CEO on How Women Are Expected to Be Expert Jugglers

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Jen Earle has always been passionate about women and service. During her undergraduate years at the University of Notre Dame, Earle began volunteering at a shelter for runaway teens. “I really felt like I was fulfilled by doing something to help the community, to help people — that was where I really found my heart,” Earle says animatedly on a lively video conference call.

Earle took that passion to another level when she joined the board of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) 10 years ago after a work colleague tapped into her consultancy expertise to assist the organization reorganize its structure. Little did she know that she would end up leading NAWBO just four years later — she is now CEO — and find her passion supporting and strategizing in the service of hardworking, entrepreneurial women. “I fell in love with the work and I fell in love with the people — this is a different way of giving back to helping and supporting women that are doing amazing things.”

"Regardless of the pandemic, access to capital remains a consistent burden for women business owners. Women business owners and minorities face hurdles not experienced by their male counterparts."

Working from home in Irvine, California, Earle is sheltering in place with her family: her husband; son, who is a high school senior; and her two bonus sons, both of whom are in their early 20s. While it has been an adjustment, Earle beams with pride and gratitude that she and her family are together during the pandemic.

CircleAround caught up with Earle to discuss her passion for women entrepreneurs and her top tips for women business owners.

CircleAround: What are the typical problems and challenges that women business owners are facing during the pandemic?

Jen Earle: Regardless of the pandemic, access to capital remains a consistent burden for women business owners. It was underscored in the relief packages at the beginning of the pandemic when the capital barriers remained. Women business owners and minorities faced hurdles not experienced by their male counterparts.

Currently, women business owners are facing constant uncertainty. Will their PPP loan be forgiven? If so, will they be able to deduct their expenses and relieve some of their tax burdens? Last week, our NAWBO members reached out far and wide to their respective members of Congress to tell them how they needed action. Here is an excerpt from that letter: “Unfortunately, recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notices and rulings go against the intent of Congress. We need Congress to act because the millions of small business owners who received PPP will face significant tax increases without a resolution, and the financial burden could force many of us to close our doors.”

"Amidst all the worry about keeping their businesses afloat, there is also a disproportionate burden of household responsibilities placed on women business owners."

Our women business owners are managing remote employees, the health of those employees, and in many cases are fronting the bill for sick leave for a tax credit down the line when they need the cash flow now. Amidst all the worry about keeping their businesses afloat, there is also a disproportionate burden of household responsibilities placed on women business owners, which has reduced the time available for female business owners to concentrate on their businesses. With our working moms, we hear their struggles now more than ever — and with virtual schooling, it only got worse.

Many of our NAWBO moms describe themselves as a “business owner, mom, and teacher with no break in sight,” and many of their employees are experiencing the same challenges, which makes it even more difficult to know where or how to both support their teams when they need the support themselves.

Despite the situation, these women keep going even when they feel they cannot. They are too tired, beat up, beat down. They are finding avenues to manage the stress and maintain mental well-being — having grace with themselves and their teams — to avoid burnout.

CA: What surprising positives have been evident during the pandemic, if any?

JE: I have seen the best in people during this time. Around my neighborhood and many others, the kids are putting out painted rocks with inspiring words on them. Our communities are doing food drives for those who need it and cannot leave their home. Our NAWBO membership is donating money to cover the membership dues for those who have been hit financially. Our partners have come to the table with additional funds to help support the organization and keep our mission going strong.

I have seen glimpses of humanity at its very best, and that was surprisingly positive when everything around us felt like it was at unrest: our economies, our jobs, our health, our political infrastructure. Despite all the chaos, we are all coming together as a community.

CA: Can you tell us about any women who’ve impressed you during this crisis?

JE: Our women business owners have come together throughout the pandemic. We continue to share stories, help one another reimagine our businesses, talk through how to navigate remote work or new products or services, celebrate the success, and support each other through setbacks. Here are just a few of our many shining stars:

Merilee Kirk, CEO and Founder, BuzzBallzOn March 20, Merilee decided to adjust operations from solely cocktail production to add the creation of hand sanitizer, which would be donated to health care facilities, municipalities, and retail personnel in Texas.

After consulting the World Health Organization guidelines to create the formula and assembling a volunteer team of salaried employees, the company initially created and donated around 100 gallons of hand sanitizer to North Texas hospitals, local fire and police departments, and U.S. postal workers. Toward the end of March, the company had produced 18,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, which has also been allocated to essential workers nationwide at Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, various grocery stores, and Army bases in the U.S. and Europe. The estimated value of the 18,000-gallon batch of hand sanitizer is more than $500,000.

Olalah Njenga, Chief Executive Officer, YellowWood GroupAn accomplished strategist, Olalah and her team have partnered with both private and public sector leaders to transform ideas into objectives and objectives into outcomes. As a part of her commitment to excellence, Olalah had included in the contract of all of her clients that, if a catastrophe were to happen that required a modification of the plan she created for them, she would do so for no cost. At the onset of COVID and a few months in, she kept her word and revised the strategy for all of her clients. I find this to be of the utmost integrity — what an amazing gift to her clients.

Tammy Dickerson and Carlotta Baker, sisters and co-owners, The Baker GroupThe Baker Group (TBG) anticipated marking 20 years in business with a celebration, numerous booked events, and a company rebrand. After the pandemic hit, the event production company knew they would not survive without reimagining their business and positioning themselves as a consulting firm for virtual events and major projects. They sought vendors and industry experts for collaboration and found partners to navigate alongside the swiftly evolving event production landscape. They researched trends and developing technology that would allow them to replicate the high-quality of their in-person productions.

After producing 13 virtual events in 2020 with more than 10,000 attendees, TBG clients more than tripled their event attendance, expanded from regional to national exposure, and exceeded their fundraising goals. In 2021, TBG will apply the hard-earned lessons to the multiple events they have already booked.

CA: What do you do to stay relaxed and centered in this unprecedented time?

JE: This time continually reminds me of the value of life. And although it doesn’t always keep me relaxed and centered, it does remind me of what is important: the value of family, the value of purpose-driven work, the importance of mental health (exercise, sleep, mindfulness).

This time has reminded me that not only is it good for me to slow down, it is also imperative for us as human beings to help each other survive when we face hardship. For so many years, I have had a crazy travel schedule, living out of three suitcases at a time. Being homebound has helped me reprioritize my family and my sanity, which has been such a blessing.

CA: Speaking from your own experience, what are the kinds of challenges women are likely to encounter as they advance in their professional careers? What tips do you have to overcome those obstacles?

JE: I touched on this slightly earlier, but women climb an uphill battle in their professional careers in both the corporate world or as business owners. Women business owners face the same burnout, exhaustion, and strife that all professionals face as the workload gets larger and the problems are harder to solve. Still, for the women business owner, it has additional layers. They face solitude in the business owner role and as a result, can struggle to find confidence. Women business owners need trust and support to tread the sometimes lonely and challenging path of entrepreneurship. Women business owners have often reported feeling alone before this pandemic, and now it is even more important to ensure that no one feels isolated.

"Women in general have fuller plates and still we strive to make it all appear easy. We are expert jugglers."

As women, we must support other women; women need to continue to build their communities. Whether it is joining a national organization like NAWBO or merely finding a group of like-minded women to Zoom with once a week, we need to continue our efforts to connect as a community. Women need an avenue with other individuals who have been through similar challenges or are presently undertaking them. Our women business owners have been meeting virtually one to two times a week to discuss everything from handling employees who come down with COVID to talking about the struggle to shift to a different virtual business model, and sometimes just talking about the chaos at home. It is imperative that we continue these dialogues beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, women must know their worth, ask for what they are worth, and continue to find the inspiration to keep climbing the hill.

CA: In your experience, what challenges do women face in the market that men take for granted?

JE: It’s the day-to-day juggle for women — keeping it all together while looking put together all at the same time. We all have a million things going on and that causes all this extra pressure — that feeling of overwhelm.

Women multitask not only in the moment but for hours, days, weeks ahead of time. In many cases, I believe men take for granted all the roles and duties women fulfill, so we can “do it all.” It takes an emotional toll. Don’t get me wrong — some households split duties better than others and there are plenty of single dads out there who have a fuller understanding of what it takes to carry the majority of responsibilities. In most cases of couples, I think that evenly split duties are still the exception, not the norm. Regardless, women in general have fuller plates and still we strive to make it all appear easy. We are expert jugglers.

For me, there is so much thought that goes into all of the areas of my life that I am juggling every day. Whether it is taking care of family members, juggling kid schedules, meals, diet, the household-management role, in general — it can be overwhelming. Add on top of that your general day-to-day work stress, and add in again having an organization to run and you’ve got a mountain of duties and responsibilities, many of which cause emotional stress that is very difficult to explain or even understand.

As women, we pull it all together; moreover, we put it all together in our appearance as well. We make sure we have the right clothes, hair, makeup, etc., because we know appearance counts. There is still a much greater societal expectation of physical appearance in addition to family/life responsibilities added to our career aspirations. Women are still judged harshly on their presence much more so than men, which takes a toll as well — just one more item to add to our “to-do” list. We either care or we don’t, and either option has its implications.

Finally, all these items we juggle are also the elephant in the room when moving up the ladder. As women, we continue to underscore our worth through working above and beyond, and it feels as though we must never stop providing proof to others that we deserve to rise to the next level or ask for a raise.

CA: Can you tell us about any women who have inspired you at different moments during your career, or even in the present moment, and why?

JE: This is an exceedingly difficult question for me. I am surrounded by inspiring women on a day-to-day basis. An inspiring woman to me is any woman who creates the life she imagines for herself, starts something, builds a business from scratch, or buys a company and makes it extraordinary.

I am inspired every day by the stories I hear of perseverance, innovation, success, and even failure, and how they pick themselves back up. These are real women, doing real life, every day. It is hard, and they do it, and that, for me, is so inspiring. I am also inspired by our volunteers, who give of themselves to help and inspire other women business owners for the sake of service and giving back.

My Aunt Maryanne dedicates her life to service helping others, helping the community, serving her family, purpose-driven in everything she does. She is always encouraging and assisting others in finding ways to give back to our communities at home and abroad. She is the type of person where you sit down with her, and you feel like you've known her forever. She dives into your heart and soul, she asks questions, she cares. People respect her for her kindness and love. She will forever be my guiding light. I will live my best life — if I live it with my heart. I gathered [wisdom] from her because I know that that's what she does.

Tags: Navigating the Pandemic, Tips from Women Executives, NAWBO

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Poppie Mphuthing

Poppie Mphuthing is a news and digital media professional. She is well versed in reporti... See Full Bio

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