While the work to achieve equity for womxn needs to be tackled from all sides, the risk of fragmentation or even derailing these efforts is very real. As I see it, the current landscape of organizations is a sea of islands. Some of these isles pop up organically like a volcanic isle from clear and persistent need to exist right there, right then. Others are isolated by choice — building a moat to protect their market share, their community, their competitive edge.
In this sea of islands, there are some two-way paths and a few major trafficways connecting the organizations serving women. But there’s still a lot of open water.
Connection requires us to collaborate. The value of collaboration over competition or even collaborative competition isn’t new, but every business and leader is at a different place on that journey, which is why connecting the hundreds of disparate organizations advancing women in work and life takes a certain kind of connector. This sea of islands presents an opportunity for some powerful unification. It’s a call specifically for a bridge-builder.
When I say bridge-builder, I am not referring to a person (though those serve important functions in this model) but to an organization and the framework of its offerings (brand and product). This kind of bridge-builder is typically built intentionally, like non-profits and social impact companies. But as I’ve said before, you don’t have to be a 501(c)(3) to create change, and you don’t have to be one to create a bridge-building company. In my experience, a bridge-building organization:
- is led by values that serve the greater collective good,
- chooses partners based on the work to be done, not a rigid pre-set definition,
- collaborates reciprocally, often prioritizing non-monetary partnerships that drive results over short-term revenue in,
- actively connects of other organizations working toward the same goal,
- works to bypass gatekeepers and as a keymaker, and
- shines by sharing the spotlight.
Some brands that come to mind that fit this description include Big Cartel, TED and WeTransfer. As you can tell from these three examples, the products and verticals can differ wildly — online stores for artists, IRL and virtual conferences and content to further ideas, digital tools to share ideas — and all be bridge-builders because of how they design and deliver these offerings.
That’s what we’re doing at OwnTrail, and it’s how we’re building our partner network.
Let’s jump back to that landscape I described, the sea of islands populated by organizations serving women. Each of these organizations goes deep on their focus: women in STEM, parental support, college students, retired women, LGBTQIA+ women, women in entertainment…the list could go on. The depth of this focus is necessary — it takes deep domain expertise to be able to effectively build community and address the needs of each of these foci. But going deep means it’s very, very difficult — and perhaps off-track—to go broad. That’s where OwnTrail comes in.
We’ve created a partnership model where our value is going broad. By partnering with these focused organizations en masse, OwnTrail can be both the bridge-builder and the bridge. As organizations have their members share their trails, they each gain more visibility to a broader pool of women while championing the collective and individual trails being blazed of their community. And when women outside that focus see the rich variety of the trails connected to that organization, they gain insight on the pathways to get there.
For example, Built By Girls helps young adults explore careers in tech. As part of OwnTrail’s partner network, trails blazed by their members are one of the possible filters to explore trails. Let’s say a college sophomore is browsing trails, looking at the journeys and milestones of women like her in some ways and started a company. She finds a trail that’s really interesting, and in looking at it more closely, she sees that woman is part of Built By Girls. She learns more about Built By Girls and realizes that her interest in entrepreneurship is actually an interest in launching her own startup, so she signs up to be a part of Built By Girls WAVE program.
In a few other trails she appreciates, she sees milestones for joining a board via theBoardlist, an organization that connects women with global board opportunities. One of the women graduated with the same major as her, even, and now she’s on the board of a big company — now aspiring to a board seat is something she can see for herself, too. And because of our partnership with theBoardlist, she now also knows there are resources to get her there.
By bridging organizations serving women, OwnTrail helps fill the map of what’s possible for women and the different ways to get there.
We’re bridging the gap between awareness, inspiration and action. And we’re able to do that because we actively chose to create a bridge-building company rooted in our values of authenticity, inclusivity, transparency, growth mindset and safety. Let’s cross these seas together.