At this year’s fourth annual Forbes Women’s Summit, we shone a spotlight on women who prove otherwise. Here are how some of them redefine power:
Clemantine Wamariya, Human Rights Advocate
Clemantine Wamariya tells a familiar story to a packed room in New York City’s Chelsea Piers.
As Wamariya waits for an Uber in Los Angeles, she hears someone calling out to her—a man in a black car. He smiles and she goes back to sending emails, checking Instagram.
Then she realized the man had made a U-turn to pull up near her. He calls out again. First as a whisper, then more forcibly.
All Wamariya could think was: This is where I get taken. She turns to get into the building behind her, but she doesn’t have a key. Luckily her Uber pulls up. She watches the rearview mirror to check if the man begins to follow them.
In that moment, the feeling of safety Wamariya had been carrying was gone. And she wonders how she could have forgotten fear.
Wamariya tells another story, one that isn’t so familiar.
She remembers when she was about five, her mother sat her down and told her to never take sweets from strangers. “That was the day I learned about rape,” but Wamariya didn’t even know what sex was.
When she was six when the genocide in Rwanda began. Her parents sent her and her older sister Claire (then 15) to their grandmother’s house, and from there their lives as refugees started: Burundi to Congo to Tanzania and four other countries in Africa over the course of six years.
While in the camps, Wamariya understood that that as a young women she “should absolutely avoid the showers and bathrooms,” because that’s where men can do whatever they want.
Wamariya asks, “Should safety be a privilege?” Of course not, but she urges everyone to think about they pay for safety: the country you live in, the street your house is on, the locks on the doors, and the security cameras.
Having that sense of security is crucial. “Safety should be a birthright,” Wamariya says. With it, we are free to define our power, to reach our potential. All women should awarded that chance.
Michelle DePass, Dean of the New School
Michelle DePass’ career began in the legal field, but her passion was ignited in a warehouse in Mali. She was there to evaluate and confirm the usage of obsolete pesticides. They were seeping into the ground water and through the walls, and DePass noticed a couple of children nearby. They were getting ready to put bucket into a well.
“They’re not going to drink that water, are they?” DePass asked her guide.
“Of course they are. That’s the only water they have.”
DePass then moved into public policy to help children back in the U.S. There’s plenty to do, just ask the mothers on Cancer Alley or in Flint, Michigan, she says.
She worked with the Ford Foundation, focusing on the environment and community development, and later joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Now she’s the dean the Milano School at the New School where she’s “surrounded by students who want to be the change.” Human-centered design, DePass says, makes for powerful policy.
Kathryn Finney, Founder and Managing Director of Digital Undivided
Kathryn Finney has been an entrepreneur since the 4th grade when she launched a friendship bracelet business. Soon enough she had a monopoly on babysitting in her town. And after launching a highly successful lifestyle blog, Finney joined an incubator accelerator program in New York City where she was one of four women and the only black or latino person. It was the first time she felt invisible.
The head of the program even told Finney that “he didn’t know one black woman who had ever received venture funding so the likelihood of [her] receiving funding was pretty much zero.” Therefore, he said, she should leave the program. And Finney did.
She began to question herself, but it also got Finney thinking about something else: Who gets to have the big ideas?
Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, owning 1.5 million small business in the U.S. But they barely get any help on the way there. Finney launched Project Diane, a study on the state of black women in tech entrepreneurship, which found that they only received 0.2% of all venture funding in the last five years. And only 15 companies led by black women raised more than $1 million. Compare that to the average $1.3 million raised by failed male-led startups.
Digital Undivided, which Finney founded, works with entrepreneurs who are women of color and provides them with the training, support and funding to grow their companies. But even this is only a start.
“Often as women we’re taught to think small—that the risk of failure is greater than the joy of success,” she says. But with that mindset, “you’re doing the world a disservice.” Women need to think big–that’s how today’s business landscape can being to change.