Interview with Alice Myerhoff, Director of Corporate & Board Development at How Women Lead
Did you know that women founders generate 1.5x more revenue than male founders, according to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG)? However, women only receive 2% of venture capital funding despite making up 42% of all entrepreneurs. Investing in women leaders would also return $4.4 trillion to the economy, according to Morgan Stanley‘s Beyond the VC Funding Gap survey. I spoke with Alice Myerhoff of How Women Lead & How Women Invest about how they are both investing in women entrepreneurs & helping women across all industries prepare for & join Boards. Alice also provided advice for managers on how to overcome the “SHEcession,” or the loss of 5.3 million women from the workforce since the pandemic began.
Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean, founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Alice Myerhoff. Alice is joining us from Alameda, California. And Alice is going to tell us about how women lead and How Women Invest in Lincoln Families. Welcome Alice.
Alice: Hi, thanks for having me!
Catherine: Tell us about all these awesome organizations that you’re involved in.
Alice: Sure. So I am the Director of Corporate and Board Development for How Women Lead. How Women Lead is a nonprofit that supports women in senior leadership. And we do a lot of work around gender diversity on boards. And that’s what my particular focus is. And then How Women Invest is a venture fund we launched last year, we raised $10 million during pandemic, so we’re proud of that. And we invest in women founded businesses, so tech enabled businesses that are revenue producing, you could go to the website and see more about our investment thesis. But that’s pretty exciting, and a lot of fun. And then Lincoln Families, I sit on the board of a nonprofit in Oakland called Lincoln Families, and we support kids and families and help kids that are really struggling.
Catherine: Yeah, great. So multiple hats. I like it. So I’d like to know a bit more about How Women Lead and why it was founded.
Alice: Sure. So our CEO, Julie Castro Abrams, she’s a very charismatic kind of person. And she had quite a network of friends who were all senior women leaders. And it sort of happened organically. So they started getting together and having dinners and talking about the challenges that senior women leaders face. And ended up building this whole network with, there’s now 14,000 women in our community. It’s not a pay to play. It’s just, you know, show up and enjoy the community. And really there to serve this particular group, there was not an organization that was really serving this particular group. And we’re based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but thanks to the pandemic, and having to do all of our events virtually, we’re now reaching people all across the country and some international folks.
Catherine: Oh, that’s great! So how specifically is How Women Lead, making progress in the lack of women on corporate boards. I specifically am interested in How Women Lead prioritize supporting black or Indigenous women of color in any way.
Alice: Sure. So we do a number of things to support getting more women on corporate boards. We were very involved with California legislation that requires women to be on every public company board. So that would be Senate Bill 86. We also are creating a pipeline of women. So sometimes, there are ideas out there that there just aren’t enough women to put these board seats, and that’s really fallacy. We’re doing things like corporate board readiness training. So helping women prepare and be ready to join boards, when those opportunities show up. We offer all kinds of other programming around boards, might be about how to serve on an audit committee effectively, we will do an event in February about how to read a financial statement, because not everybody has a financial background. So we’re doing things like that. And then in terms of how are we supporting women of color, our community is naturally very diverse, which is exciting. It’s something that I’m always so grateful for to see these women involved, and it’s just impressive. And the things that we do to support them; to welcome them into the community. We’re all very thoughtful when we’re putting events together that we have a representation and types of women When we do the board readiness training, when we do any other type of events, we do things like, one of the first things I did when I joined was put together a panel called a conversation about race in the boardroom. And we did an AAPI solidarity event last week. So you know, it’s something that is really part of our DNA.
Catherine: Yeah, that’s really great. And I was going to ask you about these specific laws, like especially around California requiring public companies, as you said, to have a specified number of board directors. How necessary do you feel it is to have something like that in place and what sort of differences have you noticed in California?
Alice: Yeah, well, sadly, it’s essential. So there’s data that shows having a diverse board makes a company perform better by all kinds of metrics, not just financial. But even with those metrics being out and available, change wasn’t happening. And so it was pretty essential that this law passed the Senate Bill, eight to six, which by the way, is being copied in other states. I think there’s 12 different states that have legislation either in the works, or they passed it. And so it’s making a big difference. One of the things that we saw in California is that now, out of the public companies, there’s only 15 left that don’t have a woman on their board. And those are small, small companies. So it’s made a big difference in California. I can’t really speak to the other states as much other than there’s momentum happening.
Catherine: Yeah. Interesting. Alice, as you know, Dylan Green is heavily involved in the clean tech space. It was Julia Hamm, who introduced us, from SEPA. Tell us a little bit about ways you think that women in cleantech can get involved with How Women Lead?
Alice: Yeah. You know, I think there’s a number of things. Obviously, cleantech is a really exciting space, and there’s a lot of momentum, we are seeing opportunities come up around cleantech for boards. So for example, there was a seat open for a board of an electric vehicle company. And so when we get inquiries like that, because we get approached quite a lot, and it would be a fit for this board seat, we, one of my big resources is we have a board bio database, where people submit their board bios, and they fill out a form that tells us where their various expertise levels are, and levels that expertise areas. And we do have an expertise that is around clean energy. And so, for example, when that electric vehicle opportunity came up that was going to go to “Oh, who has experience in there?”. And I’ll share this too, something that sometimes people don’t realize is that just because that’s where your expertise is, it doesn’t mean that’s the only place you can serve on a board. So in fact, sometimes there’s conflicts of interest. So you might be better served looking at a different type of board, not in that area. And actually, for a lot of women, especially later in their career, that’s kind of fun, right? You get to have that better industry but bring what you’ve learned in this industry.
Catherine: Yeah, I really, really want to get that point across to people watching this, that there’s a lot of opportunities for women to lead, not just in their industry, but in other industries. And so to kind of open their eyes a bit wider and a bit further as to all the different possibilities, because that was something that I was really excited about, for people to know. How are organizations helping to overcome the SHEcession? So this is something that’s obviously trending a lot lately, and that I’ve had to, unfortunately, deal with candidates who were women dropping out of the workforce in alarming numbers. Tell us a bit about your thoughts on that.
Alice: There are a number of things. So if you are trying to, if you’re thinking about how can you retain female leadership at your organization, some of the things that you can do are allow for flexibility, work with flexible work hours, that type of thing, culturally normalizing whole selves. During the pandemic, I think a lot of us are seeing lives outside of people’s work show up on these zoom calls. And so that’s an example of how we need to just be aware people are not just their nine to five selves and so forth, and make them feel comfortable. Another thing that’s super, super important is looking at pay inequity. So there are some tools out there. I wish I remember the name of this one company, it’s a startup led by a woman that will go in and analyze all of your pay data and see if you are actually paying women equally. If you think about, you know, think about this, SHEcession and you think about the pandemic and all these working families just really being taxed by having kids home. If one of the parents is going to stay home, it’s going to be the parent that makes less. So if you are not paying women equally, that means by default, it’s the woman. So it’s super important to do that. Make sure that you are being fair. And the last thing, and this is something that I feel like the current administration is addressing, and that’s paid leave for family and eldercare. And those things will make a big difference for retaining your female workforce.
Catherine: Great. Last question I want to ask you is a call to action. You know, for those women who are looking to join boards, founders, or otherwise, who want to get involved in your organizations, tell us a little bit about some steps that you take to get involved.
Alice: Sure. The first thing I would say, that is very easy, is subscribe to our newsletter. So we announce events that are coming up and various things and it’s obviously free. So I would do that, first and foremost. If you are not currently on a board, but you think it’s something that you might want to do, I would definitely recommend our Corporate Board Readiness Training. So we have one starting on April 30. They are four- two hour sessions. This series is Friday mornings from eight to 10, Pacific Time, and then there’s gonna be another one in October. So that’s a great way to build up your chops and really figure out is this something that is right for me. Because sometimes it’s not sometimes sometimes people do the training and go, you know, that’s kind of more work than I thought, which is a reasonable response. So those are things, and then also, I would just pay attention to the different events that How Women Lead is doing. We are offering Welcome to the Ecosystem types of events once a month where you can kind of learn about more parts of the organization. So I’ve only talked about a few of the things that we’re doing, we’re actually doing quite a lot. So I would recommend those just to get a taste for all the different stuff and just show up and be a part of the community.
Catherine: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for your time, Alice, really appreciate it.
Alice: Thank you. This is a lot of fun.