Women entrepreneurs across the globe are unfortunately not encouraged to take risks in their businesses, says Lisa Wang, Co-Founder and CEO of SheWorx

Lisa Wang, Co-Founder and CEO of SheWorx, in this exclusive interview with XEDGlobal, talks about her inspiring journey and how she founded one of the world’s first and most vibrant entrepreneurial platforms for women. This former US four-time National Champion for Rhythmic Gymnastics emphasises on the need for effective executive education courses and training programmes to equip young women entrepreneurs across the globe. She also highlights some of the challenges women face in the workplace. 

SheWorx today is a global platform empowering over 20,000 ambitious women entrepreneurs with access to top mentors, investors, and actionable business strategies to build and scale successful companies. Lisa is a former Wall Street hedge fund analyst, a graduate of Yale University, and was recently featured in the Forbes "30 Under 30" 2018 list for the Venture Capital sector.

What are some of the challenges women entrepreneurs face in their journey?

As per statistics, around 94% of investors are men, and unfortunately, women encounter numerous hardships in this ‘boy's club’.  Our society has not trained women to take risks, fail, and rise up. Women entrepreneurs across the globe are not encouraged to take risks in their businesses and are not motivated enough to achieve the right mindset. I feel we should encourage them to make mistakes, experiment, innovate, fail and redeem themselves.

Tell us about the experiences that motivated you to start SheWorx?

I was enjoying my earlier job, loved literature, and psychology. However, I always wanted to have a creative ownership, and impact people’s lives. The right technology and entrepreneurial instincts gave me the freedom to do something effective for people, especially women entrepreneurs. In 2015, I founded SheWorx, an organisation looking to close the funding gap for women entrepreneurs. 

At every stage, I made a lot of mistakes and learned many new things. As a woman entrepreneur, during fundraising I faced lot of discrimination and bias from investors and corporate heads. I still remember my first meeting with an investor -- my 35-year-old COO got a preference and I was brushed aside as an assistant just because I was a woman. 

I realised that women entrepreneurs were in minority and my attempt was to meet more such aspiring women entrepreneurs and discuss their challenges. Unfortunately, during those days there was no platform in the market to direct women to the right mentors and investors. Today our efforts have helped create a vibrant platform empowering over 20,000 ambitious women entrepreneurs with access to top mentors, investors, and actionable business strategies to build and scale successful companies and accomplish dreams.

What are the key leadership lessons you have learnt from your gymnastics experiences?

I feel each one of us should have a very clear vision for ourselves. Once there is a clear vision, we should create a robust strategy to get to it.  When I was a child, I had one dream -- to represent my country in the Olympics, and I kept the 2008 Olympics as a goal for myself. Then I worked earnestly with a strategy, became the regional champion in gymnastics and then a national champion, and edged closer to my dream each day.

I feel, in our life, it’s not ‘what you do’ which matters; it is how you make people feel with your actions and words. Even as a gymnast, no one really bothered to notice how hard I worked for my act. They were only concerned about and interested in, my performances -- they enjoyed them and were inspired by them. Therefore I feel effective leaders should make people 'feel their work and purpose’. You need to listen more than you speak. Good leaders are perceived as over-confident and loud. However, great leaders are calm, take into account all opinions and views of the team. Eventually, they take quick, well-informed decisions for the larger good of the team, and company.
 

How important are customised executive education programmes for ‘women entrepreneurs’? Currently are there enough such courses in B-schools across the world?

Frankly speaking, currently, there is not enough support from B- schools when it comes to executive education programmes for women entrepreneurs. A majority of the professors are men and it makes it harder for young women to convey their challenges and find appropriate solutions. I don’t think universities are actively involved in creating an entrepreneurial mindset among women.  For me, it was my experiences that helped me create a strategy and imbibe the needed skills. 

It is very interesting to note that entrepreneurs are those who are always excited and open to new experiences. They are constantly curious about things and people around them, they always ask the question 'WHY?'. They question themselves about the situation they are in. Entrepreneurs believe in creating a new change, they are always equipped to grab opportunities to create that desired change.

What would you like to share with young women entrepreneurs in India?

Many people have rare talents within them and are capable of making the best of any given situation. However, most of the time, the primary thing which holds back young aspiring women is ‘fear’ -- the fear of failure, rejection, judgement, social stigma etc. I believe all of us have certain control over our situations. Therefore we need to figure out what fear is holding us back. You might never have control over your destiny; you might be in various disadvantageous positions. However, it is necessary that you focus and understand your fear and differentiate between what you want for yourself and what you don’t want. Our energies should be focussed on what we want, rather than what we don’t want. 

According to you, what are some of the key areas where executive education courses are necessary, to train executives and managers?

One of the most important areas where regular training and education is needed is in ‘team building’. Currently, most of the leadership training is all about ‘managing us’. Unfortunately, most managers and executives have never had training in team management and team building. There is lack of authentic leadership education to learn this, and which needs to be developed.

There needs to be more emphasis on eliminating bias in hiring practices. There is an opportunity to utilize AI especially in levelling the playing field. AI will fundamentally change the makeup of our workforce, freeing women to take on more advanced roles.   In the same way, the industrial revolution shifted the majority of jobs, created new industries, and changed the educational system, AI will force us to rethink work and education.