3 Businesses That Are Changing the World for Women

SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- This week in San Francisco, nearly 400 people gathered at The Intercontinental Hotel for the second annual 3% Conference.

The goal of the conference, and the growing 3% Movement started by Kat Gordon, is to bring together members of the advertising world for a national conversation about how to increase the number of female leaders in advertising agencies.

In April, in New York City, 150 people filled the 3 West Club for the first annual Mom Gets a Business conference, which former banking executive Patty Lennon founded to help mothers create wealth through starting their own businesses from home.

The New York event is just the latest offering from Lennon, who in 2011 began Mom Gets a Life to help mothers increase their financial power and learn to make taking care of themselves a priority.

"Women and their relationship to making money is one of the most powerful shifts that needs to happen right now," Lennon says. "Voting was initially how power was created among women, because it was the politicians who decided things. Money decides things now. So if women are going to have power in the decisions that are affecting our world, we must have money."

Gordon and Lennon are just two examples of women entrepreneurs starting businesses aimed at helping other women move into positions of power or earn more.

Women helping other women is hardly a new trend. But the ways they find to help each other is evolving, adapting to the times and the challenges women face in 2013.

Women are trying to juggle motherhood and careers. They are trying to run successful businesses of their own, keep up with technology and address problems plaguing the planet in ways that feel meaningful to them, and many are still trying to break through the corporate glass ceiling.

In fact, with all the progress women have made, female executives and female board members are still by far in the minority. Catalyst.org reports that women's representation at Fortune 500 companies has stagnated in recent years, with women making up only 14% of their executive officers and holding only 17% of board seats.

Gordon, a longtime advertising industry executive, started the 3% Conference because only 3% of creative directors in the advertising industry are women. For years this bothered Gordon while she waited for someone to come along and effect change. Finally, Gordon realized she was that someone.

"Advertising has not evolved in terms of women in top leadership. And nobody seemed to be addressing that," says Gordon, during an interview from San Francisco as she prepared for the start of her second conference. "I also felt female consumers are not being really well marketed to as a result -- and that the consumer marketplace needed more intelligent advertising."

Gordon's two-day conference tackles such things as "Leading Every Step of the Way," "How to Sell Work" and "Blowing Up the Business Rules that Hold You Back." There are also breakout mentoring sessions.

The conference is also aimed at the people who make the hiring decisions in the advertising industry, Gordon says. And it's just one way her new 3% Movement, a for-profit business, is tackling the issue of female leadership. She is also doing road shows to visit advertising agencies around the country.

"This makes me feel like I'm completely changing my industry and the future for women," says Gordon, whose conference doubled in attendance between last year to this year.

The number of women-owned businesses is seeing growth Gordon would envy for her industry: By 2018, female small-business owners will create 5 million to 5.5 million jobs in the U.S., according to the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute.

Angela Yost, Kara Wiegand and Lindsay Herron a part of that, having founded Threads Worldwide in 2011 to help women here and in developing countries.

They do this by selling jewelry and crafts made by mostly female artisan groups from 12 countries -- from Ecuador to Peru, Vietnam, Cambodia and Kenya.

"The three of us had talked for years about starting a business that helped the world," Wiegand says. "And through our travels it became clear we wanted to help people in the developing world because we saw the way they were they living, and it horrified us. And through our networking and research we realized the best way to do that is to empower women, because women tend to reinvest in families and in educating children and in accessing health care."

The trio has seen firsthand how Threads Worldwide changes the lives of women abroad.

"We visited a couple of different artisan whose embroidered belts we sell. We hiked up to their houses and they welcomed us with fresh flowers and we sat down and talked with them about the impact of this work," Herron says of a recent visit to a group of their artists in Peru. "For some, it was as simple as the fact that they are now able to buy eggs instead of rice, so they are adding protein to their diet. Others are sending additional kids to school."

Threads Worldwide also offers women in this country opportunities as independent sales consultants that they provide with product, training and support. The company has 34 such consultants.
A bracelet made by the artisans of Threads Worldwide.

In its two years of business, Threads Worldwide has made a slim profit. Last year the company made $50,000 in revenue, Wiegand says. It is on track to make $200,000 this year.

Lennon and Gordon have also earned profits during their first few years of business. But while all three women admit profits and sustaining themselves financially through their new ventures is critical, it is not their only motivation.

"There was a very vivid moment for me when we were discussing this business," Wiegand says. "I remember standing in the kitchen and my 3-year-old daughter looking up at me with her big blue eyes, and I was like 'Oh my god, this is what I want to model for my baby girls.' I want them to do something that creates a better life for other people on a grand scale. This is what I want to do."

Adds Yost: "I have never been more passionate about anything in my life. I'm confident in the difference we're making in the world."

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