Jessica Powell is the Director of Experiences at Kansas City Startup Foundation. She was also the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the FUND Conference as well as Partner and Chief Operating Officer for Venture Connects. We sat down with Jessica to talk about the state of women in business today and what she foresess for the future.
MSTS: What are some of the pivotal points that got you where you are in your career?
Jessica Powell: My journey has been incredible! Working as an executive assistant under CEOs and COOs at a local financial services B/D firm really sparked my interest in project management, organizing meaningful events and most importantly gave me incredible insight to the C-Suite mindset. Reaching this specific point in my career came about through several pivotal moments, specifically co-founding a company, likely the biggest impact. The foundation for each of my "pivotal points" were characteristics that out-value any particular mark in my career though. I have diligently learned from every experience, using that knowledge to fuel my success. In order to reach this position and point in my professional journey, I have relied on dedication, often in the form of sleepless nights, and a commitment to not only my work, but also to trusting myself over anyone or anything.
MSTS: What changes have you seen for women in business in the past 5 years? What do you think we’ll see in the next 5 to 10 years?
Powell: In our fast-paced world there are visible signs of progress for women in business. More and more women are receiving equal access to capital and funding, though we still see a significant gap between pay rates for men and women in the same job function. We have also seen that men are taking on more of the home responsibilities that are so often assumed to be a requirement for women to complete. I believe that over the next 5 to 10 years we will see women finding more balance between home and work, which will lead to boundless career advancement opportunities.
MSTS: What struggles did you face the most as a woman at the start of your career?
Powell: Like many women, some of the struggles I faced at the start of my career were personal. In the beginning, I was hesitant to trust my gut; however, as I’ve grown in my work I have found that my instincts are essential. I have also had to learn to refuse to dim my confidence in order to make others more comfortable. Knowing what I’m capable of, having confidence, and trusting my gut have allowed me to overcome the struggles I faced early in my career. It's vital to my professional success and to my personal happiness to be in an environment where I am not only trusted, but also supported.
MSTS: What do you think is the biggest challenge women in business face today?
Powell: There are, objectively speaking, nearly countless challenges for women in business today. There are 3 crucial challenges that we must work to overcome: lack of equality between men and women, lack of funding, and lack of support from the Caucasian males who have traditionally dominated business. In gaining equality, adequate funding, and support from those who have already seen success, women can begin making advancements beyond imagination.
MSTS: In your opinion, what’s the best way women in business can make a substantial difference?
Powell: In order to see a substantial alteration for women in business, we must address the aforementioned challenges head on and the best approach is: education. If we take the time to educate the males who typically dominate the field, we may see them taking initiative to address the challenges faced by their female colleagues and in turn advocate for change. As women, we can also take on the role of mentor and educator for young women just starting their careers. Our experience and knowledge can influence the future of business if we take the time to educate and support young women in business.
MSTS: Which women are you inspired by and why?
Powell: One woman who inspires me immensely is Shelly Bell of Black Girl Ventures. Shelly never stops or gives up, but consistently gives back to the people and causes that are meaningful to her. This is likely because while succeeding in business she remains authentic and kind. In addition to her work ethic, Shelly is dedicated to the advancement of female founders of color. I am consistently impressed by what Shelly brings to the table. And the magnificent growth she displays both personally and professionally. You should follow her on social! Get inspired! Make meaningful impacts!
MSTS: What advice would you give your 15-year old self, knowing what you know today and having the experiences you’ve had?
Powell: If I could advise my 15-year-old self, I would first and foremost tell her to always do her best and remember that’s all she can do. I’d tell her to make a conscious effort in every choice, every day, to do what she believes is truly best. I would tell her, then, that even if she’s done her best and made the best choice she can, sometimes we have to accept simply that in a challenging time “This, too, shall pass”. Nothing stays the same forever, and that is for the best, because if it did we wouldn’t see progress.
MSTS: How can women help each other to continue advancing in business?
Powell: Women supporting women is crucial to female advancement in business. First and foremost, we must celebrate each other’s success. When one of us is effective in making a crack in the glass ceiling, we all win. So it is essential that women advocate for one another in words, action, and spending habits. Social media is a great way to become an advocate, mentor, and supporter of women in business. Specifically, groups like InnovateHER KC, can help bring women together in partnership and in encouragement of one another. I have no doubt that as we see women growing and building success together, that we will see the needle move for women in business overall.
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