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Reflections on Being A Women-Owned Business

by Kirsten Liston

· women in business,company updates

This fall, Rethink was proud to be certified as a woman-owned business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

For those of you who have known Rethink Compliance for a while, this designation is probably not a surprise! One glance at our company website would tell you the same thing.

The WBENC certification process is a laborious and (for the owners) intrusive process where you submit your personal tax returns to strangers and prove you have the authority to write checks and otherwise direct the company’s spending.

(No disrespect to the WBENC — they have the difficult job of sorting out true woman-owned companies from those who stick a woman in a figurehead role so they can pretend to be!)

So why was it important to make it official?

Two short reasons, and one long one.

Our short reasons:

  1. Our clients asked us to do it. Several work at companies where they get credit — or even extra budget — for hiring women- or minority-owned companies. Since they were already hiring a woman-owned company, they wanted proper credit, which is fair!
     
  2. It’s in Rethink’s best interest. We’ve grown fast since our founding, we have big ambitions for our business, and we’ll take any fair advantage we can get. If there are companies who, all other things being equal, will give preference to women-owned companies, we want to be in a position to benefit.

Those are the short reasons.

Here’s the longer one: Speaking as both a woman and a business owner, it’s personally important to me for Rethink Compliance to continue to take active steps to support women’s careers and create opportunities (and even pressure, where appropriate) for women to take on leadership roles.

This is a position that’s shared by our entire management team, male and female.

I say this understanding that ANY ambitious person, male or female will face obstacles and limitations as they grow their career.

These can be external — political struggles, favoritism, bad bosses, even timing (like starting your career during a recession) — or internal. In progressing to higher levels of achievement, most people will need to confront their own blind spots, bad habits, undeveloped talents, and personal limitations. There’s a reason Marshall Goldsmith called his best-selling executive development book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” For that matter, there’s a reason there are executive coaches.

All ambitious people come up against obstacles — and all success depends on finding a way to get past them.

That said, women as a group face specific — and common — limitations that hold them back at work. It’s worth naming a few, like:

  • Women tend to be promoted on achievement, only after they’ve proven they can do a job. By contrast, their male counterparts tend to be promoted on potential: “I think he could do this!”
     
  • Women don’t always ask for the next job— instead, they wait for their work to be noticed — and so jobs go to the people who lobby for them
     
  • When childcare demands stretch a two-parent family, women are traditionally the ones who step out or step down (this has accelerated during the pandemic)
     
  • Women with small children (or other outside obligations) who can’t commit to the “always-on” nature of modern corporate careers tend not to have a lot of professional options

Now, it’s important to note that some women are making exactly the choices they want to. Not everyone needs or wants a killer career.

And “common” does not mean “always” — and it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around any of these.

Which is where Rethink’s advocacy for women and women’s careers comes in.

Back when my mom joined IBM as a programmer in the mid-1960s, her department was half female. Her boss at the time deliberately sought out talented women to hire, mentor, and promote, in part because he thought it got him access to a wider talent pool. When my mom quit because she was pregnant, both he and IBM tried to convince her to stay.

Later, when she went back to work, she was often asked in interviews how many children she had. She found that when she said “three,” she’d get the job. When she said “five,” she never did. So she said “three” and figured it wasn’t her job to correct other people’s short sightedness.

We look at things in a similar way.

In our view, companies that can tap a larger talent pool — including non-obvious and non-traditional candidates — have an advantage over companies that are more short-sighted.

(In Rethink’s early bootstrap years, many of our team members were moms with small kids at home (or professional writers, or elite athletes) working flexible, part-time schedules and delivering like the seasoned pros they are.)

In our view, companies that can tap a larger talent pool — including non-obvious and non-traditional candidates — have an advantage over companies that are more short-sighted.​

And talented people who are being passed over at work for whatever reason owe it to themselves to recognize what’s happening and get themselves into a role where their contributions can be better recognized.

This might mean switching companies. It might mean taking on more writing or speaking opportunities or taking on side hustles that position you as more valuable. Or it might mean starting your own company.

In my own career, I was passed over for several executive jobs and told I was “too valuable” to promote. I once had a senior business leader tell me he was putting an unqualified person— his words: “I know he’s not right for the job” — into the manager role above me, simply because he “needed a place to put him.” In the same conversation, he told me that the company was committed to promoting women and he hoped to find a leadership role for me one day.

Instead, I found my own — I created it. And since starting Rethink, I’ve been approached by two different companies to discuss taking a leadership role in their compliance learning business. (I passed.) I mention this as a personal illustration of the first bullet point above. Companies who wait and promote women only when they see proof of achievement may find that those women have already moved on. (And in my case, it’s been far more rewarding to start and grow my own business than to steer someone else’s.)

All this to say: I’m proud that Rethink Compliance is a women-owned business, and I’m thrilled to share our WBENC certification making it official. The compliance industry is full of smart, talented women who are pushing businesses — and workplaces — forward. Here’s to celebrating those women and creating bigger and better opportunities for them in the future!

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