Interview: Danielle Kayembe on Female Futurism

Interview: Danielle Kayembe on Female Futurism

Futurist Danielle Kayembe talks about her viral essay/manifesto "The Silent Rise of the Female-Driven Economy"

Danielle Kayembe is a female futurist and serial entrepreneur dedicated to empowering women through her global work in business, social impact, writing and public speaking.

Through her company GreyFire, she advises governments, companies and startups on how to integrate forward-looking initiatives. She was a founding partner in initiatives to bring investors like TechStars, 500 Startups and Wingpact, from Silicon Valley to tour growing tech hubs in Africa.

Danielle is a frequent speaker on CNBC, at the United Nations, TEDx, Google, General Assembly and other conferences. Danielle is also the author of The Silent Rise of the Female-Driven Economy a white paper that re-positions women as central to the future of business and innovation.

Your essay-slash-manifesto "The Silent Rise of the Female-Driven Economy" went viral at the end of last year and continues to reverberate. Have you witnessed any direct changes as a result?

There's been an incredible response to it. Women from all over the world have reached out to me. Women who run networks globally, as well as entrepreneurs who have also struggled to raise funding, and men who have businesses in female-driven categories who have also gone through these same challenges communicating the value of their business to investors.

The thing that's really interesting is to see the shift in the conversation about women as employees to women as creators. There's a heavy focus right now on the value of women as employees, and what I find really interesting is the value of women as innovators and creators of economic value, of new business ideas and business models. I'm really interested in women as the next Mark Zuckerberg, women in the driver's seat as founders and building the next empires in business.

It's interesting that you heard from men who are having trouble raising funding because their products are aimed at women.

Men who've been through the venture capital and fundraising experience, they've said to me, "These are the exact same hurdles that we face trying to communicate with investors who didn't understand women as an investment category, and didn't know how to properly value the company or evaluate it." These are men who are either a co-founder or running a business that's targeted at women, and they're facing some of these same things.

Do you have a dream tipping point when it comes to companies taking action to address some of the issues you've raised in your piece? Is there a news headline you'd love to see?

Maybe a wave of female-founded billion-dollar IPOs. That would be incredible.

But more practically for companies, I think companies need female representation in executive positions, in design and innovation, and also in things like advertising and marketing. So much of advertising is not connecting with women, and a lot of the creative agencies are overseen by men.

Is there anything a company can do immediately to start to address the problems brought up in your piece?

I think what companies don't realize yet is that women are basically their greatest resource, and women are completely underutilized in companies. Companies haven't figured out how to get the insights out of women in order to drive their business. Once they realize what a resource women are, I think companies are gonna be kicking themselves, because there are women sitting in boardrooms and design rooms quietly, and there are multi-million dollar opportunities being lost because women are not sharing their perspectives and their insights.

I think companies need to change internal processes so they're much more inclusive of women, and to build teams that know how to work in ways that engage women more. Right now all of the innovation is happening outside of companies, in spaces where women are supported. So companies have to figure out how to make their workplaces spaces where women can engage in the work of innovation.

Beyond that, I think you need women on the technical side, in dev and design. Then you also need women in more senior decision-making roles to greenlight all of these projects.

And finally, as I said before, advertising. There's a recent report from World Economic Forum that noted that only 3% of (Unilever) advertisements show women in a position of power, which is crushing because that is the majority of their consumer base. So there's a huge disconnect in how ads are showing women and what's being communicated. It's not serving the consumer, and it's not serving the company or the product.

Our theme this month is #PowertothePaycheck, and you've spoken at conferences on equal pay. What's the biggest piece of advice you would want to give women about getting the pay they deserve at their current jobs?

Realistically, I tell people if you want to get paid more, look for another job. Usually, women find that they're being underpaid by a third or more. So I hear women getting huge bumps in pay once they go out and see what their skills are actually worth on the open market. A lot of times, they get fantastic packages and a better work environment. So I think if you're being underpaid, that's indicative of the fact that you're probably not fully valued in a lot of other ways, and it may not be the right work environment for you. I think it's typically too difficult to get the pay that you deserve where you are without creating a lot of unnecessary drama. But if you want to ask within your company, do a tally. I come from an investment and finance background, and when I've gone in to talk about bonuses or changes to my role in the past, I always go in armed with the numbers and say, "Here's what I'm producing. Stack it up against anyone else." That's typically been my personal approach. But I don't think there's one right answer.

What's some advice that you've ignored in your career and are happy that you did?

I think it's terrible advice when they tell people to only focus on one thing. I think some guy made it up and it's not true. For so long, I was trying to just focus on one thing at a time. And what I realized was that what actually kept me energized and creative was bringing all the parts of myself, and staying engaged in all the things that made me happy or interested or excited. When I started engaging in networks with other female entrepreneurs, I met all of these serial entrepreneurs. Then it just clicked for me. I'm like, "Oh, this is what I am. I'm a serial entrepreneur." Then it all made sense, and I stopped trying to categorize myself as only doing one thing, and it made all the difference in the world for me.

I think the reality is that most women are multidisciplinary, by nature or by circumstance, so we draw on a lot of different inputs, we move through a lot of different worlds, we have a lot of different demands on our time. I don't know any woman who has the luxury of focusing on just one thing in any aspect of her life. For myself, my only rule is that I narrow down what those areas of focus are. I try not to go beyond three. But I have what I call an umbrella or a portfolio life, meaning that I have an overarching umbrella mission, which is empowering women. And all the projects I work on fall under that umbrella. And that's my true North, and everything is moving in that direction regardless of what it is.

What's something you wish more people were taught how to do or learned how to do?

I wish more women were taught to realize that they are natural physicists and engineers and chemists. There are all these ways that we innovate constantly to fit a world that wasn't designed for us. And things we do like baking is chemistry. Quilting is actually coding. That's one of the things that I'm constantly trying to get women to realize, that these ideas they have, these little things that bother them, those are multi-million dollar ideas. That's not just something that bothers you. Go build it. Those things have huge potential.

There are so many populations that open up when you start to design for a wider group of people. And I don't think women have realized yet that there's a huge market that isn't being reached, and that their ideas can translate into products for those markets. I wish that women were taught to see themselves as innovators and creators. Instead, people are like, "I have a hobby." Or "I volunteer." And you're like, "That's a multi-million dollar idea."

What's the worst trend you're seeing right now when it comes to marketing?

Even though there's advertising that is supposedly more empowering for women, there's a lack of representation in these agencies. It's still a very male-dominated area, and I think that, even though you're starting to see some of these powerful advertisements and campaigns, there's still a missing element.

We're in an era where transparency is important, and I don't think companies can afford to have teams that don't reflect the audience. It's a process that is being informed by women and needs to be driven by women. Women need to be driving these narratives and be at the center of driving these conversations. In terms of marketing, these teams need to more accurately reflect the content and the audience. Until 85% of the advertising and marketing teams are women, we're not there.