By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
According to Claudia Chan, founder of ClaudiaChan.com, women must build stronger relationships with one another in order to unlock our potential for leadership. “When you look at statistics like those from CARE, which show women do 60 percent of the world’s work, yet earn just ten percent of the world’s income and own only one percent of the world’s property, I think you have to realize that if we, as women, don’t support each other, we will be left behind.”
She continued, “And women, now more than ever, are supporting each other through organizations like JoinFITE, created by Jane Wurwand of Dermalogica, to help women start and build businesses to support their families, or the venture capital firm Golden Seeds, created by Stephanie Newby, invest in female-run companies while delivering above market returns for investors. Now is the perfect time to focus on networking with each other because there is both the incredible need to do so and the possibility of amazing returns.”
That’s why Chan put together the recent S.H.E. Summit held in New York City in June. “I realized that, while we have weeks dedicated to almost everything, from Fashion Week and Social Media Week to Restaurant Week, there is no week that is set aside just for women to focus on themselves.”
The event featured over 40 events “for, by, and about women,” on networking, entrepreneurship, and professional development, wellness, beauty, and personal growth.
“S.H.E. Summit Week is a time for women to come together to find the inspiration, support and community they need to help them dream and do big things. As women, we take on a lot, and it’s important to take a break from the stress of every day life to focus on our passions so we can start to see how to live our lives with purpose,” she added.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Chan says she her journey toward founding a company focused on women’s empowerment came together over the course of her life and career. “I wouldn’t say there was a single moment that led me to create a company focused on helping empower women. It was more of a culmination of my experience.”
After attending high school and college at all-girls institutions, she spent a decade at Shecky’s, a company focused on women’s entertainment. “Then two years ago, when I began to observe the disheartening lack of stories about women’s incredible achievements in media, I realized that I was in a unique position to make a difference through a new company that would celebrate women’s intellect and ambition,” she said.
It was a risk, though, she said. “The unexpected challenge was deciding to step away from a company I took more than nine years to build. Coming to that decision was a tough time because I had to exchange security and support for the risk and uncertainty that came with being a self-funded solo entrepreneur vying for my own in the wilderness.”
“Yes, it felt that dramatic!” she said with a laugh.
But, ultimately, the risk was worth it. “The single most important advice anyone ever gave me was to recognize that fear is an opportunity. Often we let fear paralyze us because we don’t want to fail. But if we aren’t willing to risk failure, we never have a chance of achieving success. Any person who has achieved anything important has taken a risk and failed.”
Chan continued, “The key is to realize that failure is an opportunity to learn and then use that knowledge on your next attempt. Give your fear a name and tell it, ‘I know you’re there just make me stronger and better. You can sit next to me, but I am just going to ignore you.’ The fear is there to evolve us and give us humility, a top leadership quality.”
“But as you persevere with your plan, you’ll get to one milestone, then another, and then another. Soon you’ll realize that you’ve defeated every fear you had. Use fear as tool that works for you and charge forward!”
Advice on Networking
Chan says building relationships with women has helped her in a business sense and an emotional sense. “Many women instinctively see the value in supporting other women, whether through mentoring or offering business. And we are natural connectors who are eager to introduce our contacts to friends who may be helpful.”
For example, she continued, “While developing S.H.E. Summit Week, I found that my female business contacts were eager to get involved as event organizers, sponsors, and cheerleaders. Every one of these roles is important in the path building a successful business.”
“However,” she advised, “as with anything, it is important to manage your expectations when networking with women.”
First of all, she said, not every person you meet will be your BFF – and that’s normal. “Just like with men or any new friend, there will always be the ones that you have more chemistry with. Just because you’re networking with women doesn’t mean they’re going to immediately call or email you back with XOXOs.”
“People have different personalities and their communication styles differ from work to social settings. Some people also may ignore your email completely (and several times) because they’re so busy and might not have the awareness,” she continued. “Don’t write them off and remember to be forgiving. You may just need to get more creative with your outreach and accentuate the value of what you’re offering. But if you continue to show passion and the value you offer, that will get you through the discomfort of persistence.”