Democracy is participatory; it's time to start working in, on, and FOR your businessJun 30, 2022
My heart sank into the grinding pit of my stomach. I felt a rush of heat that pushed from my toes, through my core, to be blocked at the tightly constricted base of my throat. My tongue felt swollen. My saliva sweet. My gut wrenched once, twice, three times before I was able to take a deep breath and swallow my rage. The US Supreme Court had issued its ruling. Roe v. Wade was overturned. Abortion was no longer protected federally in the US. With a stroke of a pen, women's equality was set back by 50 years.
"We get the government we deserve."
- George Frederickson
I spent almost 20 years in public service and understand how policy decisions are made. It's not through public preference, but the priorities of the people who hold power. Our societal culture is the product of a participatory process - and not a product of our hopes and dreams and wishes. The people who occupy seats at decision-making tables are the ones who get to shape our society. And sadly, they're the same ones who have been doing it for all of time.
We can't afford to keep our noses down, working hard.
As women and non-binary folks, we have to fight our way to those tables.
Take up space.
Shape culture ourselves.
As a Canadian woman, I have no actual skin in the game in terms of constitutional law in the USA. And yet, when I read the ruling, I wept with sorrow and regret.
To protect my career, I chose to not speak publicly about values I held dear. I left that work for other people.
I have spent the last 20 years playing the role of the anonymous public servant. Providing fearless advice and faithful implementation. And remaining quiet on my personal views within the public sphere.
I regret that choice.
While I quietly kept my nose clean and away from politics, others have been advocating against my values.
And they've been at it for a while. Maybe you relate to my story. Maybe you were afraid of losing your career, or you had no time because you were working long days, just to survive. But we can't let this continue. It's time we are heard.
Sadly, the most effective way to shape our societal experience is by fighting capitalism with capitalism.
Your mission, should you wish to see a society that values all people and treats them with respect and dignity, is to generate wealth and then use that wealth to secure your own seats at those tables where decisions are made. Privileged old white men have been doing it for all of recorded history.
It's time for us to start using those same tactics to advance our own equality.
Working in and on your business
As entrepreneurs, we are always encouraged to spend time working ON our businesses, and not just IN them. The day to day is easily filled with hundreds of tiny tasks that feel rewarding. Seriously - is there anything better than a checklist full of tiny tick marks?
But are those tiny tick marks moving your business forward?
Or are they keeping you stuck right where you are?
Go to a workshop for entrepreneurs, and you'll be reminded that you need to spend time focused on the long term vision for your business. They'll say you need a strategic plan and business plan, a marketing plan, a sales plan. You need to network. You need to spend time nurturing relationships. You need to streamline and automate and build efficient systems to support your work.
If you're a solopreneur, you should be spending 80% of your time in your business and 20% on it.
In reality, you probably spend less than 2% of your time on your business, and are a professional fire-fighter the rest of the time. This means you don't have the time to dream, scheme, and plan strategic action.
Nevermind that you are probably working a 60 or 80 hour week, when you include all of the unpaid domestic labour that falls on your shoulders. Be honest: When was the last time you took 10 days off in a row? And by that, I don't mean so you could entertain your kids between summer camps.
The power of negotiation in your business
Time is money, right? And as small business owners, we never seem to have enough time. But what if I told you that by negotiating, you could buy yourself 15-25% more time? Would that make it more appealing?
When I talk to women about negotiating, they share an overwhelming reluctance and distaste for doing it. And if that sounds like you, I want you to know that you come by that honestly. By the age of 9, you have been socialized to be grateful and gracious and generous - to put everybody's needs ahead of your own and minimize your own desires. We all have.
The power of negotiation to transform your business is exponential.
If right now, today, you started negotiating for 20% more, how would your life change?
Now when I say 20% more, I don't just mean 20% more money. I mean 20% more value - which includes time, energy, partnership opportunities, passive income sources, and on and on.
We always think about money. But if you were to commit 20% fewer hours for the same contract fee…you'd have tangible time that you could reallocate to activities that are strategic - you know, the working ON your business part.
20% more time. 20% more strategy. 20% more freedom to do the things that matter to you.
The third dimension: working FOR your business
There is a third dimension that we are never told about. And that is working FOR your business. This means:
- Strengthening the ecosystem that your business exists in.
- Helping other entrepreneurs to be successful.
- Working in partnership with diverse business owners to gain economic power and influence.
- Lobbying agencies and governments to put in place the supports you need to be successful.
BTW it also includes lobbying them for policies that support fundamental values, like equality, that you hold dear. I don't know about you, but I have found it hard to work since I heard that decision. My worries about the risk of erosion of my rights make it hard to concentrate on creating my next Instagram reel.
If you were able to release 20% of your time from the day to day, imagine what you could do to improve the ecosystem FOR your business.
Imagine what we could do together.
For the past few years, the Women's Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub has published an overview of the ecosystem that supports women entrepreneurs. And every year, it demonstrates the same things.
- That women don't have access to the learning opportunities we need.
- That most funding sources are incompatible with our needs.
- That women are run off their feet because the ecosystem is not friendly to the way that women do business.
That's largely because the ecosystem is designed around the needs of men. It focuses on helping businesses scale as quickly as possible. Their purpose is to generate wealth as quickly as possible. It assumes that businesses are begun to make profit, not to fill a gap - which is fundamental difference in the reasons that men and women go into business.
More than 80% of women open their businesses to help others. But the ecosystem is not built around the philosophies of making the world a better place.
It's build based on the services and resources that entrepreneurs say are necessary. And by entrepreneurs, I mean mostly privileged, white, cis men.
The problem is that women entrepreneurs are not engaging in these conversations. And so the ecosystem remains focused on the needs of men.
We get the ecosystem we deserve
When we don't engage, we don't get a seat at the table. Nobody asks our opinions. Policy nerds don't even realize the missed opportunities associated with adequately supporting women and non-binary business owners (hello increased GDP!). So those policies and programs are never created.
We get crumbs. The programs created for women barely scratch the surface in terms of our needs. Because we have our noses down in our businesses, we aren't out there demanding programs and services that actually fill the needs that we have.
There is an obvious parallel here with the erosion of women's rights. As long as limited perspectives are involved in decision-making, those are the only perspectives that will be reflected in policy.
The only way our world changes is if you make time to engage.
Learning to negotiate is one way that you can find yourself more time. It includes saying no and setting effective boundaries (more often for yourself than for others). But it also includes taking up space, and negotiating not just for the minimum amount you need, but for what you want. I talk about this in my recent interview with Tracy Koga on Hue Living Room. Watch it below (it gets pretty feisty) and then start taking action.