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International Women's Day 2021: a Q&A with SheEO Director, Activator Growth and 5x Activator Jessy Wang

women leaders

At Joeyband we pride ourselves on having a forward-thinking and open company culture, and we create products with inclusivity in mind.

Promoting gender equality goes hand in hand with these values, and celebrating strong, inspiring women helps to move us closer to achieving a fairer, more equal society.

In honour of International Women's Day 2021, we speak to SheEO Director, Activator Growth and 5x Activator, Jessy Wang on the important work SheEO is doing to close the gender gap.    

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. But rather than level the entrepreneurial playing field, when SheEO launched in 2015 it set out to, in its own words, “create an entirely new field”. What does that new field look like - and why do you think it is necessary?

For generations, women’s innovations have been overlooked and underfunded. Women represent 51% of the population yet receive only 2-3% of venture capital and 4% of all dollars lent to small businesses.

The traditional funding landscape wasn’t (and isn’t) working for women - so we set out to create a radically different model for funding and supporting women entrepreneurs. Each year, hundreds of radically generous Activators contribute $92/month or $1,100 to a collective fund that we loan out at 0% interest to SheEO Ventures. As the money is paid back, we loan it out again - creating a perpetual fund for women entrepreneurs.

Activators participate in a democratized voting process to decide which Ventures we will fund + support as a community. Our focus is specifically on Ventures that are working on the World’s To-Do List (UN Sustainable Development Goals).

I think creating a new model is imperative because the current economic model - extractive, exploitative, widening income, social + health inequalities - is not working for me and a whole lot of others. In this last year of COVID, as tens of millions of folks have lost their jobs, US billionaires’ wealth grew by 44%... that’s $1.3 trillion dollars.

I don’t just want to live in a female version of the existing world. I want to live in a world where we take care of our people and communities, where environmental impacts are not merely an afterthought or an externality, and where women and gender diverse people, Black, Indigenous, people of colour, immigrants, and people of different abilities have equitable access to resources, wealth, and power.

SheEO’s model is based on co-creation and creating an environment of trust. Why do you think these two particular elements, and a sense of community in general, helps women to succeed in business?

I think we’re all looking for community and a sense of belonging - especially in COVID isolation.

And, I think that being part of a community built on trust and co-creation is even more powerful for women because it’s different from a lot of our lived experiences.

As women, we face barriers to funding, we are typecast for certain roles, we get paid less, we are interrupted and mansplained, we are overlooked for promotions, and we are criticized for not being assertive enough, for being too bossy, for being too emotional, for how we act, what we wear, on and on.

In the SheEO community, we accept women and non-binary folks as they are. We don’t want you to change. We support and celebrate each other and amplify each other’s voices.

Many Activators and Ventures have shared that SheEO is the first time they’ve found “their people”, and that they feel like they can show up as their whole selves here, without fear of judgment or being mislabeled.

When you surround yourself with people who trust and respect and co-create with you, it changes everything.

In 2021, we’ve made a lot of progress in narrowing the gender gap and seeing more female representation in business. What do you think are still the main factors holding women back from fulfilling their business dreams today, and how does SheEO counter these?

While I think we’ve made some progress overall, this last year of COVID has been pretty detrimental for women. In COVID, women are nearly twice as likely than men to lose their jobs, women have been forced out of the workforce at a higher rate (disproportionately burdened with caregiving and household labour), and venture capital funding for women entrepreneurs has dropped to a 3-year low.

There are more CEOs of Fortune500 companies named Michael OR James than women CEOs (a few years ago, this was true for the names John and James; David and Peter are probably up next).

The main factor holding women back from fulfilling their business dreams is the system that was designed to do exactly that :)

We live in a white male-dominated world. Women and particularly Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour were not at the table to design the systems we are in. There is so much bias - systemic, unconscious, conscious - that limits what opportunities and resources are currently available for women and non-binary people.

At SheEO we counter this by building an entirely new model, mindset, and way of being in community and in business. A model that is based on Radical Generosity, equity, abundance, co-creation, capital in flow, and power with vs. power over.

And, it’s working. Our Ventures have a 95% payback rate on the loans, are creating hundreds of new jobs, and are working on the World’s To-Do List. Our community has grown to 7,000+ Activators who activate their capital, networks, expertise and buying power to help the Ventures and each other fulfill their dreams. And we’re just getting started.

Is there a particular project you’re working on (or will be working on in the future) that you’re excited about?

TODAY (March 8) we are so excited to announce that thanks to the Radical Generosity of SheEO Activators and a new matching contribution, this year we’ll be funding and supporting 24 SheEO Canadian Ventures.

From 2015-2020 we funded 73 Ventures; this month alone we are adding 34 new Ventures. So a project I’m excited to work on is developing our infrastructure to ensure that as we scale, each individual Venture still gets the support, connections, deep care, and Radical Generosity from the Activator community they need to grow and thrive.

I’m looking forward to working with Activators (co-creating as we say) to figure out how best to do that. Stay tuned!

What would you say to women and non-binary people who want to take a business idea further, but aren’t sure where to start?

Find your community. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, who’ve maybe done this before, and who want to help you. Starting a business can feel lonely - but it doesn’t have to be. Part of that is recognizing that you don’t have to do it all yourself. 

In the SheEO community we regularly practice asking for help. Asking for help often feels uncomfortable at first (especially for women and gender diverse people), but it gets easier with practice. And every time your “Ask” is met with support, it builds your courage to ask again and ask for more. What else might be possible? 

And of course I’m biased but I really encourage entrepreneurs who are just starting out to join the Activator community. It’s $92/month and it’s an investment in yourself - connecting you to thousands of Activators and Ventures, learning opportunities, a place to share your ideas and ask for help, and more. 

Imagine if you had a whole community of radically generous people who wanted to support you... well, it’s here and we’d love to welcome you!