Women leaders face a number of challenges. According to Crunchbase, over the last decade only 20% of global startups raising their first funding rounds include a female among the founders. And that’s an improvement from 2009 when women represented just 10%. But before 2009, female entrepreneurs were even more rare.
My journey as a female founder of a staffing firm began in 1995. I was a woman determined to break tradition. I didn’t like the notion that people could be thought of as commodities and felt contingent workers deserved more equity within the hiring process. I intended to change that. Atrium was my solution.
Unlike our competitors at the time, our focus was the candidate experience. We were building a business model to benefit the job seeker. And the benefits were quite literal, as I insisted we provide co-paid medical benefits to contingent workers. If being female wasn’t enough to make me an outsider in the industry, my business philosophy certainly did!
Regardless of the nonbelievers, I believed. Disrupting the status quo returned an incredible pool of referral candidates. Unlike those before us, Atrium was not defined by staffing capabilities but by our flair for talent retention. We relied on a virtuous circle principle. Integrity established credibility. The foundation of our business was built with trust and respect for all people. Good begot good. And with a little grace and a lot of resolve, Applicant-Centric Recruitment became a key differentiator and trademark for my business.
Empowering Leaders with an Inclusive Network
It wasn’t until several years later that my position as a female founder became another brand-defining moment for Atrium. In 2009, I was introduced to the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). As a result, Atrium became a WBENC-Certified Supplier, and I became an advocate within an organization dedicated to supporting women business owners and entrepreneurs. It increased our national visibility and established relationships that encouraged us to learn, grow and scale alongside world-renowned enterprise companies.
Empowering leaders and their potential didn’t just fuel our momentum, it furthered our mission. Business flourished. Atrium was named one of the 50 fastest-growing women-led organizations across the nation by the Women Presidents’ Organization. I leaned on my WBENC peers and mentors for inspiration, knowledge and guidance and paid it forward with every occasion to do so. Having an inclusive, collaborative network to share values and valuable information has been instrumental to my development as a business leader.
Companies exist to solve problems for people. Getting to know the ins and outs as well as the trials and tribulations a business experiences is not easy. It requires empathy and trust. And both of those come from a genuine connection with the people who manage them. By building relationships and expanding our networks, we are continually learning. As a result, we — as people and as organizations — constantly evolve. It’s important to me that I help others who want the same.
Believe in Your Vision, Lead with Compassion
I often say, if you believe in your vision, the value of your fear is not worth the value of your mission. It’s important to understand your fear. That’s how you overcome it. There is a special balance of emotion that must be understood to lead effectively. And to impress kindness, respect and dignity upon those around you, compassion must accompany leadership. Women excel at this. And frankly, we need more of it.
Between the ups and downs of the staffing economy — and the unknowns of the pandemic — change is upon us once again. I’m looking forward to influencing more of it. Who knows, perhaps the female founder stat rises to 50% before Atrium celebrates our next twenty-five years in business. Either way, I’m encouraged by our progress.