The Women’s March, Sheryl Sandberg’s silence, and Leaning the F*** Away

Someone at work recently posted the article Lean Out: the deafening post-November silence of Sheryl Sandberg on our internal social network, posing the question, “Do you do what you think is right, or do you do what is right by your company?”

Here are some excerpts of the article to get you up to speed, or head straight to my response.

Sandberg must be well positioned to be a leader in this precise moment of feminist consciousness, right?

Uh, wrong.

Since November, I’ve heard one phrase uttered over and over by senior women in the Valley: “Why isn’t Sheryl saying anything about this?” To be specific, it started right around November 9, when Hillary Clinton conceded the Presidency to Donald Trump.

sherylsandbergShe defended Peter Thiel staying on Facebook’s board. She defended her boss’s dismissal of the idea that fake news impacted the election. She– not Zuckerberg– went to that meeting and sat behind the Trump water. And most surprising of all: Sheryl Sandberg had absolutely nothing public to say about last weekend’s women’s march, the largest feminist event in our lifetimes. The largest American protest. The time we actually saw footage on every major network and newspaper of what she has been saying for years women need to do: Linking arms and standing together.

and

It is impossible to imagine that Sandberg has absolutely nothing to say about the women’s march, that she simply didn’t notice it happened. It strains credulity almost as much as the idea that Facebook’s trending news algorithm didn’t notice it. It’s particularly remarkable given how much of the march was organized on Facebook.

Sandberg can not or will not even acknowledge the most feminist thing that’s happened, which was largely organized on her company’s site and aligns with her stated personal political views.

and

Speak out. Link arms. Role-model stepping outside of a woman’s comfort zone. Don’t normalize bias by staying silent and protecting your own interests. Organize. This is the advice of a woman who didn’t acknowledge that all of that just happened on a global scale last Saturday.

Now is about the time when some people reading this are screaming what’s become the two cop out words in a Trump America: Fiduciary duty!

and

She didn’t have to become a feminist champion, she chose to. She convinced women she was linking arms with them. And– I’m not saying this was her cynical intention– but she has profited from that decision. Women like Sandberg abandoning the movement now speaks to the anxiety I saw in women of color in the– ahem– Facebook group Pantsuit Nation just after the election: That white women who have a place in a Trump world would abandon the greater cause. That the “sisterhood” against Trump would abruptly turn into every white woman for herself, and a bunch of women of color being shit out of luck.

Sandberg has sadly modeled the worst fears women of color have in being part of the broader feminist movement. And in doing so, she’s given credence to a lot of unfair criticism she got after LeanIn was published: That she was arguing feminism from a position of luxury and privilege.

Here’s my response:

  1. Wow it must be hard to be that public a figure (whether or not you chose that life) and have your every move scrutinized, though to be fair, the author of the article argues fairly convincingly that Sheryl has benefited from her spokespersonship;
  2. I’m sure that if I dug that deeply into anyone’s history and current actions I’d find all sorts of hypocrisy;
  3. It makes me a little uncomfortable that this writer frames this whole Very Important conversation as a condemnation of one person, even if she argues her point well, and
  4. The question, as my colleague posed it (“Do you do what you think is right, or do you do what is right by your company?”), is super interesting for anyone to consider, at every intersection of gender, race, and identity, etc!

The answer, I believe, really depends on a concept that this article touches on: PRIVILEGE.

Depending upon how privileged you are, you are in more or less a position to choose to risk political suicide or getting fired or blacklisted (or whatever) in your place of work for doing that thing you believe “is right,” even if others in positions of power don’t agree with you.

If you hold privilege and believe that privilege comes with responsibilities (to lift others up, and call things out as you see them, speak your voice even if it’s in opposition to the company line, to use your power to improve situations for those who are less privileged — and I do believe this! I’ve written a longer piece on the topic of privilege here) then you might stick your neck out more, and face those consequences knowing that you won’t ultimately be wondering how you’re going to feed your kids as a result. But that’s a conscious choice and decision based on factors that may or may not be visible to others.

I absolutely believe we need MORE visible, vocal women (and allies!) to champion a variety of approaches to, well, being successful, because who can possibly know what “success” means to anyone except that person themselves? More of us continuing to speak up and march (or not, these are also choices – I chose to stay home and write this instead of actually marching) may help alleviate the burnout and witch-hunting that understandably rear their heads amongst the spokesperson-y torch-holders.

I’m not exactly Sheryl’s biggest fan, but throwing stones isn’t exactly a form of “linking arms” or “lifting each other up” either, eh? I’d like to believe that these potentially less-risky behaviors that are more accessible regardless of privilege, and either way, I’d rather focus my energies there.

***

P.S. I can’t help but remember this whole business, wonder if Jessica Williams’ then-sentiment is anything along the lines of what Sheryl herself has been thinking lately?

UPDATE: Apparently Sheryl regrets not having said anything about the Women’s March.

Accounting 101 with Liz Mason

When you’re a startup, you only have about a billion things to think about. So it’s understandable if accounting isn’t top of mind. That’s why I worked with Liz Mason from High Rock Accounting to produce this 37 minute online course, designed to provide the accounting basics you need to know to become a successful small business. It covers:

  • Why accounting is better in the cloud
  • Basic accounting definitions
  • Track what’s important (ie, enough to glean meaningful insights, and not so much that you get bogged down in unnecessary detail)
  • Payroll concepts
  • Integrations with other small business software

Small Food Business podcast interview

ElizabethU_Podcast-683x1024

It’s always a pleasure to serve as a guest on other people’s podcasts. Back in November, Jennifer Lewis interviewed me for the Small Food Business podcast series. They released the episode today, saying:

Many of us start our small businesses with a broader mission or vision for what we’re hoping to achieve beyond just dollars and cents. In today’s podcast, we talk with sustainable small business expert and author Elizabeth Ü about how mission driven businesses can raise the capital they need in an environment that seemingly values the bottom line above all else.

But my favorite part about this podcast is the end, when I had the opportunity to describe how my passion for supporting small business owners ultimately led me to take a job with an accounting software company:

For ten years I really spent a lot of time trying to help food entrepreneurs raise capital. At first I thought it was because people didn’t know how to invest in these small businesses and so I was working with organizations to help train foundations and lenders and investors and various funders how to support these investments into small sustainable food businesses. Then I thought, well no it’s actually because there aren’t enough of these loan funds or other investment tools to support the effort to invest in these small businesses. So I helped launch a loan fund that was geared particularly toward high-impact social food ventures.

Then I thought, no it’s actually because these small entrepreneurs or even growing entrepreneurs who have growing ventures don’t understand where to look for capital, or how to speak with the people that they find once they are looking to enter into some sort of negotiation with prospective investors. So I wrote my book as an attempt to map out all the different options and how you would determine whether or not any of them is a good fit. Then once you have determined which might be a good match for you, how you would go about accessing that capital.

Ultimately, what I discovered is that no amount of passion and no foolproof mission statement or vision is going to protect you from the fact of the matter that if you are starting a business, you need to have a clear sense of how the business is doing and a clear sense of which of your products have the best profit margin. Is this product actually making you money? Or is it costing you money? So time and time again I would see these entrepreneurs who were so passionate but really didn’t care enough about the numbers, and weren’t paying enough attention to the numbers. They didn’t understand their financials, they didn’t understand how to look at the reports that their accounting software was generating for them, or they weren’t using any kind of accounting or bookkeeping system at all.

That’s actually how I ended up working at Xero, because I realized that if we really want to help these sustainable food entrepreneurs at scale, and really grow to a point where they are making an impact not only in their own lives but in all of our lives and to the planet as a whole, they need to understand what’s actually going on in their businesses. I was so excited to find Xero and see how – forget about the brand name – any system, even if it’s a pen and paper in a ledger book or a spreadsheet, that is forcing you to have the discipline to understand where the money is going and where the money is coming from, and even give you visibility into who you have sold something to. When is their invoice due? Are you actually calling them up to say, “Hey you owe me money, your invoice is overdue.” So many people lose money just because they aren’t keeping track of who owes them money and they aren’t making those collections phone calls, or they’re paying fees on bills or late fees on their credit card payments just because they’re not keeping track of their bills.

At this point I am convinced that the thing that really makes successful businesses stand apart is that in addition to having the passion and competence at whatever it is their business is doing, they also have the discipline to keep track of the books, make sure they’re reconciling their bank line items as they come in, and keeping track of all of the numbers behind the scenes in some sort of system.

Have a listen or read the rest of the transcript here.

Nonprofit fundraising with Kishshana Palmer

Kishshana-14.jpgI recently worked with Kishshana Palmer, an experienced non-profit executive and consultant, to produce what was possibly the most engaging nonprofit fundraising education session I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

Kishshana not only knows what she’s talking about — she’s a Certified Fundraising Executive who has helped organizations raise over 35 million dollars collectively — she’s also a wonderfully engaging person to listen to. I found myself laughing and nodding in both agreement and self-awareness, in much the same way that I might at a good comedy show, dharma talk, or author event. “She totally GETS it,” I kept thinking to myself, remembering how I used to feel (ie, not awesome) when trying to raise money for my own nonprofit organization, Finance for Food.

Don’t wait to apply Kishshana’s insights and action items to your own nonprofit fundraising efforts; check out Fundraising for nonprofits on Xero U!

Good Food, Great Business at the Commonwealth Club

CommonwealthWant to learn more about financing your business, working with co-packers, marketing for increased sales, working with retailers, and more… from a group of kick-ass women who really know what it takes to run a successful food business? Listen to this Commonwealth Club recording of a recent event titled Good Food, Great Business: How Food Startups Take Good Ideas from Concept to Success.

Joining me in presenting to the sold-out crowd were Kathryn Lukas, CEO, Farmhouse CultureJill Litwin, Founder and CEO, Peas of Mind; and Grace Erickson, General Manager, Ocho CandySusie Wyshak, Author of the new book Good Food, Great Business (check it out!), organized the event and served as our moderator.