This International Women’s Day, organizers are encouraging participants to #PressForProgress, noting that gender parity is 200 years away. The day is an important moment to stop and recognize the achievements of women everywhere, how far we’ve come when it comes to gender equality, and how far we have to go. The Xero community is full of amazing women doing incredible things. We talked to some of them about the challenges they’ve faced and what International Women’s Day means to them. Jen Wu is the founder of Cookhouse, a culinary events space in San Francisco, California.
Until last year, Jen Wu wasn’t aware of International Women’s Day. For a long time, she resisted being grouped into a gender category that is considered disadvantaged. Throughout her life and career, Jen wanted to prove herself outside of labels. It wasn’t until more recently that she came to recognize how unlevel the playing field is and explore beyond what she was taught.
A love of cooking with friends and the desire to offer an events space somewhere between hosting a dinner party at home and hiring a private room at a restaurant culminated in Cookhouse. Throughout her time at the helm of Cookhouse, Jen has experienced some of the unique challenges female entrepreneurs face. She shares some of them and discusses how we can potentially remove them.
One of the most foremost challenges Jen notices female entrepreneurs facing is assumptions about the way women are wired.
“Assumptions about women’s nature lead to expectations that still amaze me,” Jen says. “Assumptions such as that we’ll “have to” be extra flexible even when we’re clear and direct about something, that our word doesn’t count if it conflicts with a man’s, or that we’ll be so kind as to give of ourselves even when it hurts ourselves or the business. These assumptions are common from both women and men. It’s frustrating.”
The recognition and elimination of biases such as these could help move the needle when it comes to progress for female entrepreneurs.
Compliment, rather than compete
Jen says when women consciously resist the urge to compare parts of themselves to others, it sheds dissatisfaction and ingratitude they have towards themselves. Overriding the instinct to compare by sharing admiration is a far more productive use of energy, and can work for both men and women.
“Women and girls are still taught to compare and compete, compare and compete, compare and compete until it becomes second nature, for some of us taking precedent over sharing with each other,” Jen says.
By sharing, women can help each other and improve their access to resources. She thanks Molly Fuller, owner of Hands On Gourmet, for inviting her to a meeting of female entrepreneurs several years ago and opening her eyes to what sharing could do for women.
“This was probably the first time I realized that sharing business resources, connections, and experience was possible for women,” Jen remembers. “I had only secondhand knowledge from male friends about men sharing these with other men in cigar bars and golf courses. For me, seeing women – even if just a group of two people – give others this kind of access made it possible in my mind.”
She says that she has been angry about the disadvantages women face for a long time. Recognizing and unbottling her feelings has helped her and her team move forward.
“I’ve been very angry for a long time, but only recently realized that repression of this anger and the fear of exploring beyond what I’ve been taught were both extremely limiting to myself and my team of women at work, and I am making an effort to work past them,” Jen explains.
The progress made in the last year has given Jen a more optimistic outlook on the direction we’re headed.
“All the leaps forward that women have made in the last year, in addition to the women’s marches, awareness of gender issues, and celebration of brave women, makes my cold burnt heart swole and helps in that personal effort,” Jen says. “So, to every woman and man who celebrates International Women’s Day, thank you.”