One wouldn't necessarily think of a book as a threat; but then again, knowledge is power.
From the time I was very young, I loved reading. My mother read to us and she herself was a reader. Of all the things that have shaped me, this one thing has mattered the most. When we were very young, she was given a set of Colliers Encyclopedias that had been in a fire. We loved looking through the big heavy black books, some singed from the fire. Later, a brand new set of World Book Encyclopedias arrived. I'm certain my mother believed this investment would change our lives for the better. She also made sure we made frequent trips to the library.
Frederick Douglass once said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free,” and while times have changed from the more obvious implications Douglass was making about African American oppression, the core of this philosophy has not gone away.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
When I was 22, I married a farmer. It was a short courtship, a quick proposal and the next thing I knew, I was the proud half owner of 45 milking cows and 45 young stock living on 160 acres. I also became part of a family with values that were both similar and very different than my own.
There were many good things about this time in my life. These were good, hard-working people who loved their way of life and were content in not changing it. I did my best to fit in. I mostly didn't.
I had begun getting books from the library as my then husband worked quite a lot so I had time to read. I began reading about the oppression of women, women as property and our system of diminishing instead of empowering women. I mentioned this in casual conversation one day at the dinner table with my new in-laws. My father-in-law looked at me in all seriousness and said, "I think you read too many books." I was stunned.
It was meant to be diminishing. It was meant to stop me from reading. He thought my gaining knowledge was a threat to him in some way. I remember thinking of it as more of a challenge statement than anything. And I remember feeling something inside of me rise. Was ignorance the way to happiness in his mind? Did he think that by my gaining knowledge that I was somehow going to threaten his way of life?
Last year, after the WEDWisconsin conference, a male friend of mine said "99% of the guys couldn't handle what you just pulled off." Why is it that when a woman does something bold or worthwhile, some men perceive it as diminishing? That was never the point of any of this. Why can't we rise together? Doesn't it occur to people that if we had equity in terms of our compensation, our households incomes would rise? Wouldn't that benefit everyone? And what about the fact that 50% of homes are run by single parents or the wife is the solo breadwinner?
Why is it that when a woman does something bold or worthwhile, some men perceive it as diminishing?
Some of these oppressive ideas are out of an agrarian culture that made wives property. I doubt this was useful then and I know it isn't now. Let's check ourselves and make sure we're not buying into a flawed system. You were made for more.
This is my second year producing the WED conference. There were many firsts in our inaugural year and it was, by all accounts, a success. 96% of attendees felt more confident as a result of attending. 50% said they were more likely to seek capital. Given that about half of the women in the room came from the C-suite on the leadership side, we can make the assumption that means nearly every women who ran a business was more likely to have the resources to build a better company just because they showed up.
My fuel for last year's conference came from knowing that it could be better for ALL women in our region (and globally) and having a keen understanding of what the gaps are. I knew because earlier in 2017, I became a 49 year old scholar. I attended the highest ranked entrepreneurial college in the United States, Babson College, on full scholarship (thank you Goldman Sachs!). What I learned was that women, when equipped and properly resourced, can and do build great companies. What I also learned is that we are STILL getting left behind. We receive a minute portion of venture capital dollars. We don't even ask for the SBA funding at the same level as men. And, we don't have the networks in place to make the connections and gain the knowledge needed (in most cases) to do as well as our male counterparts. This was unacceptable to me. So I pulled together a group of people who get things done and we got busy. From beginning to show time, we had 120 days and thanks to you, nearly 400 people were changed for the better.
This year, my fuel comes from the core of who I am. It comes from approaching my 30th year in business. It comes from working with various causes from domestic abuse to literacy, from homelessness to child development that tells me that there must be a better way. It comes from a man I respected telling me that I read too many books. It comes from a man telling me after the conference last year that "99% of the men in this world couldn't handle what you just pulled off." So to be respected and treated as an equal within business, apparently I need to dumb it down? Is that really the case?
Women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men. And with the right resources, knowledge and network, they will do great things and earn more than they could have under other circumstances.
Research shows that when women are properly resourced, not only do they thrive, but their families and communities do too. Women's Entrepreneurship Day (WED) is a global movement celebrated in 144 countries. “When women are empowered in business, they have self-confidence and dignity and are more capable of standing up for one another’s basic human rights,” Women’s Entrepreneurship Day founder Wendy Diamond says. “These types of returns are life-changing for entire communities. The more people understand the impact of empowering women in business, the more they will get involved and encourage others to do so, too.”
We each have gifts and talents that if brought into the world, could change the world. Live into your dreams. Take the chance. Yes, it is scary out here and there are days when I've wondered what I've gotten myself into but do it anyway. We were made to make things, to build and to create. You bring something to this world that no other human being can bring. Don't stand in the shadows when you can shine in the sun. Take a day for yourself and join us at Women's Entrepreneurship Day Wisconsin on Monday, November 19th. You'll meet other women just like you....women who are learners and leaders. Whether you are working for a company, have a side gig, or are already in business, you will find a tribe here that will support and encourage you. You will gain knowledge and insights that are designed exactly for you. And you will invest in something very valuable, yourself and your future.
"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. “Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Register to celebrate and learn with us in Madison, Wisconsin on Monday, November 19th, 2018. Registration includes all conference materials and sessions, healthy snacks at breaks, and a beautiful lunch.
By sponsoring, your company shows its commitment to providing economic opportunities for every woman, especially those who are underserved, underresourced and underestimated.