"Death By a Thousand Cuts" And How To Prevent It

It's not every day that you get invited to the White House. Much less to chat about empowering female businesses. But I did, on October 20th. And it was a fantastically empowering day.

The adventure began at breakfast with Holly Lynch of The 85 Percent, a consultancy that empowers women to launch businesses and products, reflecting and capturing the fact that 85% of consumer decisions are made by women. Holly and I met our friends Shala Burroughs (CEO of Cloudpeeps, a platform connecting social media to business owners), Deborah Jackson (CEO of Plum Alley, where we crowdfunded our debut run of games) and 46 other women who had been invited by the National Women’s Business Council and Business Forward to the White House. Our mission: to discuss issues important to women in business and figure out how to create equal access to business capital across genders.

And noDeborah and I didn’t plan to match our outfits on the Plum theme…just some natural synergy!

Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff and Executive Director of The White House Council on Women & Girls, and Megan Smith, the new Chief Technology Officer of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, led the first discussion. Megan, who worked Google before adopting her new position a month ago, started the conversation off with her dismay at the media portrayal of women in science and tech. We are not adequately represented in film and television (this problem exists across the board, actually) and that sends a skewed and discouraging message to all the girls and women we hope will join science and tech professions. Megan calls the aggregate of impediments that impair women's equality and success as “death by a thousand cuts.” Our subsequent conversations were all around identifying and stopping these “cuts”.

Tina Chen and Megan Smith

Tina Chen and Megan Smith

During questions, I asked Megan how the STEAM agenda fits in her policy outlook. Making sure the “A” for Art and Design is clearly part of visualizing STEM fields is an ongoing conversation at RISD’s STEM to STEAM Office created by John Maeda, and with Babette Allina who runs it. As a RISD grad, I am extra proud of this movement, and feel deeply connected to it:  STEAM is part of my core mission of visualizing science into actionable playable information. Megan and Tina both agreed that women’s high visualization skills and maker instinct are two avenues they would like to promote in girls’ STEM education.

"Have a question, lady with the pink hair?"

"Have a question, lady with the pink hair?"

On the train back to NYC I was happy to watch the newly released trailer for In Her Company, a celebration of 30 women entrepreneurs produced by TakePart Media and Eileen Fisher, who is herself a leader in fashion, sustainability and womens’ empowerment. I am honored to have been selected and featured as one of four women in the trailer! The news also got me thinking back about women in the workplace in general. Our dollars act as votes for companies large and small, so it follows that the decision those companies make should come full circle to support women. It’s not just a question of having more woman-led, and woman-friendly companies, it’s about holding companies accountable for equal pay, flex time for family caregiving, and other issues that are important to you as a woman.

The day ended with a benefit for the Chapin School and our current headmistress of 11 years, Dr. Patricia Hayot. As a Chapin alum and a Chapin mum, I was delighted to join the packed Alice Tully Hall with the extended Chapin Family: oldest friends and Chapin classmates, alumnae, Chapin parents past and current, teachers past and present to celebrate this leader in women’s education. I could not be happier to have my daughter involved in such an enlightened, forward-thinking, girl-friendly place. We were treated to a performance by school parent Jerry Seinfeld who truly had me crying the whole time he was on stage.

What a day to celebrate women and girls’ continued empowerment! Preventing each of the “thousand cuts” is within our reach. We need to lead with the idea that anything less than equalitywhether in the form of equal access to capital or equal pay, family friendly workplace or flex time, or harassment free productive lives personally and professionallyis not acceptable. These are our rights. Stare down each cut, whether you be female or male, and find a remedy through action.

* All photos courtesy of Business Forward