Happy Women’s Equality Day, everyone!
It’s quite possible summer 2023 might go down in history as one of the most pro-woman summers of them all. Just consider the wildly popular movie Barbie for a second. It’s a woman-directed and led movie that continues to draw vast audiences while threatening to smash box office records at $1.3 billion and counting according to Deadline. And while we are at it, let’s not forget our summer 2023 pop queens, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. They are essentially owning the concert venue circuits right now. Swift’s music has also enjoyed heavy rotation on the Amazon
These are just a couple of red-hot examples from this summer. Collectively, they make it clear that women are having a moment right now. But the aforementioned upbeat mainstream examples are just part of the story. For every woman or star out there killing it, there are others grappling with blatant inequalities. These issues persist, reinforcing the need to remain curious, open, and to continue to prop up days like Women’s Equality Day.
August 26, 2023 marks its 50th year as a designated day. At half a century old, lessons from Women’s Equality Day advocates remain fresh. Currently, more women open their own businesses, head up companies and (finally) earn more money than ever before. With more “purchasing power” and power than ever available for us, women investing in other women is something that Julie Castro-Abrams is not only passionate about; she’s banking on it.
“There’s this point where we need other women to help us break through collectively. And at this moment in time, we have a lot of wealth,” says Abrams, founder and CEO of How Women Lead. “Women in households now have 52% of the wealth in total. What are we going to do with that so that we can solve some of these really terrible inequities?”
Abrams comes from an activist background. For years, she has worked on projects and initiatives that sought to empower women. One of her first projects helped 6000 women start their own small businesses and secure microfinancing to bolster them.
More recently, she runs How Women Lead, a national network of 20,000 professional women who share the same goal of empowering women to harness their power, lead, and enact corporate change among other things. This past summer, How Women Lead launched The New Table, a program that encourages women to become venture capitalists and to invest in each other. The New Table has put 35 women-run venture firms on a gamified platform. In the span of two months, The New Table has nearly $100 million of commitments and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down.
Abrams shared a little with me about The New Table, the VC space, and why women investing in each other is always a fabulous idea. Edited excerpts are below.
Williams: What are some things that first inspired you to do what you do?
Abrams: In my friend group growing up, dads left moms. They did this when my friends were late in high school, early in college, or 25 years old, and their moms were destitute. This was before laws passed around the 50/50 split. Here were these women who didn’t work. They wondered, ‘what am I supposed to do?’ And I thought ‘that will never be me. I have to do something different.’
Williams: Does The New Table look to “smash” the financial patriarchy?
Abrams: I don’t know that we need to smash it. Women are not investing in traditional ventures with any real numbers and we’re not getting investment, so why would we invest? I don’t want to convince women to invest in the things that are not designed for them as investors or aren’t investing in what they care about.
Also, I want men to be successful. If they want to keep going and doing their thing that excludes women, you do you. At this point, we’ve got to build something inclusive. And I don’t want to have to be mansplained about why they need to do it their way since it doesn’t serve us. I think we need to build our own.
Williams: What can you tell us about funding gaps in the VC space?
Abrams: Male founders equip male founders. Only 2% of all venture funds are invested in companies founded by women. Even if male-female teams get more investment, still 80% of all venture funds go to companies with only male co-founders. We need more women fueling companies. And we need more women getting funded so we can have solutions to our needs. If you want to invest in solutions to your problems in the market, we’ve got a few of them.
Williams: Can we have an example of a funded solution?
Abrams: One of the first investments we made is in a company called Inclusively. A woman started it to help companies create hiring structures for people with special needs. A woman started this company, not a man.
Williams: What are some incorrect assumptions about why and how women invest?
Abrams: We started The New Table because one of the myths out there is ‘women are risk averse.’ Women take risks all day but we’re really freaking busy. We just don’t have the time to evaluate stuff. We also know women are more likely to invest in a mutual fund than an individual stock which incurs fees and often loses money. To me that means women are great candidates to invest in venture funds. We have the money, the temperament and we just need to be invited in.
Williams: What else have you found about how women invest?
Abrams: In a way, women invest with their values. It’s important that we all start to pay attention because where our money goes could be participating in harm. There comes a moment where if you look under the surface and find you’re not investing in line with your values, it’s hard to un know it.
Williams: Are there any commonly held misconceptions about the VC space you can debunk?
Abrams: I often get asked ‘do I need a master’s degree or an MBA to get started?’ The answer is no, because I have one. There’s anxiety around not being invited in and we don’t want to look stupid or maybe we feel the learning curve is too high, and the truth is, it’s not.
Williams: Tell us a little about how joining The New Table works?
Abrams: We’ve found that a comfortable entry point for many is $25,000. If you spread $25,000 over four years it’s $6250 a year. Any vehicle you’re using to invest can potentially be in venture. Let’s say you invest a trust you’re putting aside for a child in venture because you’re not going to necessarily use it until they’re an adult. So a ten-year life cycle of investing in venture becomes part of that portfolio to support the trust. Furthermore, with me, you’re now part of a network and you get invited to a bunch of stuff. You’re investing in woman-led companies that care about solving problems that matter to you and you don’t have to only be with the guys.
Williams: We can’t end this conversation without a fast peek at pop culture and its financial impact this summer.
Abrams: Look at the money Taylor Swift has brought to this economy. Literally the federal government has called it the ‘Taylor Swift’ effect. And the Barbie movie, which is woman directed and woman led and designed. This is a moment where these powerhouses are examples that if we unleash women, fuel them, and get behind them, there’s nothing that we can’t do. You can literally change the economy on a tour and in blockbuster weekends. If you combine them, the effect is extraordinary.
Williams: Any parting wisdom on the way out?
Abrams: Historically women have this credo where we ask people to be fierce advocates of each other. How about we back each other up and be advocates for each other and don’t tear each other down? The culture does enough of that and we have to shift the culture. We can’t keep buying into this stuff.
Williams: Thank you for your time.