There are many things I’m grateful for in life: my supportive husband, a sturdy roof over my head and a bed to sleep in every night, to name a few. But there’s one element in my life that I am truly grateful for but, for some reason, don’t vocalize as much as I should:

Working for a Woman-Owned and Female-Run Business. 

I went to college at a time where the community was just beginning to raise their voices about the gaps and the ceilings and the harassment and the inequality — all pointing the finger to the big elephant in the room (men).

I never thought that was fair. It takes time to change culture. But nonetheless, I was nervous about graduating from college and going into the workforce with a majority male management for the reasons listed above and more. Yes, society added to the sensitivity. But to an extent, I think it was also because I wasn’t used to working with males in the first place. I went to a college with majority female students, I grew up with almost all female teachers, and usually, whenever I ran for leadership positions at school or in clubs, my opponents were almost always female.

To be honest, I feel worse for men. According to Education Week, the majority of our nation’s teaching force is still white and female (think 9 in 10 teaches at the elementary level). At a young age, men rarely saw teachers that looked like them. Continuing their education, men turned out to be the minority in college. According to NPR, The 1981-82 academic school year was the first time that women received more bachelor’s degrees than men. Since then, women have consistently outpaced men in earning that same level of education, receiving 57% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded by U.S. institutions in the 2016-2017 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

So there was a dichotomy in my college years where I had this “fear” of male management even though in my personal life, they were never a “threat.” Maybe this comes from naivety, but I never experienced inequality when it came to opportunities inside or outside of school. Who knows, maybe I did without realizing it. But I grew up with this idea that men didn’t want women involved and it turned out to not be true at all.

I remember in elementary school the boys would always play football up on top of the hill. They looked like they were having so much fun – much more fun than I was having playing on the swings with my girl friends. So one day I pumped myself up and got the courage to walk up there and ask if I could play — fully expecting a humiliating denial where then I would pull out my list of reasons why I should be allowed to play. But, to my shock, they shrugged their shoulders and said, “Sure, you’re fast. Can you catch a ball?”

Disclaimer: I could, in fact, NOT catch a ball. But I used my speed to play defense.

Nevertheless, the scary idea of boys clubs that society put in my head, in my experience, was nonexistent. I was afraid of something that wasn’t real. I’m not saying the “boys club” concept isn’t a reality for others. I fully believe the victims of pay gaps, sexual harassment, and discrimination for the fact that they have a vagina.

But from the time I played on that football field to today, I have never been judged other than by my skill set. Yeah – I can’t catch a ball, so I played defense. They didn’t make me play defense because I was a girl. And yeah, even though chemistry was one of my favorite subjects in school, it wasn’t my strongest so I probably would never get hired at a lab. But I’m a bomb strategist and that’s how I got this incredible job at Koi-Fly Creative.

 

The Leadership Gap

One thing that did bother me as I researched this personal discrepancy in college was the women’s leadership gap. Again, my whole personal life comprised of women leaders. Of course, the US president was male… and the Philadelphia mayor was male… and the CEO of Apple was male… but I’ve only interacted with female teachers, female principles, and female internship supervisors.

So it surprised me to learn that although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions. While they are 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force and 36 percent of first- or mid-level officials and managers in those companies, women are only 25 percent of the executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 20 percent of board seats, and are only 6 percent of the total number of CEOs.

What, arguably, is even more frustrating for budding female entrepreneurs, is that women were only 6 percent of partners in venture capital firms (2013)—down from 10 percent in 1999.

With this information it came to my surprise when a woman named Stacey Grant called to tell me about her uber-creative, exciting new venture that hadn’t even launched yet as I was searching for a job opportunity after college. Her optimism and enthusiasm captivated this recent grad so I accepted the company’s position, becoming its first employee. That was December 2015. Every day since then, I’ve become more proud and felt more blessed to be working for a woman-owned business. Here’s why.

 

The Meeting Room is Much More Diverse

It’s shown that it’s more likely for people to get along with, hire, and invest in people that look like them. Maybe it’s a personality flaw – or maybe it’s a biological or societal consequence. Nonetheless, leaders, from investors to CEOs, haven’t been able to look past this bias to keep up with the growing industry and academic research on the advantages of gender diversity. Yet, good corporate decision-making requires the ability to hear and consider different points of view, which comes from people who have different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

One huge advantage of working for a woman-owned business is the gender diversity in the office (and in Koi-Fly’s case, on set). Production is a male-dominated field, so Stacey makes it a point to hire female crew members such as Directors of Photography and Camera Operators in order to broaden the creative outlook.

 

There’s a Sense of Empathy

Even though I’ve never gone through it personally, I’ve heard horror stories of male bosses and business owners not having empathy when things don’t go according to plan. Let me stress that this is NOT the case for all-male managers in any way. But there are inherited differences between the cognitive style between men and women. In an article in Psychology Today, Liraz Margalit Ph.D.,  explained how in general, females are stronger empathizers and males are stronger systemizers.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that males spontaneously systemize to a greater degree than females do, while females spontaneously empathize to a greater degree than males,” Margalit said. “Other studies have also suggested that mathematics, physics, and engineering—all of which require a high degree of systemization—are more commonly male occupations, while women are better at decoding nonverbal communications, picking up subtle nuances from tone of voice or facial expression, or judging a person’s character.”

Obviously, this does not mean that all men are systemizers and all women are empathizers. But the evidence points to the inclination that when presented with a personnel issue, men tend to logically systemize the solution while women tend to listen. Even at a young age, women are able to communicate well, which translates to a more open and well-rounded conversation around tough problems in the business world.

 

The Link Between Diversity and Profitability

Many companies and corporate boards are paying attention to the research on the benefits of women in leadership positions. In a report by McKinsey & Company, a correlation was found between diversity and corporate performance in a 2014 study; it confirmed this in a follow-up study in 2017 noting that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.”

In another article called Women: The X-Factor, research from Bank of America found that companies with more diverse boards had higher subsequent return on equity (ROE) than companies with less diverse boards for “nearly every year over the past decade.” In its research, it showed companies with more diverse boards were also less volatile.

 

You’ll Feel Valued Because of the Innovative Policies and Benefits

The list of reasons of why women aren’t in higher ranking positions is long, varied, and nuanced. Promotions tend to be judged by the contributions and time spent at a company. But how can women play on an equal playing field if they have so many obstacles standing in front of them to even stay in their career?

Some women leave their jobs and even careers because of sexual harassment. According to a Marketplace-Edison research poll, about 46% who experience sexual harassment at work will leave a job or career. Others will leave because they continue to be passed over for promotions and raises. Some leave because they have children or want to have children, and the average American workplace tends to be unfriendly to the working mother.

It could be assumed that a female business owner would have more empathy for these obstacles than a male business owner would, which means there’s a better chance policies and benefits would be put into place to help female workers — at least that’s been my experience.

InHerSight sampled Fast Company’s data set of reviews on more than 100,000 US companies to better understand what women want from their employers and what makes them happy at work. The top four things working women said they want from their employers are:

  1. Paid time off: sick days, personal days, vacation days, maternity leave
  2. Salary satisfaction: bonuses, merit increases, cost of living adjustments, overall compensation
  3. Great coworkers: respectful, professional, and unbiased coworkers
  4. Flexible work hours: the ability to set your schedule as long as you get your work done

This makes sense. Paid time off, maternity leave, and flexible work hours allow women the ability to design a lifestyle they want and be flexible when children come into play. And good pay and great coworkers provide security and stability in professional life. I argue that a woman is more likely to achieve these “bread-and-butter” benefits if the leaders of the company (the CEO) have personal experience as to why these benefits are necessary to retain happy employees.

At Koi-Fly, we have all of these benefits and it’s all because of our founder and CEO, Stacey Grant. Stacey wanted to create an environment where people were excited to come to work every day because they felt valued. Forcing a woman to return to work only six weeks after a huge physical and emotional experience like giving birth, while she’s still healing, will NOT make her feel valued. But policies such as unlimited paid time off, like Koi-Fly has, stop the stress and anxiety of last-minute kid emergencies from flowing into the workplace.

Imagine: a woman gets a call in the middle of the day from school because her son is sick and has to be picked up right away. She can’t pick him up because she already left before 5 pm once this week to pick him up from youth wrestling practice and got scolded for it. So she stresses for the rest of the day both worrying about her child’s health while also trying to find a solution for the pickup. A stressed worker is not a productive worker. If you trust your employees, which you should or else they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the woman, or man, the peace of mind that when events like this come up, she won’t get fired for tending to her family? That will create more happy employees as well as better retention from women quitting because it’s all too much.

Keep in mind that Koi-Fly Creative is a start up. We’re still boot strapping and hustling to keep up with the demand for our product. So even though it’s potentially a bigger stress on Koi-Fly compared to a bigger company to offer benefits like this, Stacey nonetheless persists. Her people are her #1 priority and we can feel it.

It goes back to empathy. Female business owners who are also mothers like Stacey understand what it takes to raise children. So she’s put policies in place to make it an inclusive, flexible environment to lower stress and increase creativity and productivity.

 

I am truly proud to be led by a female business owner. I have seen what empathy and diverse opinions do to our office and our company’s product. A huge thank you to Stacey Grant for giving me the rare opportunity to work with a female leader who cares so much about her people, a company’s greatest resource.

 

 

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