Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
May 6, 2021
Edie Fraser | Women Business Collaborative
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I’m Edie Fraser, CEO of Women Business Collaborative (WBC). The WBC is an unprecedented alliance of 49+ women business organizations collaborating together to achieve equal position, pay, and power for all businesswomen. We are also a business movement of more than a million diverse professional women and men, business organizations, public and private companies, and the media accelerating change through collaboration, advocacy, action, and accountability.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I have written or co-authored eight books on topics ranging from diversity and women in entrepreneurship in America to philanthropy and the power of individual giving and have profiled hundreds of CEOs and other executives leading the way in fostering more diverse workplaces. I have been a founding member and early supporter of groups like the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the Business Women’s Network (BWN), and the Committee of 200 (C200). Just before founding WBC, I worked with Diversified Search CEO Judee von Seldeneck, to build and launch STEMconnector® and Million Women Mentors (MWM) that worked with major companies, universities, and non-profits to get more women into stem fields and to provide mentorship, sponsorship, internships, and apprenticeships to help women advance professionally.
Using data and collaboration to drive change began early for me. I started my career in the Peace Corps doing college recruiting and as a Desk Officer for Africa. I spent a year visiting economically underserved communities across the U.S. from inner-city neighborhoods like Watts and Huff to migrant camps to Native American reservations, and worked throughout Appalachia, gathering data for the U.S. Poverty Program to help drive better solutions for providing more support and pathways for upward mobility for all Americans. I also founded and ran my own public affairs firm focusing on issues like the Panama Canal Treaties and the Labor Law Reform campaign.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I have worked my whole career to ensure equal opportunity for women, women of color, and for diversity. I believe in the power of “we” and the collective. In 2019, we came together with a shared passion and a commitment to the bigger goal, and I believed that if we could harness the power of the collective, we could accelerate impact. The most life-changing innovations, the ideas that have companies and societies grow and flourish, have all started with a simple question: what if?
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We are ensuring that women and women of color are rising into leadership positions across all sectors of business. Currently, women CEOs are at 8.4% up from 5.9% just a year ago.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
It’s been interesting to see the common leadership patterns that have emerged as I’ve interviewed and written about women business leaders throughout the years. For example, in “Business Women Leadership Tribute,” I asked a series of questions including, “What are the most important traits needed to be a leader today?” and “What are the principles that you, as a leader, apply to your professional and personal life?” What was fascinating to see is the trait most mentioned was “authentic” and “authenticity.” Those insights continue to inspire me to this day.
I am, of course, also inspired by all of the fabulous women leaders who make up WBC. I am also inspired by our male allies who see the power in diversity and use their voices and power to help us create a better future, they are also at the heart of the idea of stronger, together.
I look to icons like Ruth Bader Ginsberg who said, “Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” which has been a guiding light in terms of who I approach in this work. Like so many individuals who fight for gender equity, I often share RBG’s quote, “Women belong in all places where decisions are made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
Most recently, I – and millions of others – have been inspired by Amanda Gorman who reminds us that there is always light if we choose to see it and be it. These words in the poem she wrote for the Presidential Inauguration especially struck a chord: “In all the bridges we’ve made, that is the promise to glade the hill we climb, If only we dare…to author a new chapter…to offer hope and laughter to ourselves….We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.” She was talking about the fate of the country as a whole, but those words also capture why the collective work of WBC is so important. She shared her salute to health workers at the 2021 Super Bowl and does so with grace, every day.
At the end of the day, the fate of the country and the success of work like ours are inherently intertwined. I am inspired by Lilly Ledbetter who went from factory worker to activist and eventually won the passage of the Fair Pay Act. The Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and states that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new paycheck affected by that discriminatory action. I loved what she said about it in 2008: “There will be a far richer reward if we secure fair pay. For our children and grandchildren, so that no one will ever again experience the discrimination that I did. Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental American principle.”
And finally, what about Tarana Burke who, as an American activist from The Bronx, New York, started the Me Too movement and Girls for Gender Equity. In 2006, Burke began using #MeToo to help other women with similar experiences to stand up for themselves. She says it with fervor, “Get up. Stand up. Speak up. Do something.”
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Equality for all women including women of color. We want women to have equal position, pay, and power and this means comprising at least 50% of all leadership roles.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
We are facing the challenges of inclusivity and ensuring that men know we are not replacing them but working alongside them as leaders. As well, we face the challenge to ensure that equity is for all women including those marginalized or disadvantages.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
We are the first business movement and an unprecedented alliance of women, men, organizations, companies, and the media fighting for equity and to ensure equal position, pay, and power.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
My favorite is by Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” That said here are a few other favorites:
– “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt
– “I realized that if I was willing to step up and be in the spotlight, I’d be able to make everyone else around me much more powerful as well.” Katherine Graham, former CEO of The Washington Post and first woman CEO
– “Do what you love, and success will follow. Passion is the fuel behind a successful career.” Meg Whitman former CEO, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Join us as a champion for equal position, pay, and power.
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