What you may well ask, can startup founders learn from the second-wave feminist icon?
Plenty, as it turns out. For today’s tips for women seeking funding, I’d like to tell you what I learned from Gloria Steinem recently, because that may help. Her perspective on feminism, and why she is a self-proclaimed hope-aholic, will help women founders everywhere – indeed, of any gender. So guys, listen up too.
Power is most effective when it is shared.
No matter what you might think, none of us is able to accomplish all we want to alone. Across all things in life, your influence goes farther when you share it with others. This is a fundamental principle of mentoring, sponsoring and networking. This is also the basic principle of parity: if you have a platform, influence, power, or a voice of your own, you will benefit from sharing it with others who don’t.
There is no need to toil in isolation. We have each other and working together makes us stronger. Gloria counsels,
“Think of us all as linked, instead of ranked.”
What to do when you don’t have a powerful voice.
Gloria Steinem used to power of sharing to find hers. By her own admission, she was terrified of public speaking when she started out. She was determined to speak for women who needed the power of a public voice and she recognized that she had some of the traits required to be that voice. So, she invited other already-outspoken and well known women to share their voices on stage with her. In doing so, she advanced her own agenda of gender equality. It was a brilliant strategy that amplified her message and theirs.
Find your group, a cohort of people who share your vision. Startup leadership is often lonely. Avoid going into those woods alone. Seek out fellow entrepreneurs, trusted advisors, and fellow board members. Beyond technical expertise, open your conversations beyond technical issues to encompass leadership discussions in order to form friendships based on trust.
“Don’t look up, look out at each other and find shared power.”
– “Gloria, a Life” by Emily Mann
Now late in her life and secure in her role as a leader, Steinem graciously continues to share her power with others. We know inclusion is better for everyone, besides being just. This kind of diversity is good business. Decades of research show diverse leadership produces better outcomes, outpacing homogeneity by leaps and bounds. Business is not zero-sum. Prosperity grows when we make the pie bigger. See TaketheLeadWomen for a nationwide initiative to increase gender parity in leadership across all sectors, right now averaging a disappointing 20 percent.
Maintain laser focus on what you aim to accomplish.
Assignments for a woman emerging in the 1950’s were limited to writing about ‘women’s interests’ such as reviewing a new trend toward textured stockings, recipes, decorating and the like. Covering these topics didn’t get Steinem a seat at any table of importance. However, they did pay her rent as she persisted in speaking up for more serious assignments, including public figure interviews and politics.
Maintain focus. The first question Steinem asked me was about gender equity in my own life. No time for small talk – she just dove right in to find out who she was speaking to in terms that were important to her. To this day, Steinem maintains laser focus on her goal: to increase the level of consciousness among all people around gender equity.
Keep your vision and mission clear in your mind always. Work with what you’ve got until you get where you want. And leverage the power of others to get you on your way. Steinem started talking about gender parity at a time when women were being pushed out of critical wartime workforce roles back into social subordination and insignificance in the mid 19th century. She worked from there. And the rest – as they say, is history.
*For those of you who need a refresher;
Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer. Co-founder of Ms. Magazine and New York Magazine, and numerous action organizations, she travels in this and other countries as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice. She lives in New York City, and has published numerous books, and two memoirs.
Full Bio here http://www.gloriasteinem.com/about