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Women talk truth about their crucial role in the American economy and the inequitable expectation to ‘carry it all’

Uncommon Conversations: Women Entrepreneurs
Uncommon Conversations on the economic engagement of women include, from left: Ella Livingston, Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Naomi Hirabayashi, Shelly Bell, Katie Hendrix, and Dr. JaNaé Taylor.

In a series of three conversations, women entrepreneurs and women who work in entrepreneur support, come together to discuss the significant impact of women on the economy; what personal and policy support could do for women and families struggling to combine career and caregiving; and, how all of it manifests in their own lives.

“Freaking hustle spirit.”

Listen to the conversation

Also available on: Spotify | Apple Podcasts

Uncommon Conversations

“There’s too many women who’ve had to leave because they had to choose, ‘Am I going to raise my kids or am I going to spend my whole entire paycheck on daycare?’” Ella Livingston tells Shelly Bell, when she was recently faced with the decision to leave the workforce herself.

Livingston made her career as a secondary math teacher while balancing motherhood, and starting her company, Cocoa Asante – a premium chocolate company that handcrafts truffles using cocoa sourced from her home country of Ghana.

While she loves teaching, she says if she continued to teach next year, her entire paycheck would go to childcare for her young daughter – a problem that is all too common, as in most states, the cost of childcare for two children outweighs mortgage costs among homeowners.

“Honestly, my shining light at the end of the tunnel was entrepreneurship,” replies Bell, a serial entrepreneur and mother of three. It was a calculated risk Bell says gave her the freedom to pursue her economic potential.

Bell is the founder of Black Girl Ventures – an organization that provides women with access to community, capital, and capacity building that leads to economic advancement through entrepreneurship.

“What motherhood will give you is the freaking hustle spirit,” Bell says. Our economy relies on the economic contributions of women – especially in the face of the rising cost of living and the weight of caregiving responsibilities.

“Where the finances fail, mothers completely pick up with energy and emotions,” Bell says.

Livingston agrees. “We become what we need. Regardless of whether we have the credentials, the degree, the time. We become what we need because we have no choice.”  

In this open and honest conversation, Bell and Livingston discuss the ways that systems fail to support women and families, the need for organizations and policymakers to care about workers as people, and how entrepreneurship can be an opportunity for women to create their own formula for success.

“My job is a number of things, but right now, it’s to build a business.”

Listen to the conversation

Also available on: Spotify | Apple Podcasts

Founders Naomi Hirabayashi and Desiree Vargas Wrigley not only want change, they strive to be strong examples of the changes they want to see.

Hirabayashi is the co-founder of Shine, Inc., a mental health app and community that makes caring for mental and emotional health easier, more inclusive, and more representative. Last year, she and her co-founder, Marah Lidey, led Shine to be one of Apple’s ‘Best of 2020’ by the App Store for creating content  dedicated to the intersectionality of mental health and Black lives.

Vargas Wrigley is the executive director of TechRise by P33 Chicago and founder of Pearachute, Inc., a website and app that fosters learning and creativity through local, family-fun activities. She is one of two Latinas to raise more than $1 million in funding in the Chicago, and is among the highest-funded Latinas in the country.

“I think both being female founders … it’s an underrepresented experience in this space and that’s changing, but there’s still so much change that needs to happen,” Hirabayashi says to Vargas Wrigley.

The women candidly address the barriers to raising capital.

Read the report: Economic Engagement of Mothers

“It’s like, if you’re a woman, they want to relate to you through their wife, the secretary, or their daughter. And, if you don’t look like any of that, it’s like, well, ‘where do I put you?’ You can’t just be a potential entrepreneur – and, obviously, that’s oversimplifying stuff, but that’s definitely like some of the interactions we had,” Hirabayashi says.

Vargas Wrigley says if the problem is unfamiliar to a predominantly white, rich male investor pool, it takes a lot longer to get the traction metrics needed to get to the next level.

The two also discuss the importance of increased representation within the entrepreneurial landscape, which led Hirabayashi to the question: “How do we get more people in the door? And how many ideas are left on the table, because nobody can get in that front door?”

“I’m convinced that we have this latent entrepreneurial energy that’s locked behind computers or Target checkout stands or at home with kids because there aren’t enough women saying like, ‘why not me? Why can’t I be the one to bring this idea to life?’” Vargas Wrigley says.

“We’ve been socialized as a culture to always make people comfortable. I think for the first time I’m realizing, that’s not my job. My job is to be kind, my job is to be direct, and my job is a number of things, but right now, it’s to build a business,” Hirabayashi says.

Self-care, the gender gap, and systems change.

Listen to the conversation

Also available on: Spotify | Apple Podcasts

In this conversation between Dr. JaNaé Taylor and Katie Hendrix, they discuss what it would look like if women could let go of the expectation to carry it all. They consider the support women need to bring self-care into the balance, and how, individuals, families, businesses, and our economy, would be strengthened if systems changed to support women and policies recognized the realities of combining career and caregiving.

“I’m always struck by the difference, in that, when it’s a male-led [business] that they really kind of hoist him up to get him to where they need to be and all kind of pitch in,” Taylor tells Hendrix. She says, for women, the opposite seems truer: women often work double-time to alleviate the strain of her business ownership from the household. “I’ll make it happen. I’ll sleep less. I won’t go outside. I won’t have breakfast. I’ll kind of manage this. I’ll do this when they’re asleep. I don’t want to disturb the nature of the family to get this done,” Taylor says women tell themselves. “There’s a lot of isolation in that. There’s a lot of anxiety that people are facing as a result of some of those things.”

“You actually kind of made me tear up,” responds Hendrix, “because it is the way that, at least I know for me and I know of some of the women entrepreneurs that I work with too, the way that we juggle our lives is to be able to get it all and carry it all.”

So, they ask: What do women need and how can we change systems that do not work for them?

Taylor comes to this discussion as the owner and operator of Taylor Counseling and Consulting Services and the founder of Minding My BLACK Business, a movement and podcast dedicated to the mental health of Black entrepreneurs.

Hendrix is the vice president of client and stakeholder development at Pathway Lending, and former chief of staff at CO.LAB, a nonprofit startup accelerator in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she worked alongside entrepreneurs to increase access to capital. She also serves as the vice chair of the board of Downside Up, a local nonprofit.

Both balance careers and caring for others – roles that many women juggle with little support, and often at the expense of caring for themselves. Taylor and Hendrix’s open and personal conversation dives into what increased support for women entrepreneurs would look like, what increased funding for women would look like, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economic engagement of mothers, and how all of it has manifested in their own lives.