On Being a Woman Entrepreneur and CEO

I started a business to address an obvious (to me) market need. As an employment lawyer, investigator, and workforce trainer, I could see that companies failed to manage harassment and discrimination issues. I realized that organizations needed a framework to decode messy human interactions, and employees needed wisdom and guidance in real-time and at scale. Otherwise, small issues turn into big culture problems. I founded Emtrain as an online training platform that solved these needs. However, my gender at the time seemed irrelevant.

Through the years, I grew the business by innovating my vision of using technology to change behaviors, using a shared language to stop miscommunications, and becoming a culture partner to savvy organizations. I reinvested nearly every dime back into the business.

As social media grew in importance, I could see that it gave women a platform to shine a light — to push back on sexual harassment — in a way that prior generations never had. Sexual harassment was a common and unifying experience for women. I wrote a Medium article predicting the #MeToo movement several months before it became a global movement.

When my prediction came true, it galvanized me to seek external capital and investors. Getting capital isn’t easy for anyone – but it is much harder for female entrepreneurs, and it was brutally hard for me. Over the years, I tried to have conversations with venture capital firms and private equity investors. Still, none of them had much interest in a company that did sexual harassment prevention training. I ended up with a small round of debt financing. Once the #MeToo movement broke, people finally noticed, but very few understood my vision of systematically driving healthy workplace cultures with data and technology. After so many frustrating conversations, I finally found an investor who saw what we were building and the massive opportunity. I was able to close a Series A.

With capital, I accelerated my product vision: a brand new technology platform to drive behavior change while collecting employee sentiment and amassing a rich dataset of insights to enable both employers and employees. Finally, a tool to prevent harassment, managing bias, and trigger better decision-making, right as market demand was at a historic high.

I realize now that gender has been a critical factor in both my challenges and my success.

  • After many exhausting years of bootstrapping the business and learning business lessons the most challenging way possible, I wondered why men seemed to be having an easier time of it. I found that they leverage their peers – borrowing a business playbook, getting introductions, sharing experiences. But when you’re a woman running a business, there are very few peers. 
  • My gender was crucial for me, seeing that #MeToo was coming. I had experienced sexual harassment myself. I could feel that women were ready to speak up. 
  • My gender also informs my vision for solving harassment, discrimination, and bias problems and creating more inclusive and respectful workplace cultures.
  • Last but not least, gender influences my CEO style. I’m always thinking about who’s happy, who’s not, who needs a friend on the team, who’s feeling left out, who is set up for success, who needs more help, and so on. I’m thankful for my small but mighty team that has brought my vision to life, and just like the mom I am, I care about every one of them.

As research proves time and time again, we get better outcomes when we have diverse thinking. Women entrepreneurs bring a different view about which problems need solving, and women CEOs often bring a different leadership style. We bring a more empathetic approach to our leadership style, and overall business needs. I’m proud to be a part of that diverse thinking and hope my experience and example provide other women entrepreneurs and business leaders a playbook to make their journey easier. We need women to succeed – as leaders in the workplace and as leaders of their businesses. 

Let’s find ways to support them on International Women’s Day and every other day of the year. You can also find this post on Medium.

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Janine Yancey
Business Compliance & Workplace Culture Expert
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