Hundreds of New Jersey’s business leaders and professionals joined together Monday to celebrate this year’s Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs at the organization’s sixth annual recognition event, “Celebrating the Unstoppable,” at the Liberty House in Jersey City.
“As you look across the New York skyline tonight, you see tall buildings and lots of bright lights — but what you don’t see are the millions of people who came here by boat as early as 1892 in search of the American dream. Those immigrants are a strong memory worth holding onto because they were the first true leaders and entrepreneurs that we had here in this country. They showed us the way,” Linda Wellbrock, CEO of Leading Women Entrepreneurs, said. “We honor with unwavering respect these women tonight, these incredible leaders who saw their own American dream and were unstoppable in their pursuit of it.
“It is about time we start putting the achievements of remarkable women up front. For too long, women who have achieved incredible milestones in the business world have gone unnoticed and, clearly, we have more work to do.”
Founded by Wellbrock in 2011, Leading Women Entrepreneurs is a Clinton-based media and events company that acts as a top business resource for women business owners. Its member organization regularly hosts networking events, investor dinners, educational opportunities and global retreats.
The 2016 Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs were selected by an executive advisory board from nearly 700 impressive nominations, based on their abilities to innovate, their market potential, their organization’s advocacy for women and their community involvement.
Leading Women Entrepreneurs also recognized Monday this year’s Leading Women Intrapreneurs and Non Profit honorees, who have made a significant impact within their organizations.
“Nights like tonight can change things,” Wellbrock said. “Statistically, less than 3 percent of all women business owners make it to the million-dollar mark, but many of these women here tonight have not only met that milestone, but have far exceeded it.
“Let me be clear — their achievements are not just about money. They are about perseverance, strength, faith, trust, bravery and persistence despite the obstacles that many of these women have had to overcome. We are here tonight to show you our very strong intention on shifting these statistics about women in business right now.”
Sallie Krawcheck served as the evening’s keynote speaker. She is CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, and Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s organization of more than 34,000 members, as well as chair of the Pax Ellevate Global Woman’s Index Fund, the first broadly diversified mutual fund that invests in companies that rank among the best in advancing women’s leadership.
“Sometimes, I think we believe the advancement of feminism is inevitable and inexorable, but as we’ve seen recently — forget what your politics are — it can be two steps forward, three steps back, one step forward, two steps back,” Krawcheck said. “But I firmly believe that we are entering an important age in this country of female entrepreneurialism.”
Having served previously as CEO of both Citi’s Wealth Management division and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and U.S. Trust, Krawcheck set off to become an entrepreneur and advocate for women investors in 2013.
“I said, given the great fortune I have had in my career and in my life to be born in this country at this time, if I don’t go after this, who will?” she said. “I am going to tell you that at this stage of my life being an entrepreneur is harder than running Merrill Lynch — so you have to have a passion, and, for me, my passion now is feminism.”
It was her realization of and research into the gender investment gap that spurred her on.
“The gender investment gap, with women not investing to the same extent as men do, costs some women tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and for some women in this room, millions of dollars over the course of their lives. But the industry that I used to help run — well, they have left women out.
“Women say, ‘I should be better at math; I’m not as good of an investor; I’m too risk-averse; I think this is my fault.’ None of those things are true. When you have an industry that is 86 percent male, you have an industry that (speaks) to men.”
It is why Krawcheck said she refuses to use the word “empowerment.”
“The definition of empowerment is to be given power,” Krawcheck said. “We don’t need power to be given to us. We have enormous power already.”
According to Krawcheck, women today solely control $5 trillion worth of investable assets. Women jointly control with their spouses and partners another $6 trillion. And, over the next couple of decades, women will inherit another 70 percent of the $40 trillion of wealth transfer from their deceased parents and spouses.
“We also control and direct 80 percent of consumer spending; we are more than half of the workforce; we are 60 percent of college graduates; single women are the fastest-growing group of first-time homeowners,” Krawcheck said. “And, we are starting businesses at two times the rate of men.
“The cost of starting businesses is coming down so rapidly that we are able to begin these businesses in a way we could not a few years ago. … It used to be that you had to have a widget plan, a widget factory, a widget distribution channel, widget manufacturers and you could only advertise on three networks.”
Krawcheck said that today, Ellevest is driving most of its business through social media.
“That gives us additional avenues if we have the creativity to take advantage of them,” she said. “Can you tell me why we have to play the game the man’s way with all that power?”
Even with the rise of female entrepreneurialism, however, Krawcheck said she is concerned for what is coming next.
“If this country has a retirement savings crisis, it is a female crisis. We retire with two-thirds the money of men and we live longer. We represent over 80 percent of nursing home residents,” she said. “The solutions for a retirement savings crisis, if we term it a ‘female’ crisis, are tax increases and entitlement cuts; closing the gender pay gap, which grows the economy; mandated parental leaves, which pay for themselves within a year; and closing the gender investment gap.”
The gender investment gap is the reason why Krawcheck has said Ellevest is the most important and impactful endeavor she has ever embarked on in her career.
“If I can’t convince you that losing millions of dollars over the course of your lifetime is a bad thing, let me put it this way: what if you left here today and $100 fell out of your pocketbook?” Krawcheck said. “Would you fix your pocketbook? What if it fell out again tomorrow and the next day?
“That is on average what our clients lose by waiting 10 years to invest. This is the best career advice women aren’t getting. For us to live our full lives and finish the promise of feminism, we have to demonstrate to our daughters what a strong, in-control woman looks and feels like.”
Wellbrock closed the evening’s ceremonies by announcing Leading Women Entrepreneurs’ new recognition awards, Leading Women Brand Builders and Leading Women Socialpreneurs.
“Leading Women Entrepreneurs is aligning our WILL (Women in Leadership Launching) Fund with the Socialpreneur initiative,” Wellbrock said. “Throughout the year, the WILL Fund is supported by a portion of membership fees and donations from businesses and companies that support us.
“That fund will be offered to the winners who quality for the Socialpreneur initiative.”
Leading Women Entrepreneurs, in partnership with Women’s Day magazine, will receive those nominations and choose one winner to receive coverage in the magazine and a $2,500 cash prize.
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