Women helping empower other women doesn’t just have social benefits, it also can be powerful economically and politically, according to a group of female leaders who took part in politico’s Women Rule event on Friday — and one of the easiest way to do that is to invest in female entrepreneurs.
“The lowest hanging fruit to pick in some ways is if you really do want to do this, you really have to invest in women entrepreneurs,” said Melanne Verveer, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security executive director and the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. She was speaking at the event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
Verveer, who served under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said studies show that countries that have a smaller gap between men and women on income and other factors perform better economically.
Verveer was part of one of the two panel discussions at the event, the Tory Burch Foundation and Google, which focused on how to empower women to effect change and grow their businesses. Drawing from both personal experience and data, the women described how making engaging women a priority can have far-reaching results.
Tory Burch, fashion designer and CEO of the Tory Burch Foundation, told the 200 mostly women in attendance that she has seen the benefit of making hiring and empowering women a focus of her own company.
“Women think differently,” Burch said. “I think there’s a different way of management skills, there’s different ways of looking at business. For me, I learned on the job. … So there were a lot of obstacles, and I think it was a bit of blind faith and I didn’t want to talk about it, I wanted it to speak for itself.”
Asked by moderator Judy Woodruff of PBS what Burch would say to people who argue women don’t have the same drive as men, Burch was emphatic.
“I would say it’s not even worth responding to,” Burch said, pointing to her own company’s growth as an example.
Verveer agreed, saying people who believe that should simply look at the “reality today.”
“Women-owned businesses are outpacing men-owned businesses in terms of creation and in terms of yield,” Verveer said.
Women are having an impact in politics, an earlier panel of women leaders said, for example to steer the U.S. out of its government shutdown.
Asked by Mike Allen if the country would be in the shutdown if there were more women in Congress, the panel said what’s more important is what the women who are on the Hill are already doing.
“It’s a moot point, and what we’re seeing is that it’s the women in Congress who are leading the end of the shutdown,” said Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Fellowship, specifically pointing to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) as a leader working on a compromise solution to the standoff.
Former administrator for the Small Business Administration Karen Gordon Mills said women are powerful not just because they can find common ground.
“I’m here today for lots of reasons, but one is I love the title Women Rule, because women in power really does lead to, we think, more effective outcomes,” Gordon Mills said. “I think it’s because women in power can really get together and ask the question, ‘What is the outcome we’re trying to achieve?’ … You know that there’s an objective out there that you’re trying to get to and that is what moves the world forward and prevents logjams.”
In a conversation that focused on how to empower women to achieve their goals, members of the panel endorsed getting involved in mentoring and investing in female entrepreneurs.
Executive Vice President of the Inter-American Development Bank Julie T. Katzman told a personal story about arriving to a job and asking if there were any women on staff, only to be presented with a low-level employee. She said when she encouraged the company to hire women, they saw immediate results. She talked of disabusing Americans of the notion that women are on the fringe of business.
“Women are not a niche,” Katzman said. “It’s 50 percent of the population!”
The same principles used to get more women into business could also be applied to getting more into politics, the panel said.
One of the takeaways for Goldman Sachs Foundation President Dina Habib Powell from her work is that women in business start small, but then see their business grow.
“The biggest takeaway for them is confidence, and suddenly, they’re becoming political leaders now,” Habib Powell said.
Oberta Noguera said encouragement is key for women entering politics, as it is for those getting involved in business.
“Apparently, it takes up to six times to ask for a women to run for office before she will consider it, versus like not asking at all for guys,” Oberta Noguera said.
Friday’s lunch was part of the Women Rule series, Google and the Tory Burch Foundation that brings high-profile Washington women together to discuss how women are leading change.
In between the panels, Women Rule ambassadors held roundtable discussions with event participants. Women Rule ambassadors in attendance on Friday included Trust for the National Mall President Caroline Cunningham, Senior Adviser to the Nike Foundation Pamela Reeves, Voto Latino founder Maria Teresa Kumar, Glover Park Group Managing Director Dee Dee Meyers, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, American Action Forum Cameron McCosh, Georgetown Cupcake founders Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Berman, National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb, Bluemercury co-founder and CEO Marla Malcolm Beck, Tory Burch Foundation Executive Director Terri McCullough, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Omidyar’s Stacy Donohue, former Twitter official Mindy Finn and CNN executive producer Michelle Jaconi.
The next Women Rule event will feature U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power in November, followed by a December conference on leadership. Additionally, Women Rule is running an online hub of essays.