And that slogans like “lean in” and “having it all” work better in theory than they do when the rat-race rubber meets the road.
I recently discussed the teetering “Lean In” movement launched by Facebook heavy Sheryl Sandberg with a co-founder of the Arlington-based networking group Awesome Women Entrepreneurs.
“We’re the antithesis of that,” said digital strategist Evelyn Powers, the group’s creative director who five years ago teamed up with friend and public relations professional Karen Bate in Bate’s East Falls Church living room. “The whole reason we started is that Karen and I lean together, working together. We knew all these women with incredible home-based businesses and decided we should start a book club — without the book,” she said. “We would talk about business in a more relaxed, social way.”
As mothers of young children, many female entrepreneurs are not going to go to a co-ed Chamber of Commerce meeting and talk about balancing career and parenting, Powers said.
Instead, this group’s approach gives women a chance to unwind, drink wine and talk business informally. Without feeling the pressure and “intense commitment to bring referrals” like those who join, say, Business Network International, she added.
Surprised that 25 women showed up at that inaugural meeting, Bate recalled that “we had a simple idea: To provide a space for women business owners like us to get together, support one another and share our experiences with peers who understand our lives — the juggle and the struggle,” she said.
“Because being an entrepreneur can be hard and lonely,’ Bate added. “We provide a place for our members to connect, collaborate, refer one another and hire one another. We passionately believe this spirit of collaboration, not competition, is how we will all grow and thrive.”
Soon those who joined began to “actively refer each other, actively support each other, and make money for each other,” as Powers put it.
Today the home-headquartered Awesome Women Entrepreneurs boasts 175 in its Arlington chapter, with chapters meeting in Fairfax Station, Vienna, the District of Columbia, Bethesda, Central Prince George’s County and North Los Angeles.
Nationwide, women own 40 percent of businesses, generate $1.7 trillion in sales and employ nine million people, according to Bate. She cites “thousands of incredibly varied businesses” in Arlington itself, ranging from graphic designers to accountants, to interior designers, to event planners to therapists. Members pay $150 a year for monthly meetings, and take July, August and December off. The group strives to be inclusive in attracting members from all walks, with varying amounts of time to give.
“Women can’t lean in for too long unless they have a staff,” Powers said. “I get the essence of what Sandberg is saying. But it takes a really incredible kind of woman to be able to do that. When I had young kids with my own business, it was really hard to not constantly be thinking about the children. I do think it’s biological, and I’m not afraid to say something like that.”
Women seem to respond to her group’s “kind of vibe,” Powers added. Sure, “anyone can do it all — just not all at the same time.”
Organizers of the in-progress Virginia Women’s Monument in Richmond have culled the Arlingtonians who made its accompanying “Wall of Honor.”
Among 230 Virginia women noted for contributions to culture and history are former Marymount University president Marie Berg; public television pioneer Elizabeth Campbell; civic activist Esther Cooper; civil rights activist Dorothy Hamm; computer science pioneer Grace Hopper; social activist Matilda Lindsay; legislator Kathryn Stone and educator Evelyn Syphax.
The granite plaza and the Wall of Honor that will surround the coming 12 bronze statues are already open to the public.