Our Gender Inclusion Policy

In June, we celebrated love. This year, the parades were protests, the advocacy was virtual, and our fight for an inclusive future without discrimination looked a little different. While many organizers brought joy to these strange circumstances, this year had a particular solemnity that reminded us how far we still have to go, particularly regarding issues of intersectionality and trans rights.

Our mission at Enthuse Foundation is to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs who face more significant obstacles to funding than their male peers. But, for as many biases there are against women founders, there are sadly many more for people who don’t conform to society’s gender binaries.

We’re here to support all women. In case it needs to be said, that, of course, includes trans women. Our program also absolutely welcomes founders who are nonbinary or gender-fluid.

We often celebrate entrepreneurship as a way to live life on your terms, but for many people, that means the opportunity to step away from discriminatory workplaces. If entrepreneurship is an escape for you, we’d be honored to help you on your path.

Are men included in your activities? 

People who identify solely as men are very welcome to attend learning events or to become a mentor, but may not be asked to submit applications for grant-giving events or to become a mentee.

What policies do you have in place to make sure that your gender policy is inclusive? 

We know that binary terms can be important in our anti-sexism work. However, we will stop using the term “female founders” because we understand that not every woman we help will identify as female.

We will never challenge or assume your gender when you apply for any of our events. If you’re with us, it’s because you feel that you’re included.

Managing a Social Media Crisis

The last few months have given small businesses the chance to truly live their values in the face of crisis and adversity. Online, the best companies have responded to their customers with compassion and empathy in a way that stays true to their brand. The worst responders have hurt and undermined feelings and broadcasted the chasm between their public image and who they really are.

However, even with the best of intentions, we should never assume that a social media crisis can’t happen to us. If you’ve chosen the most lovely, smart, and well-meaning social media manager, on a bad day, they can still misinterpret or misunderstand someone online. Every week we see big organizations make mistakes like forgetting to pause a scheduled post during a national crisis, making bad jokes, trying to capitalize on a popular but sensitive trend, or using outdated terms.

What matters most, though, is how you respond. A genuine, well-crafted message backed up by action goes a long way.

Catching it early

Have social media alerts set up on your phone
A crisis doesn’t wait for Monday morning. On most social media platforms, you can filter out low-quality notifications so you don’t get overwhelmed by the minutia. The trick is learning to ignore non-urgent messages at the weekend.

Use two-factor authentication for each sign-in
If you get hacked and the person sends out some incendiary content, not everyone will believe it wasn’t someone on your team. Use strong passwords and two-step authentication to avoid having to have that conversation.

Set parameters for what constitutes a crisis
Make sure that your team knows how to triage a crisis. Some mean-spirited posts can be ignored, your social media manager can manage minor product or delivery complaints, a communications director can manage some adverse reactions to a message you put out, and you should handle something that seriously threatens the reputation or even the viability of your company.

Pull together all the relevant facts and timeline into one place
Understand all of the facts so that you can represent them as accurately and transparently as possible. Make sure your staff feels comfortable telling you the whole story when their first instinct might be to diminish their role in what has happened.

Find out who’s at fault
Was it your internal processes, a one-off message from a member of staff, a mismanaged contractor, or simple human error? The answer will let you know whether you might be able to contain it by responding to people directly, or whether you need to make a bigger policy decision or take action. Do you have to dismiss an individual or an agency?

Make sure you know whether admitting fault or firing someone could leave you in legal or financial jeopardy. If there’s any chance it will, you will need to consult your lawyer first. You may be able to buy some time with the phrase, “The issue is under investigation. We’re taking it very seriously and will have more information shortly.”

Crafting a response

If you’re annoyed, set a two-minute timer on your phone to just breathe
You’ve spent an unquantifiable amount of time building this business from the ground up. Insults and miscommunications can feel so personal. Our first instinct might be to admonish the social media manager or shut down the people on the other side, but that won’t solve the problem. We don’t do our best non-violent communication under pressure.

Use people-first language, always
If the issue is that you’ve accidentally used regressive or outdated language, or misunderstood someone’s lived experience, you should get up to speed quickly. It’s always important to use people-first language, but especially in a crisis. It is a concept that was developed by activists in the disability space. It aims to “make personhood the essential characteristic of every person.” So every other descriptive social identity comes second. For example, you might choose to say, “people experiencing homelessness” instead of, “the homeless.”

If you’re confused about the most recent inclusive nomenclature for a group of people—for example, whether to use LGBT, LGBTQIA, or LGBTQ+—look for reputable organizations that may have progressive style guides on their websites and delve deeper into the meanings behind the words.

Start from your desired outcome
Have some goals for the outcome of the crisis, outside of, “please stop yelling about this.” Clear goals will focus your mind on your response. They could look like:

  • Our response is proportionate and was handled with integrity
  • We showed that we were prepared and our response was well-thought-out
  • This crisis didn’t negatively impact our sales goals
  • We had a clear resolution to the crisis and know how to avoid it happening again
  • Our team is happy with the way we handled this response.

Keep it brief
Almost no issue is black and white. In our world of greys, it’s tempting to over-explain a communication breakdown or mistake. But you could end up creating more questions than you’re answering and appear defensive.

Be clear and unambiguous and avoid too much detail or side-stepping.

Say you’re going to take action, then take it
Detail the action you’re going to take and then swiftly follow up. You might not want to bring up the issue again if things have died down and you’ve put a new policy in place to resolve the issue, but the internet has a long memory and it’s important that you control the narrative.

Keep it consistent
Once you have your statement, make sure everyone in your organization is on the same page.

Take communication offline
Where possible, offer an email address for people to reach your company so that you don’t have lengthy back-and-forths with angry people publically. You should be prepared to answer those calls and emails quickly, though; otherwise, your non-response will become another topic. Create an internal FAQ and get your team prepared to copy and paste the responses. Make sure they know that they can’t respond to things off-script and how they should escalate topics that aren’t on the script, or anything abusive or threatening.

Know when to stop engaging
For some people online, you could deliver a heartfelt, genuine apology, a free item, an extra-mile action, and they will still want to spend all day arguing with you. Know when to step back and disengage.

Don’t take more blame than you should
As women, we’re often conditioned to want to appear kind and decent over anything else. If you haven’t been malicious or callous, a simple, direct apology is better than a long, meandering, penitent one.

Offer advice to anyone else on your team who wants to respond
Hopefully, you’ve created an environment where your employees feel connected and protective of your business. They might be tempted to offer a response on your behalf using their own profiles. They have freedom of expression, but it’s wise to advise them to lead with kindness, give them the company message, and tell them that personal attacks on your detractors will bring the company into disrepute.

Review the crisis
Once you’re through to the other side of a difficult situation like this, don’t just try and forget that it happened. Talk to your team about how everyone handled it, and what you’ve learned for the future.

Managing Remote Working When Your Office is at 50 Percent Capacity

Before the pandemic hit, we wrote an article about effectively managing a remote team.

While a lot of the advice still stands, we could never have predicted that we’d be in a situation where offices across the country are filled at between 17 percent and 50 percent capacity for the foreseeable future. Or that some of the biggest tech companies are happy for their workers to move out of state and work remotely for good.

How can you make sure that people who need to continue to shelter in place for their health or their family don’t get left behind? And how can you be sure that people in the office feel that they’re safe at work and still connected to the wider team?

Here are eight quick tips.

  1. Make sure your processes and procedures are well mapped-out.
    The past three months have been chaos. Make sure that no one returns to the office with any questions outstanding about what’s expected of them, what changes have been made, how often they can be in the office, and how long the rules will be in place.
  2. Stream your social initiatives.
    It might not feel safe for lots of people to drink together indoors for a while. But it’s likely that your employees will want to spend downtime together after not seeing each other for so long. Try setting up a projector outside (space and weather permitting). The chances of spreading the virus are around 20 percent lower outside than inside. A Twitch game evening, trivia night or yoga class could be shared with your remote staff on Zoom and bring together people in the office safely.
  3. Do a lunch and learn.
    Ask your team to prepare 30-minute presentations on anything from good time management, to recovering your creativity. Eating and learning together in person and on Zoom could be a nice communal moment for the people in your organization.
  4. Understand productivity might look different for the first few weeks.
    Just as it took time to adjust to working remotely, it’ll take office-based staff time to get back into the rhythm of working at an office again.
  5. Encourage continued use of video chat.
    Even in the office, normalize the practice of Zoom calls and use of your chat function. Cramming people together in small meeting rooms isn’t safe for their health and could make remote employees feel like they’re missing out.
  6. Try to avoid bringing back people by team.
    If possible, bring willing office-workers back by last name or even star sign to have a mix of people represented. That way, your employees will know that who is in the office isn’t a value-based decision.
  7. Allow flexible work hours.
    At home, we’ve all gotten used to working longer hours. Cutting out our commutes has given us back one to three hours in the day, and many of us linger online from first thing until late evening. Some people were making room in their day for teaching their children or checking in on relatives. Allow more freedom as you reopen. Also, make sure that people in the office don’t get caught working longer hours to keep up with people who are at home.
  8. Make people as mobile as possible.
    Encourage everyone who is in the office to take home their laptops every night and to hotdesk. Even if they never experience an active coronavirus, it’s likely at some point everyone will experience COVID-like symptoms. It could just be a dry cough or allergies, and they’ll have to stay home for two weeks to be safe.

Does Your Business Idea Have Legs?

The number of people forced out of work due to the coronavirus peaked at around 35 million, a brutal and historic decline in U.S. jobs.

If you got laid off, chances are making rent and getting rehired are your only priorities. But, if you’re lucky enough to have savings and space to pause and plan, you might have decided to explore the freedom, flexibility, and adventure of entrepreneurship.

Aside from the nuts and bolts of a strong business plan, workspace, and start-up capital, your initial success will depend on whether your idea truly addresses a gap in the market and whether you’re the best person to fill it.

What’s your personal mission?

In his book “Good to Great,” Business Researcher Jim Collins argues that the best companies in each industry stand at the intersection of three crucial questions:

  • What can we be the best in the world at?
  • What drives our economic engine? (what makes money)
  • What are we deeply passionate about?

He coined the idea, “the hedgehog concept.” It is based on an ancient Greek parable, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

In the story, the fox tries many cunning methods to catch the hedgehog. It swipes, it sneaks, it pounces, and it hides in the bushes. However, it’s always thwarted by the hedgehog’s spikes, its singular strategy to defend itself.

Hedgehogs do one thing excellently and have focus. In business, we might call this an overarching vision.

If you have something you love to do that you’re great at, but can’t make money from, it’s a hobby.

If you have something that you are good at that pays well, that you aren’t passionate about, it’s just a job.

If you have something that you love to do that you can monetize, but aren’t skilled in, it won’t last.

Your mission lies at the overlap of these three dimensions; your key focus that will guide your organization toward success.

Can You Bring Unique Value?

Once you’ve found your mission, you need to make sure that you’re delivering the maximum amount of value to your customers.

Strategyzer—a company that creates business strategy tools—lays out mirroring questions that ask you to consider what your customer wants and what you can offer them; the value proposition canvas.

You start with your customer segment.

In your customer segment, you think about who your customer is, what they want, and why they want it. If you have more than one target customer, you can create more than one canvas.

The research you do to fill in this section could be as informal as chatting with people in the right demographic or could be desk research, social listening, a targeted survey, or in culture reports.

In customer jobs, you describe what your customer wants to get done, whether that’s functional, social, or emotional.

In pains, you consider the frustrations, risks, obstacles, and challenges they might meet when they’re trying to fulfill their need.

In gains, you reflect on how your customer will measure success, the positive outcomes they hope to achieve, and any additional benefits and aspirations they might reach for.

When you fill out this circle, you’re gathering as much information as you can to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and track your understanding of the people or companies that you intend to serve.

Then, you are free to move on to your value proposition.

In products and services, you lay out what your value proposition is built on. What is it that you’re offering? Is it clearly fulfilling a customer job?

In gain creators, you think about how your offer will meet expectations and identify how you can add value.

In pain relievers, you will consider how you can deliver something that minimizes and reduces your customer’s frustrations and make their lives easier.

“The value map makes it explicit how your products and services relieve pains and create gains. Use it to design, test, and iterate your value proposition until you figure out what resonates with customers. You achieve fit by creating a clear connection between what matters to customers and how your products, services, and features ease pains and create gains.” — Strategyzer

Here’s a simple example in action. Yours might have tens of points in each category as you begin to flesh it out.

Emma’s Paw-fect Groomers

Emma is starting a pet grooming company. Her target market is the busy Millennial women in Seattle.

Guiding Your Staff Through Difficult Times

If you’re reading this, you’re probably exhausted.

You’re navigating a global pandemic that requires near-constant pivoting of your business’s plans and expectations, on top of worrying about the health of your loved ones and community.

You’re also facing the reckoning of another deadly but more insidious crisis—racial injustice. You have to think about the wellbeing of your staff at the same time as feeling the pain of our shared grief and outrage over the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

It’s always a challenge to lead your staff through hard times—like layoffs, restructuring, or a lawsuit—but our present moment feels particularly punishing and exacting.

Your employees might be organizing or participating in marches, crying in between Zoom meetings, isolating away from family, or nervously scrolling news until 4 am every night. And you might be, too.

How can you keep your teams together amidst all of the pain, confusion, and chaos?

Go back to your values

When you created your company, you spent time carefully crafting your values and ethos. They’re a part of why your employees chose to work for you. Go back and interrogate those words. Was your company borne out of the need for more innovation and boldness in your industry? That might mean that your employees are craving a different reaction from you than if you built a company around kindness and continuous learning. What would a values-led response look like from you at this moment?

Create a space for listening

In her viral Medium article, “Maintaining Professionalism in the Age of Black Death is…a Lot,” Shenequa Golding shares:

“I don’t know who decided that being professional was loosely defined as being divorced of total humanity, but whoever did they’ve aided, unintentionally maybe, in a unique form of suffocation.”

How can you make space for your team’s humanity without prying or crossing boundaries? Set up one-to-one meetings that start with an earnest “How are you doing?”, create a Google Form for anonymous online comments for people who might not feel comfortable sharing publicly, and be real, reachable, and vulnerable.

Also, be sure to know about all of the mental health resources available on your company insurance plans, and consider appending it with other programs if it’s not enough to meet the needs of your staff.

Take care of you

Stress takes its toll on our ability to function. Make sleep a priority, impose guidelines around social media consumption, and try to inject pieces of joy into your day as much as is possible right now. Since the pandemic began, lots of free techniques and coping tools have been made available online, and if you’re facing this moment as a Black woman, there are some tailored mental health resources available to you.

Be appropriately transparent about how the business is doing

Demonstrate trust and engagement by being appropriately candid about how your business is doing. In times of crisis, employees fill the vacuum of silence with worst-case-scenario thinking. When they know more about how the company as a whole is doing, they tend to think and innovate like leaders. Complete transparency is called open-book management, and, while it takes a lot of work and education to get right, it can help bring staff together.

How can you begin the process of transparency? The Small Giants Community has a guide.

Keep internal communications organized

For many organizations facing coronavirus, teams have had pay cuts, been furloughed, or are in the process of rehiring staff. If you share big news with just a few members of your organization, by the end of the day the rest of your team will get the version with no detail plus commentary. Have a tight communication plan for any news that affects the pay, benefits, or hours of staff at your company. Your internal communications should always include a long-term plan for resolution to the crisis you’re facing.

Provide additional support to very stressed employees

We all react differently to stress. Some of your employees might have a strong response to these ongoing crises and need a little bit of extra coaching through this time. Either personally or through their managers, make sure they have a simple, clear path forward in their work, clear anything non-urgent, and add a bit of padding to their deadlines. Make sure you have alternate plans for crucial projects if people have to take time away from work.

Be flexible

Micromanagement is always heinous, but now is a particularly bad time to be controlling and rigid. If you don’t already, allow your staff to work non-traditional hours, use their sick-leave to tend to their mental health, and give them latitude about the way they accomplish goals. Make peace with the fact that this year isn’t going to end exactly how you imagined it would, and things aren’t going to get done the way you thought they would.

Allow your staff to step up

While everyone is feeling stressed, you may find that you see the best in your people. Allow them to lift up your company with creative business solutions, empathetic listening, mutual support, and ideas for bringing people together. These solutions can come from the most unexpected places, so make sure everyone feels empowered to contribute towards your goals.

Lead by example

Saying that you’re there to listen but never being available, or saying that you don’t accept discrimination and sweeping complaints under the carpet won’t meet the needs we’re facing. Model the type of behavior you’d like to see from your teams. Demonstrate honesty, humanity, and organization, and you’ll be amazed at how people will step up to meet you at that level.

Implement the practice of nonviolent communication

Your team’s ability to communicate clearly and constructively is how you’ll continue to thrive beyond COVID-19, and carry this time forward into meaningful and transformative action. Nonviolent communication puts an emphasis on awareness, responsibility, and empathy. It encourages you to think about how you would want to hear difficult news, use open questions, and manage conflict strategically. If you haven’t come across nonviolent communication principles before, First Round has a great summary.

What to do if Your Essentials-Only Budget is Still Leaving You Short

If the pandemic has hit your business hard, chances are you’ve already tried scaling back your personal expenses. If you’ve paused every subscription, cut every non-essential, and are still finding it difficult to make ends meet, you aren’t alone. The unemployment rate in the US may hit 25% in the coming weeks as more businesses are shutting their doors. Credit card companies, landlords, and banks are expecting to have to work with people who temporarily can’t pay their bills.

We explore some ways of prioritizing your money so that you can keep yourself safe and limit the damage while you’re facing hardship. Service providers and debtors tend to take actions like cutting off your electricity or sending a nasty legal letter not the first time you don’t pay, but when they don’t hear from you. Communicate earnestly with your debtors and service providers to make a plan for the future.

Know what’s important, and what can wait. You need basic food in your pantry, you need a home, light and electricity, and you need healthcare. It’s easy to feel pressured into prioritizing other bills when you have angry debtors calling or emailing you, but they are just people following a script at their job. They don’t have to live your life. It’s important that you have a plan for your next-level priorities, but make sure you have what you need first.

Know your rights as a homeowner or tenant. If you have a federally-backed mortgage loan, you can let your servicer know that you’re experiencing a COVID-19-related hardship and request a forbearance for up to 180 days, which you may then be able to get extended for an additional 180 days. Investopedia explains how to find out if your mortgage is federally-backed and the process for getting mortgage relief.

If you’re renting a property, it’s likely that you will be protected from eviction during the lockdown, anywhere from 30 days to 120 days. You may also be protected from having your utilities cut off. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pay rent during the pandemic, it just means that you won’t be facing the stress of an eviction. Find out more about the programs in your state or city.

Talk to your local tax agency about payment plans. The IRS has pushed back the tax filing deadline to July 15. Many states are following suit. You may also be able to set up a payment plan for any taxes owed. 

Stop paying your student loans (for now). Part of the CARES Act includes automatic suspension of principal and interest payments on federally held student loans through Sept. 30, 2020. If you have autopay on, you can likely switch it off until October. Of course, student loans come in many different forms. Find out whether you qualify for this relief.

Fine-tooth comb every fixed cost. Look at your phone bill, your renter’s and car insurance. If you have wifi, can you switch to a pay-as-you-go phone contract? Could you get a better deal from your current insurance companies? Could you rent your car out on Turo, and take the bus? Instead of stopping payments, try to negotiate your rates where you can.

Negotiate with your credit card company. Similarly, communicate with your credit card company. They will prefer to make a plan with you than to have you stop making payments altogether. Banks are working with a lot of people who are in a similar situation. Find out what type of help your bank is offering its customers.

When you’re low on money and you have mounting bills, it can feel overwhelming to face your debts head-on, call your providers and make a plan you can stick to. But although it might feel like it, this crisis won’t last forever. The same ingenuity, perseverance, and people skills that helped you build your business will help you navigate this financial hardship.

If your financial situation is causing you distress and you don’t know where to turn, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat.