September 25, 2023
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It takes a crowbar to pry open doors of opportunity for women


Marsha Bailey is the founder and executive director of Women’s Economic Ventures.

By Marsha Bailey

“What keeps you awake at night?” We’ve all been there — unable to shut down our brain and turn off the anxieties that can become the monster lurking under the bed.

But today, I don’t want to talk about what keeps me up at night. I want to talk about what gets me up in the morning. About why I feel as passionate today about the work we do at Womens Economic Ventures as I did when we started down this path nearly three decades ago.

Like many of you, I’m inspired by courage. Every time I see a woman or a group of women break through a barrier, I feel a thrill of pride. I’m inspired by women like our trailblazer, Lynda Nahra, by our previous Trailblazers, Lynda Weinman and Bonnie Atmore, who are with us this morning, and by all the women in the room who have taken risks and plunged into uncharted territory.

If I had to distill the essence of my inspiration into one word, it would be possibility. Most of us are familiar with Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I appreciate Mead’s sentiment, because it speaks to the power we all have to initiate change. But the truth is, it’s a lot easier to change the world with a large group of thoughtful, committed citizens.

As Emily Barany said in the video you saw earlier, “WEV is the army behind me.”

That image, of a multitude of women —  a vast community of support, sharing their experience, their insights and their resources — that inspires me.

Every time a new volunteer steps up, I see a possibility — a transfer of knowledge or an expression of support that can help a client learn to trust her judgment and achieve her goals.

Every time a donor writes a check, I see an opportunity for another woman to expand her understanding of what is possible: to change her life.

Most of all, I am inspired by our clients. Gloria and Mario Alonso, whose head covering protects the health of those who labor to put food on our tables. Lisa Serby, who works with young children to help them grow up to be well-adjusted and productive adults.

My favorite client quote is: “You opened the door to what else I might be.”

If you’ve been to a WEV event in the past few years, you may have noticed that I’ve become like a kid in the back seat, asking “Are we there yet?”

Have women achieved parity? Do we have the same opportunities as men? Are all the doors wide open?

Over the past 26 years WEV has helped change the face of business.

Women are starting businesses at five times the national average and own 38 percent of privately held firms.

Despite that incredible progress:

• Women start their businesses with half as much capital as men.

• The capital gap widens as businesses grow larger. Among the top 25 percent of rapidly growing businesses, men receive six times more capital than women.

• Last year, women received only 2 percent of venture capital dollars — a decline from previous years.

• Only 7 percent of VC partners are women — what does that mean? Investors tend to dismiss ideas they don’t empathize with. Barbara Corcoran, founder of Corcoran Group, New York’s largest real estate firm, said that in her role as an investor on Shark Tank, she noticed that when women pitched ideas for products targeted to women, the male investors just didn’t get it.

Access to capital requires access to networks — in other words, that village everyone keeps talking about. But sometimes it takes more than a village. It takes a village and a crowbar to pry the doors open. That’s what a powerful network of women can do.

Are we there yet? Some of us are. But many more are not. That’s why WEV is launching the League of Extraordinary Women.

We want to create a powerful network of influential and high achieving women who will combine their efforts and their resources to help women succeed.

How many extraordinary women are there in your rolodex who aren’t here today?

I’m asking you to be the inspiration that lights their torches — so that together, we can illuminate the possibilities that remain to be seen.

• Marsha Bailey is the founder of Women’s Economic Ventures and a member of the Pacific Coast Business Times Hall of Fame. This op-ed is adapted from her talk at WEV’s Oct. 10 “Empowerment is Priceless” breakfast.