On this Mother’s Day in the US, we recognize and celebrate the working mother: those women who transform their lives for their children, while still contributing to the work force. Of this group of hardworking individuals, female entrepreneurs face unique challenges in the workplace, sometimes dealing with fundamental issues that men may never encounter.
To this end, for the past 15 years Cartier has championed women entrepreneurs through their Women’s Initiative, an all-encompassing international entrepreneurship program that aims to drive change by empowering women impact entrepreneurs. The program is open to women-run and women-owned businesses from any country and sector that aim to have a strong and sustainable social or environmental impact. We joined Cartier in celebrating the 15th anniversary of the program earlier this year along with a celebration for International Women’s Day in Dubai.
Now, we share highlights from an interview with Wingee Sampaio, the director of the Cartier Women’s Initiative, who spoke on the evolution of the program, the unique challenges female entrepreneurs experience, and the triumphs she’s witnessed. Quotes were edited for clarity and brevity.
Female entrepreneurs encounter unique challenges in business
There are specific kinds of challenges. I think the most well known one is around funding. Women have a challenging time raising capital because there’s less women on the other side [as investors], so there some biases. Often it comes from the type of questions that they receive. So something, for example, when a male investor meets a fellow male, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, what is your business potential? What is the growth, etcetera?’ Very focused on growth.
But when it’s a woman, the questions are, ‘What are the risks that you see? how are you addressing all these risks?’ Then at the end they’re like, ‘Wow, she’s full of risk and I’m not so sure.’ It’s a good investment, but, this is the nature. Growth-orientated versus risk-adverse type of questions for women entrepreneurs.
But it’s not much of it, I would say is necessarily intentional. It may just be a bit of an unconscious bias amongst investors. And of course now with the research being published, there’s greater awareness around this challenge.
This is one of the reason why our program exists. We are specifically focused on impact entrepreneurs because we believe business is an important force for good. And we’re specifically focused on the woman doing this work because despite the fact that they’re creating businesses that the world needs, they’re facing more barriers than normal to solve for these challenges.
Female Entrepreneurs feel pressured to shift their personality to satisfy perceptions of entrepreneurs
We posed a question about the behaviors that Wingee has encountered in her coaching and mentorship experience, having worked with hundreds of women through her career and the Initiative.
The most common thing I see is a little bit holding back in personality. Sometimes they feel like they have to sound a certain way in order for them to be heard and that there is a certain way to pitch. So sometimes they deviate from what their true expression is. We want women impact entrepreneurs to hold true to what their purpose is. They’re building a business around that and they want the business to resonate with investors.
So in terms of coaching, it’s more about this: how do you self-reflect and be more self-aware? How do you be more comfortable actually with what you are working on. For the woman impact entrepreneur, we try to create a sense of belonging and a sense of community so that they can feel like other fellows in our program.
Affirmations can offer validation and a gentle challenge
When asked about what lessons Wingee has learned from leading the Cartier Women’s Initiative, she had this to say:
I’m actually on a very similar boat as many of our women entrepreneurs in the sense that we are all women change makers. We see something in the world that we would like to do something about and we are trying our best to create that change. Holding onto the purpose, being a firm and confident that what you’re doing is needed is a constant challenges.
The pandemic has disproportionally impacted women and minorities. That said, if ever there was a moment to witness the resilience of a woman leader, the current times have really reinforced the importance of our work.
For me, I try to have an affirmation of why I do what I do. Reminding myself of my north star so that you can do your best work. I intentionally make time for that.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative has evolved from a single event to an ongoing story of award, fellowship, community, and thought leadership
The program’s awarding of grants has been steady, but now the Initiative works closely with the entrepreneurs and expert third parties to synthesize the economics of the entrepreneurial work, allowing for closer and more accurate alignment from the perspective of story, business stage, and market potential, ultimately setting these entrepreneurs up for success.
We’ve been around for 15 years which is a tremendous testament in terms of commitment by Cartier. For the first 10 years we were more of an award; a single event. It was an event to recognize and these incredible women entrepreneurs.
But fortunately, five years ago, we had the commitment of Cyrille to really grow this program and to do more work in this space. I felt that it was time to get the pieces in this place, so we grew from an award to the current four pillars of our work: award, fellowship, community, and thought leadership. So the next step was to figure out how to measure the impact of each of those so that we could continuously reflect and improve on that work.
In the beginning years, there was a Laureate and then there was the runner-up, and only the Laureate received the financial grant. When Cyrille joined, he changed it so there would be a financial grant, even for the second and third place. This was great because all of these women are doing incredible work. So then we had $100,000 grant for the Laureate, $30,000 grant for the two runner-ups.
Then in the last three years, we have been evolving our selection process, and now we engage with an impact investment firm that does the due diligence for us around each of the entrepreneurs. Our knowledge and our work with entrepreneurs is much closer than it has ever been. So as a result of that, we do know more in detail, the differences between their businesses. We wanted to increase our commitment to the space, and this is why for us we again changed the grants to $100,000. $60,000 and $30,000, and that’s how we will be going forward.
The Cartier Women’s Initiative differentiates between coaching and mentorship
Wingee proudly shares the difference between coaching and mentorship, and expresses that finding the perfect personality and skills match between the mentor or coach and mentee is critical for success.
For us, when we are talking about coaching, it is about executive leadership and it’s about fully expressing your intentionality. It’s much more of a leadership and mindset training, and we call that coaching. Coaching involves actually helping entrepreneurs reflect on how they could be more of what I’m trying to do myself. Almost holding you accountable.
Mentoring is actually professional experience. For example, say I lack expertise in medical device product development, or I lack expertise in growing my business from five people to 100 people. Mentoring is more of a transfer of professional experience; someone who has been there and done that and what you are trying to do from a practical sense.
One of my biggest challenges with initiative is actually finding the right supply of the contribution with the right demand from the fellow. We have been very fortunate to have such a large selection of people who are interested in mentoring and entrepreneurs who have a lot of need. It’s a game of matching.