“It’s really about creating a more even playing field for people, so that they have the opportunity to bring their dreams to life,” says task force member Lauren Washington. -Getty images
In the words of America Ferrera’s Barbie character, “It is literally impossible to be a woman.” Just last month, the Harvard Business Review published findings that there is no good age to be a woman leader in the workplace, a problem dubbed “never-right” age bias. Young women reported they weren’t taken seriously, middle-aged women were considered too involved in their families or too cold, and older women were perceived as out of touch and unhirable.
“Being able to create community and resources to navigate a system that wasn’t necessarily made for you is incredibly important.” – Lauren Washington
And prejudice against Black women in the workplace is not subtle: A 2021 study found that over the course of a 40-year career, Black women lose roughly $1 million to the wage gap.
“There are very specific things that you experience as a woman in this industry, and as a woman of color in this industry, that you need to have support in order to navigate,” says Lauren Washington, who co-founded the AI investing platform Fundr. “Generalized advice is not going to necessarily help me move forward, so being able to create community and resources to navigate a system that wasn’t necessarily made for you is incredibly important.”
Hoping to boost Austin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by creating support for women in business, Mayor Kirk Watson announced the formation of the Task Force for Austin Women Entrepreneurs this month. Members of the task force will seek ways to make the city’s entrepreneurial spaces open to more women through city programs, higher education, and business partnerships.
The task force is chaired by longtime Austin businesswoman Carla McDonald, founder and managing director of investment firm Dynabrand Ventures. Its initial members are Washington; Cristina Silingardi, former VP of consulting firm vcfo; Jan Ryan, founder of consulting practice 3Hills Group; and Mellie Price, founder of investment firm Purposeful Capital. More members will be added in the future.
The women of AWE share more than entrepreneurial success and similar titles. They’ve all worked together previously as board members (with McDonald as chair) of Beam, a nonprofit that provided resources to women founders before it was disbanded in 2022. “We’ve all been very passionate about finding some way to continue having support for women entrepreneurs” since Beam’s dissolvement, says Washington.
As the newest Austinite on the task force, Washington was drawn to Austin five years ago for its thriving tech scene, and she can attest to the city’s unique culture that makes it a hot spot for new businesses. She says she’s experienced a supportive community in Austin with a great networking culture. Watson seems to agree, describing Austin as “loaded with resources” for female entrepreneurs. But they both acknowledge that the experience can be uniquely difficult for women. “We’re shifting Austin’s economic development paradigm to be unapologetically focused on helping all Austinites be a part of the prosperity of our city,” Watson wrote in a statement. “That includes making Austin the best city in the world for women entrepreneurs to start and build businesses.”
AWE will consider ways to do just that. Watson wrote that the group will announce their recommendations “shortly after” the new year, with the implementation of the recommendations coming soon after. Watson has categorized AWE as an important component in achieving his economic goals for Austin and hopes that its recommendations will address other economic concerns for Austinites, such as child care.
For Washington, AWE will be a continuation of her work to support opportunity and equity among entrepreneurs while eliminating systemic bias. “We have to be really intentional about fighting back in some of those areas,” she says. “It’s really about creating a more even playing field for people, so that they have the opportunity to bring their dreams to life.”
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