Intrepid Woman: Nell Merlino, Founder and President, Count Me In

nell_merlino_headshotBy Michelle Hendelman

When Nell Merlino created Take Our Daughters to Work Day, it was a natural extension of the work she always envisioned herself doing – that is creating opportunities for women to advance themselves and showing them the pathways available to achieve their goals. “For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in the role women play in the economy and helping women understand their own economic impact,” said Merlino.

According to Merlino, both of her parents always emphasized the importance of being self-sufficient and acting as a change agent within the community. Now, Merlino, the Founder of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence –the leading non-profit provider of resources for female entrepreneurs who want to grow their business into a million dollar enterprise –is accomplishing both of those things very well.

“The structure of Count Me In gives aspiring female business owners the opportunity to focus on the growth of their business by giving them a robust peer-to-peer community of other ambitious women to work through the challenges with,” said Merlino. “I am so proud of creating a group where women can learn from each other,” she added.

According to Merlino, a central tenet of each Count Me In program is teaching women how to pitch their business succinctly and persuasively. “We challenge women to condense their business idea into a two minute pitch, which forces them to drill down to the essence of who they are and what they have to offer,” she said.

On Having a Rewarding Career
Merlino stressed how important it is to understand the value of coupling your passion in life with the prospect of making money. “Many people think that in order to enjoy the freedom of entrepreneurship, you have to let go of the idea that you will make a lot of money,” said Merlino. She continued, “You can find something that you love to do, or that you are really good at doing, and figure out a way to make a great living out of it.”

This is one reason why Merlino believes it is important for young women and girls to see professional women being successful. She noted, “Young women need to be able to see themselves in that role and be shown the pathways to get there.” By exposing young business women to conferences, meetings, or networking events where they can visualize what their own future can look like, they will begin to believe in the possibilities and opportunities available to them in their own career path.

Establishing reciprocal mentor relationships is a key factor for anyone who wants to sustain a successful career, according to Merlino. She advised, “The exchange of knowledge and wisdom between older and younger women in the workplace can be a very powerful thing. Senior level women know how to facilitate relationships through strategic networking, while junior women understand the current trends in technology.” Merlino added, “We all can learn something from each other.”

On Having It All
“You can have it all, as long as you don’t do it all,” stated Merlino. She urges women to manage their time and surround themselves with people who are willing and able to help out. “The most valuable thing we have is time,” emphasized Merlino, “and female entrepreneurs need to learn how to expand their capacity in order to be more productive and grow their business.”

Merlino recalled starting her own business in her New York City apartment, with just one phone line. She quickly realized that in order the handle more business, she needed to add a second phone line. However, this second line would never help her accomplish anything unless she hired someone to manage it. This was one of Merlino’s earliest lessons in the importance of asking for help and accepting help so that you can focus on what is important. “Without the help of another person, I would have never had the individual capacity to create Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” said Merlino.

According to Merlino, it is possible to structure your time in a way that makes it possible to enjoy time with your family as well as stay committed to your business. As part of Count Me In’s programs, women have the opportunity to talk to each other regularly and address some of the work-life balance issues that many women encounter. “They help each other crash through these barriers so that they can remain on a path of growth,” Merlino said.

Advice for Women
Merlino’s call to action for women in professional environments is to start challenging the status quo. “Call it as you see it,” she advised, “and suggest other ways of getting the job done instead of simply going along with the current.” According to Merlino, this tendency women have to self-censor prevents others from benefiting from what you think.
“I challenge everyone to start speaking up,” said Merlino.

In Her Spare Time
Outside of the office, Merlino enjoys staying active. “Some of my favorite activities include bike riding, swimming, drawing, and cooking,” she said. Merlino is also spending some of her spare time right now working on a children’s book along with her 7 year old niece.