Julie Castro Abrams founded How Women Lead as a social justice organization to help women go where their voices can be heard and make a difference–as members of boards, founders of their own businesses, and through networking with other women senior leaders. Today How Women Lead comprises over 14,000 women CEOs who are committed to being fierce advocates for each other and love working together to make an impact. Julie says that their work falls under the heading “social justice” because it’s all about achieving equality for women, especially women of color. Julie worked in microfinance for 20 years where she could provide a microloan for $50,000 but had to put the brakes on if women needed venture funding. In fact, only 2% of women startups receive venture capital. How Women Lead’s investment component, How Women Invest, is the only venture capital firm that invests exclusively in women startups. Considering that women start businesses to solve problems for themselves and their families, it doesn’t make sense not to provide funding to help them succeed. During what is being called the Great Resignation, women are looking for something new with more flexibility and reward for their special talents. If the venture capital were available, many more would step out to create that product and build that business, where they can choose their own future.
Lifting Women Out of Poverty
Julie started out in social work, which became social justice work when she built a philosophy around how to alleviate poverty. She calls her approach “strength-based” because she feels that helping people develop a stronger self-image through entrepreneurship will have longer lasting results. She gives the example of a woman who is a violence survivor or has grown up in really tough circumstances. If she has an idea for a company and is able to receive help to create it, she becomes a CEO and sees herself as a leader and that “changes how everybody else around you interacts with you.” Take that one step further and when a board opportunity arises, being the CEO of her own business gives her the advantage of being invited to become a member of the board. Julie says women are advancing to board positions more all the time. She says that California is a prime example where, in just 10 years, the number of women on boards has risen from 10% to 30%.
Building a Counter-Culture
Julie feels that she is building a culture to support women that is counter to the way she was raised. A Midwestern Catholic girl, she believed girls and women were supposed to be quiet and not stand out. “It’s not delicate.” Yet she played sports and experienced the benefits of being on a team, setting goals and realizing that you can’t win all the games. She works to oppose many of the negative ideas in accepted culture. Women being mean to other women and telling stories to make others not like them is definitely on the wrong side of helping women lead.
The framework of the counter-culture promoted by How Women Lead has four elements:
- Be fierce advocates for each other
- Actively make introductions and connect women (like Women Connect4Good)
- Speak out to reinforce and amplify another woman’s voice
- Be unabashedly visible
Most of us were raised with a culture that taught us to believe women are behind-the-scenes people. It’s not feminine to stand out. Julie says to remember that you are an example for your daughters and other people’s daughters. She urges women to stand out, own your power and use your voice. Finally, she says to come up with your own counter-culture framework and build your own set of beliefs to guide you toward making a positive impact.
Julie says, “I want every single woman that’s listening to this conversation to…think of five to ten women in your community that you respect and encourage them…to join a corporate board).” Also, if you work for a company, ask someone in a leadership position how many women are on their board. She says, “Just asking the question helps. It’s a drumbeat.” If they don’t know the answer, they’ll ask someone else. Next, she says that she wants “10,000 women to start investing in venture for the first time.” She adds that it doesn’t have to be her fund, but any fund that supports women business founders. She says that “venture is killing it right now.” She advises that you need to consider it as an “asset class” where your influence and returns can be significant.
Listen to or watch this conversation for more of Julie’s advice. And visit How Women Lead.com to learn more about opportunities for professional growth and connecting with women who build trust by being fierce advocates for each other.