing how she is an active participant in making change happen among today's woman in leadership or is she simply expecting others to do all the heavy lifting for her? Is she hoping that more rules and regulations will "make others" change, rather than being the agent of change, herself, for herself?

Based on my research and interviews, I have no doubt that there are many, and a growing number of, women who no longer accept the Daddy Warbucks or the Stepford Wife models of behavior. There are many such accomplished women making change happen, one day at a time, one business at a time, one decision at a time in just about every sector of our economy. If you haven't seen them or heard about them, perhaps you aren't demanding enough, expecting enough. Perhaps you too have settled for less than the best of the best. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves some of these tougher questions.