Jan 23, 2016

What’s stopping us? Women’s Entrepreneurship Day 2015

by Riddhima Yadav, YC '18

Consider: women perform 66 percent of the world’s work but earn 10 percent of the world’s income. At the same time, they account for 85 percent of consumer purchases and control $20 trillion in worldwide spending. Surely, we cannot continue living in an era where women still need to be recognized as potent players on the global business stage.

Started in 2014, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is a global movement that celebrates and empowers female entrepreneurs while supporting their businesses. In mid-November I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) event at United Nations headquarters. (The event was simultaneously celebrated in 145 countries.) My participation was made possible by a grant from The Yale Center for Business and the Environment and InnovateHealth Yale for young female entrepreneurs on campus; the grant supported women who could share their experience spearheading initiatives and translating women’s empowerment into action oriented organizations. I applied because at the age of thirteen I started an environmental organization in India, my home country. The WED event made me realize that irrespective of which part of the world we come from, women entrepreneurs face many of the same challenges: discouragement, household duties, financial dependence and maternal responsibilities.

At UN headquarters that morning, hundreds of women—old and young, students and mothers—trickled in, their chatter and enthusiasm livening up the otherwise quiet halls. The day opened on a memorable note, with news coming in from Syria that 40 young women were holding their own roundtable in solidarity with our celebrations in New York. (Indeed, there much we can do if those young women were able to set such a bold example!)

The day was divided into themed panels, like Women in Media, Female Philanthropists Leading the Way, Importance of Women on Corporate Boards, Women as Investors, and so on. Each panel hosted leaders in that field who spoke with universal passion about their work and their hopes to see growth of women-led organizations. Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Inc., unforgettably said that, “Being an entrepreneur is like jumping out of a plane and building the parachute on the way down,” while Atti Riazi, Chief IT Officer at the UN, spoke about financial independence. She drew attention to her grandmother’s bracelet, which she still wears on her wrist to remind her of this cause. The bracelet was the only possession her grandmother owneed, as it came as part of her dowry. Other speakers included Adena Friedman, President of NASDAQ, Andrea Jung, CEO of Grameen America, and Jen Welter, first female coach in the NFL, among many others. The event also hosted the presentation of Pioneer Awards for women shaping paradigms in their respective fields.

Honorees included singer Leona Lewis, Cargill board member Martha Macmillan and creator of BareMinerals Leslie Boldgett. The event culminated with a panel of WED Fellows—young women chosen to be part of a Global Acelerator program that provides mentorship and a network to nurture female entreprenuers.

In this rhythm the afternoon flew by, fueld by inspiring conversations, meeting with a fellow Yalie, Tanya Rivero, from The Wall Street Journal, applauding young women from all over the world and, most importantly, simply delighting in the room’s wonderful energy. It was heartening to see the enthusiasm of these leading women and to listen to young students like myself share stories. It was also inspiring to hear the women there, with all of their accomplishments, nonetheless recount the trials and tribulations on their journey of growth. The opportunity to chat and bond with some of the speakers over the course of that day meant that I came back with more than just notes and pictures. I returned with gratification and with strength.

To follow the movement and get involved, visit www.womenseday.org. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day was founded by Wendy Diamond and is celebrated on 19th November every year to discuss and celebrate the work of women. The global event is held at the UN in New York with several regional events being held all over the world. The movement also has a fellowship and ambassador program.