Claudia Chan wants to be the Richard Branson of women’s empowerment–by championing social entrepreneurship to solve global problems. “I believe it needs to be its own industry,” she says.
And she’s taking steps to make that happen. Chan has created a media network S.H.E. Globl Media Inc. She’s launched an annual women’s empowerment conference, and is working on a new project S.H.E. University that will offer classes and training to women online.
Chan has been focusing her business efforts on women since founding Shecky’s, a “girls’ night out” events company since the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until 2010 that she started to feel something was missing. She says her career lacked purpose and it seemed everywhere she turned, women’s media was consumed with stories about beauty, fashion, celebrities, and how to have a perfect body. At events for entrepreneurs, men always filled up the room.
At the same time, Chan started hearing more and more about women’s issues–from poverty plaguing women in the developing world to the massive underrepresentation of women leaders at Fortune 500 companies. Why weren’t more women talking about these issues?
What if Chan could use her girls’ night out rallying skills to get women in their twenties and thirties together around issues most important to them? “How do we get women to obsess about women’s empowerment the same way they do about the Kardashians and Us Weekly?” she asked.
Chan started interviewing women leaders, and has since amassed more than 200 interviews on her website. In June 2014, she ran the third annual S.H.E. Summit, which brought together inspiring women leaders like Musimbi Kanyoro, president and CEO of the Global Fund For Women and race car driver Simona de Silvestro. “I kept meeting extraordinary women and their stories weren’t being told,” says Chan. “We can’t be what we can’t see.”
Over the years working with women, Chan has learned to take a few key steps to help spread the message of women’s empowerment more successfully.
Corporate ad campaigns have increasingly started focusing on empowerment marketing as opposed to sexy marketing, and it goes well beyond Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. Chan sees big brands like Always and Pantene whose “Like A Girl” and “Not Sorry” ads take a decidedly go-girl approach, responding directly to what women increasingly demand from media. “This women’s empowerment movement is unlike any other,” says Chan. “The trend needs to be here to stay.”
So much of what we read about women’s issues has a doom and gloom quality to it. Women still aren’t earning as much as men. Women are still sexually harassed, and mistreated in college and the workplace. Women around the world are burdened with poverty, inequity, and abuse.
Chan says she tries to take as positive an approach to women’s issues as she can, recognizing that female consumers can be inspired by other women’s stories. “I really got into the heads of women,” she says. What she’s found is that highlighting how obstacles create opportunities most resonated with the women she was looking to reach.
She found that the best way to mainstream women’s issues was to take a positive–rather than a critical–approach to them. “It’s about really understanding what women are going through,” she says. “Everything [on the site] has a positive angle or slant.”
Reaching a mainstream audience of women in their twenties and thirties has been a big focus of Chan’s work, but she’s also trying to enlist top business leaders to talk about the issues. Chan is working on a project she calls the S.H.E. Impact Coalition, which would bring together corporate senior leaders who care about gender equality to discuss the issues. “Once one company starts doing it, all the others start doing it too,” she says.
Most of the discussion around women’s equality has been led by women themselves, but while there is power in numbers, it’s also critical not to leave men out of the discussion, says Chan.
While mostly women comprised the S.H.E. Summit list of speakers, Chan made sure to include men in the conversation as well. Guests included TV personality and author Nigel Barker; journalist and activist Jimmie Briggs; and Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador for Barneys New York. “It’s not just women fighting for women anymore,” she says. “We need to get men in the room now.”
While there’s a lot of resistance to the term feminism, Chan doesn’t see it as radically different from women’s empowerment. “Most people are afraid of the term because they don’t understand it,” she says. “Women’s empowerment is the safer term to say.”