Adelle Erdman, Frazier & Deeter’s Director of Marketing, reflects on the need for programming for women senior executives and business owners.
When I changed jobs 3 years ago I found myself involved in a corporate Women’s Initiative for the first time ever. I will be blunt; I was not exactly enthusiastic. I had never been to an event organized for women, had never considered going to one and wasn’t sure why they existed.
But this was part of the new job, so I geared up and went to some of the women’s events that were being offered around town.
And remained fairly luke warm about the whole thing.
Yes, I heard some interesting, inspiring success stories from women, especially keynote speakers. And then there was a raffle for spa day! And a panel of women talking about work life balance. And a raffle for make up! And then a session about how to dress professionally. And then a raffle for jewelry! See the vendors in the hallway at lunch!
This was quite a change of pace from the finance industry events I usually attend.
I should give some context by explaining (confessing?) that I’m pretty far into my 40s. I feel like after 20 years if I haven’t yet figured out how to get dressed for work I must be a very slow learner indeed. And as a single parent I don’t want to take time away from my kids or my job to listen to other parents talk about spending time away from their kids or their jobs. I could see how those topics could be vitally interesting to women in an earlier stage of life, but for me it just wasn’t compelling. It wasn’t worth the opportunity cost of doing something else.
Working off the assumption that other women at a fairly senior level would feel the same way I did, I set up a series of meetings with women who owned a business or ran a division of a company to hear their reactions to the women’s programming that was currently available. Understanding that time is a most precious commodity, what would be “worth it” to women executives or business owners?
Over the past three years I’ve had meetings with dozens of “C-suite” women who told me stories that helped me see the “why.”
Consider an example from an early interview I conducted with a woman board director. She told me about a board meeting in which she was the only director in the meeting who understood the problem the retail chain was having, because she was the only one who had ever shopped there. The other board members all had wives who did the shopping and didn’t really understand the nuances of the shopping experience.
Women comprise 20% of corporate board directors among the Fortune 1000. How many companies would have better guidance from their board if there was more diversity in the board room? Would they be able to grow faster and add more jobs? Getting more women qualified and onto boards is a great reason “why.”
Another reason “why” is the fact that women are starting businesses in record numbers, but small business statistics show that only 3% of women-led businesses ever reach the $1 million dollar mark (versus 6% of businesses started by men.) Women-owned businesses are also more likely to remain “single shingles” – companies without any employees beyond the owner. Yet small businesses adding jobs is a key driver of economic growth.
Many entrepreneurs of either gender have an idea and bring it to fruition in the kitchen or the basement. Many women keep working alone at home as the business grows, funding the business using their credit cards when it needs to expand. They often don’t have a network of advisors to help them understand legal or tax issues that could impact the business and they don’t have contacts within the capital community to help fund accelerated growth. Here is another big reason “why” to have programs for women entrepreneurs – filling the gap of contacts and information to help them accelerate growth.
When you bring together a group of women entrepreneurs there is always tremendous energy in the room. They exchange ideas, ask questions and tweet about what they have heard. They eagerly start new relationships that will help them build their business. You can feel their passion to grow their business. And as their businesses grow they add jobs and the economy grows with them.
And that’s why the women’s program has gone from being “something I have to do” to something I love to do.
About the Blogger
Adelle Starr Erdman is Director of Marketing at Frazier & Deeter, where she happily helps oversee their Women Business Leadership program.