Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization celebrated its 10th anniversary last month with a summit of women at the top of their games.
Founded by the ever-optimistic Wendy Diamond, WEDO aims to uplift women in business. She hosted the summit at the UN headquarters in Manhattan on November 17, two days before Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.
The summit’s speakers and panelists reflected on the progress they’ve made while also discussing ongoing and emerging obstacles, such as the gender gap in funding or the wave of anti-DEI bills and laws sweeping across the country.
The celebration drew top dogs who dispensed their entrepreneurial advice, as well as up-and-comers who pitched their business ideas. Here are some of the big names who attended.
Sue Wagner, a cofounder and former vice chairman of the investment firm BlackRock, discussed part of her origin story during the summit. She said that two of the firm’s eight original founders in 1988 were women, which was “unheard of then” and is still rare today.
“In this room, we are reminded how important it is to have role models and to be role models, to show up and be visible, and insist on equal and equitable opportunities,” Wagner said.
“Women’s rights and affirmative action are under assault here and around the world. DEI shaming has taken root, threatening hard-won progress. Oppression persists, and violent heinous crimes against women fill the headlines. Let us not forget that women’s roles are human rights and redouble our efforts to support all women.”
Fran Weissler spoke of her experience as a legendary Broadway producer alongside her husband, Barry. The pair produced “Chicago,” turning a production that had “failed in the past” into a hit, Weissler said.
“We were the sole producers, and it literally — professionally and, obviously, economically — changed our lives. So it’s been a long ride and Barry and I have enjoyed every single minute of it,” Weissler said.
Despite her success, Weissler, who is 95, had some surprising advice for a group of women all seeking to grow their businesses: It doesn’t matter as much as forging and maintaining meaningful relationships.
“All that really matters actually is who you love and who loves you,” she said.
Martha “Muffy” MacMillan, one of the billionaire heirs to Cargill, the global agriculture business, reflected on a “shared commitment to the empowerment of women and girls around the globe” and the enduring gender gap in funding.
“Even still, we have more work to do because today, women around the world continue to face significant economic and social barriers, are often undervalued for our ideas and contributions, and women’s potential in our communities and economies is often left untapped,” MacMillan said. “That is not only ethically and morally wrong, it’s counterproductive to building a more vibrant and inclusive global economy.”
Among the featured entrepreneurs was Nancy G. Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is among the top breast cancer awareness and research organizations.
After losing her sister to breast cancer, Brinker founded the organization in 1982 after promising to work to find a cure. The Susan G. Komen organization has since invested over $1 billion in breast cancer research, according to its website.
Reflecting on the organization’s impact, Brinker said it had done “a lot of work.”
“Applying it is what we need to do now,” she said.
Jenny Just, who made Forbes‘ 2021 list of the 400 richest people in America, talked about founding Poker Power, a company that teaches women and girls how to play poker, which in turn — Just says — teaches them negotiating skills and how to take risks.
“What I’ve learned over more than 25 years in business is the biggest thing between where women are today and where they want to be requires taking a risk. Specifically, taking risks around money,” Just said.
A few men also shared the stage at the summit, including Marc Lore, the serial entrepreneur and former CEO of Walmart eCommerce in the United States. He talked about his effort to mentor women-founded startups on fundraising.
“I think the idea’s there. The drive is there. Access to capital seems to be a little bit tilted, not in the female direction,” Lore said. “One way to help is by actually investing. But I’m not investing to help. I’m investing because they’re incredible entrepreneurs. And I think the business is incredible, and I can’t believe they wouldn’t get funded otherwise.”
Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk co-founded The Memnosyne Institute, a nonprofit that helps preserve indigenous cultures and alliances, Forbes New York reported.
Castro said on Instagram after the event that she has worked with many women-led organizations over the years.
“While all are good intentioned, I often find one of the things holding both women and minorities back is the belief in the fallacy that there is only room for one of us at the top when the opposite is the truth: Empower your network and lift others up and you empower your own positioning,” Thompson-Frenk wrote.
Trixy Castro, who has founded, sold, and invested in numerous companies over her career, founded TRX Capital, a company that focuses on real estate investments.
Castro, a Forbes Council Member (a prestigious, invite-only club for industry executives), wrote a list of tips for entrepreneurs in August. She advised them to be honest with themselves and their investors about their accomplishments, mission, and capabilities while staying flexible and focused.
Loreen Arbus, a disability rights activist and former cable TV executive, hosted the summit’s after-party at her home, which Diamond thanked her for on Facebook.
“A sincere thank you extends to our outstanding board member, Loreen Arbus, for graciously hosting this event. Gratitude to all who played a part in turning this dream into reality, creating opportunities for disadvantaged and impoverished women to embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. Truly grateful!” Diamond said.
The summit also reached across generations. A class of young girls with disabilities presented the summit’s honorees with hand-drawn awards.
And on November 29, the organization celebrated #ChooseWOMEN Wednesday to encourage closing the gender wage gap.
“It’s up to us not just to close that gap,” a WEDO spokesperson told Business Insider, “but to shatter all those glass ceilings that keep standing in every woman’s way. How do we end gender inequality for once, and for all? We CHOOSE women. And we choose them loudly, and proudly.”