Career TOOLBOX #44: Women On Top

Career TOOLBOX #43: Whiplash
March 11, 2015
Tom Miller
Clevelander Tom Miller Brings Limited Partnership to CIFF
March 25, 2015

To Climb or Not To Climb?


“I think being entrepreneurial is something women should strive for, rather than working up the corporate ladder.” – Martha Stewart


Entrepreneur Magazine recently published the article “These Are the Richest Billionaires Under 40.” Mark Zuckerberg leads the list and half the people on it have the Facebook connection. The big surprise isn’t so much that young people continue to reap the internet profits. It’s that two women made it: Yang Huiyan and Elizabeth Holmes.


Huiyan inherited her fortune and is and now the richest woman in China. Granted she didn’t build her business. But, this is China, where girl babies face uncertain futures. Elizabeth Holmes, on the other hand, earned hers. She is the youngest woman billionaire in the United States. The youngest self-made in the world. She’s also a college drop out. She’s in healthcare. Specifically, in blood testing. Larry Ellison is an investor.


The first thing that came to mind while reading this list of big brain billionaires Top 10 is, wow, 20% are women! I then immediately double-checked how many lead Fortune 500 companies. In June, 2014, Fortune ran a piece called, “Number of Fortune 500 Women CEOs Reaches Historic High.” This gave me hope. Maybe we’ve climbed out from the 4%? Well…we sorta did: We’re up from 20 the year before to 24, so at 4.8%.


Add that single digit to the 77 – 85 cents per dollar women earn for same type of work (stats vary depending on source and type of measurement used) and what we have some very depressing math. Even worse if you’re an African American or Latino woman.


Even at this year’s Oscars, acting veteran Patricia Arquette had this to say: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Her words brought Meryl Streep to her feet and garnered national attention.


Sure, Hollywood pays big bucks to big stars. Often disproportionate to what most people earn for a living. And, yet, it’s no secret that actresses get paid less for roles in the same films as their male counterparts.


So back to the billionaire list. And to Martha Stewart’s quote, which she articulated while taking issue with Sheryl Sandberg and Leaning In. Her message was clear: When you work for someone else and are that dedicated, that is a lot of time and energy to be giving of your best self to someone else and to their bottom line. Why not, then, do that for yourself?


I’ve been on both sides of the work equation: 20 years in corporate, now on my seventh year for myself. It’s a tough life to juggle when you’re an entrepreneur: everything you do is about everything you do. There’s no real weekends or vacations or any paid time off. Your friends and family are either supportive or annoyed that all you ever talk about is your life’s dream. And your dedication to get there.


Some businesses apply for funding. Some use a credit card to get off the ground. Regardless, a chunk of what you earn goes back to someone from whom you’ve borrowed. But you keep doing it, putting one foot in front of the other and consistently testing the market needs against what skills or products you have to match that need. If the market demand grows so does your bank account. Simple economics.


They say entrepreneurship can’t be taught. I disagree. Exposure to running a business at a young age teaches the skills required. I watched my immigrant mom build her dry cleaners in Skokie and would pitch in after school, organizing hangers, helping customers while she was on break or even straightening the place.


Donald Trump’s kids watched their dad make business happen as the quality time they had together was when he’d take them to work. Today all the Trump kids are successful, including Ivanka. You won’t see her name in the tabloids seeking paparazzi-style attention about her personal life, her body parts or her hair color. She’s learned how to run a successful business without resorting to what some other famous daughters in her position have done to earn their paycheck.


Bottom line is that while entrepreneurship is tricky and hard work it’s also the best chance women have at making the most of ourselves professionally and earning the best salary in the process. Instead of spending months, years and decades trying to impress an ol’ boy’s club dedicated to keeping most of us out, we can, instead, create our own vision. And then hire the best talent — women and men — to help us achieve it.


So I say climb, my sisters, climb. Just build your own ladder.




Reprinted with permission and gratitude from

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