We are smack in the middle of Women's History Month, and there's tons of happy news to report from the XX chromosome contingency! Now is a fantastic time to be a business leader, because so many of us are in positions where we can employ and help other women.
Let's start with Rosalind G. Brewer. In February, she was named president and CEO of Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. This is a HUGE deal on so many levels -- she's the first woman, and the first African American, to hold a CEO position at one of the company's business units. I am in awe. And, in a new initiative with Count Me In, the Sam's Club Giving Program is creating opportunities for hundreds of women small business owners to become leaders in their own right by increasing their revenues, creating jobs and improving the quality of their lives.
And let's give a big round of applause to Spanx creator Sara Blakely, who, at just 41, became the youngest woman on Forbes Billionaires List. Not bad for a woman who started her ubiquitous brand with just $5,000 in the bank.
Then there was the 3rd annual Women in the World Summit, which wrapped earlier this month in NYC. The brainchild of Newsweek/Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, the event brought together some of the world's most amazing female activists and dignitaries including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg and Academy Award Winners Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie plus young women from around the globe who are changing their worlds, like Liberian writer, activist and Nobel prize winner Leymah Gbowee and women influential in the Arab Spring. Inspiring? That's putting it mildly.
It's been a pretty heady month for me, too. I was honored to visit with Gloria Steinem, Carol Gilligan and Pat Mitchell at a Feminist.com event at Gloria's apartment, where the discussion was -- once again -- about preserving and standing up for a women's right to choose in the face of legislation aimed at turning back the clock. Imagine being a business leader and not having control over your own body? Hard to believe we are still having this discussion in 2012!
I also caught up with my dear pals Suze Orman and Nely Galan and my new friend Dr. Julianne Malveaux at a Tavis Smiley taping of a three-part series called Made Visible: Women, Children & Poverty in America which will air on PBS on March 28, 29 and 30. I'm so happy that he is addressing this hugely important issue. No matter how much women are rising in numbers in terms of business leaders, we need to direct some of our focus to the challenges millions of women face. The number of U.S. citizens in poverty in 2010 is 46.2 million. That's the largest number in the 52 years since poverty rates have been published. The vast majority are women and their children; households headed by women had median income of $35,091 in 2007. But that dropped to $32,031 in 2010.
Suze, incidentally, has a new product out called The Approved Card. It's a pre-paid card -- not a credit card -- which means it's impossible to get into debt when you use it. Check it out www.theapprovedcard.com. It's genius.
Here at Count Me In, we're doing our part, too. On May 10 and 11, we'll be in Los Angeles presenting the first of three Urban Rebound events. This event is part of a national business growth initiative sponsored by Sam's Club Giving Program designed to help bring 300 women-owned businesses in the Greater Los Angeles, Detroit and Charlotte regions to $250,000 in annual revenues within 12-18 months. (If you're not a math person, that goal translates into $25 million in new economic activity and 200 to 300 new jobs.)
California is a perfect place for kicking off this initiative: The state is home to the largest number of women-owned businesses in the country -- 1,080,000 -- but ranks only 27th in terms of revenue growth for these businesses from 1997 to 2010, according to a 2011 report by American Express OPEN. The 2010 Census indicates that while women-owned businesses represented nearly 30 percent of privately-held companies in the U.S., 75 percent of them reached only $50,000 in annual gross revenues or less.
We're looking to change that.
And we can. Consider Garnett Newcombe, the CEO of Human Potential Consultants, a Carson, California-based employment solutions business. Garnett was one of our 2006 Make Mine a Million $ Business Awardees, and she's been an integral part of the Count Me In family ever since, even sitting on the CMI Board. CMI changed her life, she says: "When I first entered the M3 program, I didn't have any confidence at all. I didn't know how to articulate my business. I just felt like a mom and pop store owner, just making it day by day."
After joining CMI, she became "Much clearer about what I'd done and what I wanted to do. Prior to that it was all muddled in my head." She also speaks to the power of having a community of women supporting her: "The M3 community rejuvenates you in the sense that you're reminded you are not alone," she explains. "If you stay in your business too long without getting some fresh perspectives, you can start to get that 'Poor Me,' feeling: 'Poor Me. I'm the only one that has to restructure or cut people's hours.' But when you're active in the community, you meet people who are going through the same things and are also going back to the drawing board and you realize, 'Hey! I am not alone!' And that is so important. We can't isolate ourselves because that's when we get into trouble."
So what about you? Are you going to be the first woman in your family to start a business or grow to one million in annual revenue? How are you going to change the world? I invite you to visit our website (www.countmein.org) to see more inspirational stories, and learn how to set your own plan in motion.
I look forward to seeing you in May!
Follow Nell Merlino on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nellmerlino