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Speak Out: All Raise Boston Amplifies Our Voices

Elizabeth McWhorter, CEO/Co-Founder of ThriveIEP and Founder of CJ Collaborations, reflects on All Raise Boston and its mission to empower diverse voices in VC funding.

Let’s be honest – speaking out about something you care about is hard. What if I say the wrong thing? What if people don’t like it (or me)? Is this even my place to speak? As I type out these words, I can feel the edge of nerves in my chest. I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. 

I spend about ninety percent of my time thinking about how to support parents as they speak out for what their kids with disabilities need at school. The other ten percent, I think about how we can create more inclusive companies and communities. To say I care about using my voice when people are left out is a dramatic understatement. 

Last week at All Raise’s Agents of Change event in Boston, I sat in a room with 20 women and one male ally. We dug deep into how to speak out about the need for more investment by and for women, transgender and non-binary people in the Venture Capital (VC) ecosystem. 

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Speaking out about speaking out? Yes, please!

Even in that context, it felt scary. I didn’t know these people. Power dynamics were present. I’m a founder; they could be a funder. Here’s what made me speak – they all get it at some level. Life as a woman navigating the VC ecosystem is a constant game of strategy, preparation and truth-telling. It takes guts.

Those guts are essential because the deck is stacked against you. PitchBook’s Women in VC Dashboard paints a clear picture of the work we have in front of us. When I started my founder journey I was a solo female founder. I was competing for 2 percent of VC funding. When I brought on a male co-founder I was both snarkily and seriously congratulated for having dramatically increased my chances of accessing funding in one clean move.

When the numbers are this dismal, it is far too easy to forget you have a voice. 

On behalf of the Speak Out group at All Raise, here’s your four-step guide to using your voice.

Step 1: Be Yourself – and Bring the Vulnerability

From reminding yourself that we each have beautiful, unique souls, to checking in with your values – this is all about being genuine, comfortable and confident in your own skin. When we connect to our true selves, we are magnetic and compelling, the kind of people who move mountains and transform sectors.

And remember: this also means being vulnerable. Sometimes this means telling your audience that you may cry because explaining the experience of women in VC and start-ups is raw. Or maybe it’s being honest that something feels scary and that you need support. Our whole selves are our best selves, even when we are raw and need a helping hand. Speaking out doesn’t have to be a solitary act. 

Step 2: Prep Yourself

Speaking out can feel spontaneous, but it rarely is. Plan what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to respond to questions. Do this with other people. That hyper-critical colleague, friend, or family member is your best friend at this moment. And don’t forget to go big. Plan for the boldest version of what you originally wanted to say or do. (I had my most candid and bold friend read this before I shared it with anybody else.)

Prepare for and do not accept harassment and other inappropriate behavior. Prepare to set verbal boundaries by thinking through what you might say if somebody is out of bounds. Set visual boundaries; you want people to focus on what you’re saying and how you dress impacts that (this sucks, yes). This doesn’t excuse behavior, but is a reality in a male-dominated, high-power space. Stay safe. Set physical boundaries by being careful about after-hours activities and being alone with individuals.

Rock your power lipstick, power music bumping through your headphones and power shoes (Doc Martens, Chucks, Jordans and Louboutins all count), or whatever else it takes to make you bring out your strongest self.

Step 3: Prep the Room (IRL or Zoom)

Know who you’re meeting with, where they stand on what you care about and connect with them ahead of time. Do the work. Don’t wing this part. As a new start-up founder, one of my big takeaways was the way people use LinkedIn to connect. I got gutsier about using LinkedIn immediately after All Raise, and got lots of yeses and a few meetings within a day. 

Sometimes this means asking a few good questions before you take a meeting:

  • How many women have you invested in? 
  • Which female founders have you backed? What did you like about them? Can I talk to them? 
  • What’s changed since the last time we talked? I want to know what my chances are so I don’t waste my time.

Step 4: Celebrate

Speaking out is a big deal. Celebrate that. And share that celebration with others. You may be surprised by how sharing your act of bravery inspires others to do the same.

Speaking out may be hard, but it is a core act of power and hope. There is power in getting the truth and telling the truth. Speak out. Ask the hard questions. Change the way we play the game. As Javier Grevely reminded us at the All Raise opening panel, the best way to lose your voice is to forget you have one. How are you going to use your voice to be an agent of change for women and non-binary funders and founders? Here’s how I’m using mine.

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About the author: Elizabeth McWhorter

I am a mission-driven founder who is changing the world by making information, skills, and technology work for people. As the founder and principal of CJ Collaborations, I give teams the tools to handle anything the world throws at them through training and development that treats all employees as designs of successful customer and stakeholder experiences.

As ThriveIEP’s CEO and co-founder, I am changing how parents manage the special education process, empowering them with a robust platform that provides generative AI-driven insights, information, and assistance to improve educational outcomes for kids. When I’m not changing the human experience, I’m training for the Pan-Mass Challenge, chasing my kids and dog up and down mountains, and cooking with my husband.

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