Recently I was invited to give a short talk at Amazon's Be Bold for Change event in support of International Women's Day 2017. 

I have to admit, I struggled with the request. After quickly agreeing to do the event, I stared down the task of coming up with something meaningful to say. What in the hell would I talk about? What have I done that’s truly bold? 

Truth be told, a lot.

In preparing for my talk I came across a quote from Sally Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest. She wrote, “We women get a lot of career advice. Here’s the problem with much of it: it boils down to telling us to act like men. To be more decisive, to take on more risk, to be more assertive, to act more confidently, to seek out more p&l responsibility.”

... it boils down to telling us to act like men.

I realized that’s how I’ve been defining bold. And I've got it all wrong. I do have a recent instance of supreme boldness, in addition to a series of defining moments of boldness over the span of my career.

Which is my first observation about being bold—it takes patience. 

Let me tell you how I got to that moment.

Like everyone, I paid close attention to last year’s election. We witnessed a year of bullying. Of threatening. Of fear and doubt. For many it was accompanied by a sadness and disgust that this behavior now seems the norm for how we're going to treat each other on a national stage. 

At the same time, I was researching women in leadership positions and the rate of venture funding of women-led companies. The numbers are dismal: 

  • 5% of the S&P 500 CEOs are women
  • 21 women helm Fortune 500 companies
  • 2-6% of women-led businesses receive VC funding

I occasionally meet with VCs and I like to ask about their approach to funding women-led companies. Most reply with a variation on a theme of, “We invest in the founders. In addition to a great, disruptive idea, they have to have that spark and the grit to overcome adversity.”

So what they're saying is that women don't have these qualities, and they're not worth investing in. Of course, I'm generalizing and I know that not all VCs feel this way, but the rate of funding for women is shockingly low. 

Next up is a moment I shared with my daughter. She’s the little one below with a lot of sass.

Bold Britts Daughter2

The day after the 2016 election of Donald Trump, my daughter was riding the bus home from middle school. A group of boys started taunting my daughter and her girlfriends… “Trump! Trump! Trump!” The bus driver pulled to the side of road, opened the door and instructed the boys to get off. As the last boy exited the bus, the driver shouted, “Trump sucks!”

My daughter told me about this later that night. She didn't seem upset about it. Her story stuck with me. Again, there is something broken in us right now and how we treat each other.

And then…

On November 18, 2016, 10 days after the election, I woke up from a nightmare. I got out of bed at 3 a.m. and wrote a press release. My headline: “States of Matter repositions company to focus on women-led consumer and tech companies.” 

I'm not sure how a position like this will work for our agency. Yet the intent feels right to me. It's a way for me, personally, to address this imbalance and fear. 

My second observation about being boldit is instinctual. 

Oftentimes, boldness occurs in response to an injustice. It just comes out of you. Like Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. Or Brandy Chastain ripping off her shirt after winning the World Cup. Or Sally Yates, former Attorney General, instructing the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s immigration ban.

Ok, so my press release may not have that cultural significance. 

But here’s the thing. I do believe I can do something to change the status quo using my skills as a creative and a communicator. By focusing on women-led companies, I can contribute to changing the statistics. I can be a powerful role model to others, and most importantly, my daughter.

I have no idea how this is going to work out. It scares me. There will likely need to be some compromise since the decision isn't about pitting women against men. Some women, and men, I’ve shared this with think it’s limiting to the business. A position like this does need to make economic sense. So I have work to do on this. 

I knew that writing that press release left States of Matter vulnerable. And that is okay.

My third observation about being bold—it will make you vulnerable. 

I often reference Brene Brown and her famous vulnerability TED Talk. In her talk, she speaks about the research she does about open-hearted people and the way they live and why they appeared to have the key to happiness. She identifies that open-hearted people have a strong sense of love and belonging and they believe they’re worthy. They possess courage, compassion and connection.

As a business owner and creative, I’m vulnerable every day. To cash flow, employee morale, big ideas that I’m trying to sell through to clients. It definitely takes a big set of tatas to be a female creative in today’s business climate. It’s not easy wearing your heart on your sleeve, which is mandatory to be a great creative. 

But that’s what got me thinking about what others might learn from my career. The arc of your life is likely already bold. And you probably have a pattern to your life’s actions. 

Here’s my pattern: I make big leaps with my career and then figure shit out later. I plotted it out and it’s quite revealing, especially when I think about my motivation.

My final observation about being bold—it’s selfish.

My career has been defined by wanting more for myself because I think I’m worthy.

It’s taken me 24 years to dial in how I can impact others.

Key things I’ve learned:

Age 24:

Start of Wordslinger, Inc., my first official business. All it takes is one client to get you started, one company to pay you. Then the hard work begins in building the relationships that will fuel a service-based company. I built my business by working with design firms and constantly learning about new disciplines in branding and marketing. 

Age 28:

When the dot-com bubble burst, I took a job as the manager of the WSU Beach Watchers, an environmental volunteer group. I learned how to manage difficult personalities. I also learned how to communicate complex environmental topics simply. And how to work with people from widely different backgrounds. More than any other job, this one taught me diplomacy.

Age 30:

I leapt into motherhood. I had no clue what I was doing there for about two years. This phase took 10 years of dedicated focus. I balanced working full time with raising a child and being married. It was tiring but I got through it, and I'm thankful that I was able to craft my career to support raising a child. This made me more empathetic for working parents and sprouted my desire to create a flexible workplace so that employees could spend time with their families. 

Age 40:

I had always wanted to build a brand from scratch so I took a Grand Canyon sized leap as employee no. 3 at an e-commerce startup. I learned how to be creative in a pressure cooker, and experienced first-hand the tension of short term vs long term gains in brand building. This job wore me out. I got chronic fatigue and ended up walking away 7 months prior to the company folding to restore my health and marriage.

Age 42:

After taking some time off to heal, I started States of Matter with a great business partner. The only way I was willing to partner and to build an agency was if I could create a culture that empowered employees to work the way they want to work. For me, that meant working from home a few days a week. 

Over my career I have had multiple opportunities to join in-house teams or brand agencies. I never did because they wouldn’t budge on remote working. I'm stubborn, so there's a little bit of me wanting to prove to the world that great creative can be done this way. I'm also both introverted and extroverted, so this schedule is also a way for me to work that is both highly productive and recharging. In starting States of Matter the deal was that we’d encourage employees to work their way, from home, our office, a coffee shop, wherever. It's a work in progress so we'll see how it goes as we grow. 

Age 44:

And today, here we are, taking a big leap into a positioning my company around something that helps to improve those women-in-business numbers and bring more meaning to my work.

To me, bold is: 

  • Patient: It’s a cumulative process, like squirrels gathering nuts. It takes time to gather the necessary energy to make the leap and to have an impact. 
  • Instinctual: When you’re ready, you’ll act. It might surprise you how it comes out. 
  • Vulnerable: It might hurt a little, but you’ll figure it out. Learn from it, so you can repeat—again and again. 
  • Selfish: It’s ok to want something and to go after it. You are worthy!

What I learned from talking at Amazon was that there's more than one way to define "bold." Own your definition bold. And enjoy the thrill of the leap. 

Britt Stromberg

Strategy Director

Britt Stromberg is the Co-Founder of States of Matter and our Director of Strategy. When you put your business and brand in her hands, she will think crazy carefully, listen to her gut, sleep on it—then do the research to be certain.

Filed under: Brand Strategy

Tagged with: International Women's Day, Bold