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Why an inner circle of like-minded women is the key to success as a female founder

Women who have an inner circle of close female contacts are more likely to land executive positions with greater authority and higher pay, a 2019 study in the Harvard Business Review found, and we can assume this translates to those of us who are our own bosses; and the benefit a community of professional women surrounding us provides us with.

We know that women continue (despite it being 2021) to face cultural and systemic hurdles that make it harder to advance, e.g. unconscious bias. Through shared experiences, we can preempt these situations, or approach them in a more prepared way.

Why did I form an inner circle?

I started this business in 2016 with my long time schoolmate Ben Ayres, to turn advertising on its head through the power of smart tech combined with the simplicity of a paper bag. Our greater purpose is to make conscious consumerism the norm by addressing hurdles like greenwashing and cost.

I quickly realised that start-ups are lonely. While we have a fantastic extended team, and Ben plus our other Co-founder Charlie couldn’t be better partners, their professional backgrounds and expertise are very different.

As the lead on the marketing and consumer engagement side of the Brand, I felt that at the founder level, I was the sole voice in a room, relying on my own experiences without the benefit of like-minded people to draw from. So, I took matters into my own hands, and surrounded myself with female founders in a similar position.

How did I form an inner circle?

It started by connecting with one or two other female start-up leaders via networking events through Allbright or through Clubhouse when it was hot (remember that?). And we started chatting on WhatsApp.

Yes, there are a load of formalised female networking groups out there that do fabulous work in connecting women. But I wanted something a bit more casual. Where I could literally throw a question out there at an odd time of day; and say ‘has anyone experienced this!? Ahh!’

I created a WhatsApp group that in two years’ time has grown from an initial three of us to a Slack group of 15 female founders. It has remained casual and that’s the beauty of it. We are all in the same boat, going through fundraising, developing marketing plans, managing people.

We’ve hired people as a result of being introduced via this group, some of the fellow founders have featured in our campaign materials, and most of all, they’ve helped me to grow our business; through smart advice, and moral support.

How it can influence your businsess’ direction

Through the experience of networking with other female founders and wanting to champion their work, 60% of our Bagboard brand partners (the sustainable brands advertising on our bags, and available in our in-app marketplace) are female-founded businesses.

Networking has been the result of this, but also the sheer desire for women to work with other women doing smart things. We now have a commitment to shine a light on a certain percentage of female-founded businesses through our partnerships.

What rules to put in place for your networking group?

None. Sure ok, you may not want to share the inner workings of your investment plan without any sort of confidentiality agreement in place, but the reality is, we are just being human, with the benefit of leaning on each other for brainstorming, networking and sharing of experiences. We are vulnerable in what we share, as without this authenticity the real power of community can’t be felt.

Julie Coppernoll McGee, Corporate Vice President, Global Marketing Strategy at Intel Corporation wrote a great piece for LinkedIn in 2019, that reminds us to reach out and ask for advice often, “Asking for help is hard, so role model it. When you ask for help, others are more likely to ask you for help in return.”

We all know it can be lonely as a founder, and as a woman in tech, even lonelier (so far, but I see these numbers shifting). Creating a community doesn’t have to be formal, and it doesn’t have to be big; but it’ll make a big difference to your business.

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