Sistering Up: But first, canapé anyone?

As published as SheInvests Issue #8 on LinkedIn Influencers.

We are living in a different time. At least, that’s how it feels to me. Our reality today is drastically different from a year ago, six months ago, even perhaps just a month ago. And it is human nature to just do your best to work your way through it when everything is hard, cloudy, noisy, and disorientating. In short, when things don’t feel normal. And this past year has been anything but normal. We are living through a modern pandemic that has killed over three million people and caused hundreds of millions to fall ill. It has pushed our health care systems to the brink, destroyed untold livelihoods, separated families, and isolated our precious elders from the ones they love. But all of this is not new information. We have all been living through this reality in our own way since March of last year.

But now, with vaccinations slowly on the rise and the first tentative steps towards getting back to normal slowly being taken, the question becomes, Now what? What choices will we make going forward in light of everything that has happened? How will we begin to rebuild our lives, relationships, businesses, communities, and social structures? What do we, you, me, all of us, want to build in place of the systems that the pandemic found wanting?

This was the nature of a conversation I had last summer with my dear friend Jessica Houssian, co-CEO of The Equality Fund, right when we were in the thick of it. She was telling me about her work in designing and building one of the largest sustainable feminist funds in history (one billion dollars) to support feminist movements and women’s rights organizations in the middle of a global pandemic. And in the middle of telling me all this, she paused, and then asked me if I had ever heard of the term sistering. No, I responded. Tell me more.

A candid photo of Jacki, Jessica Houssian, and Lisa Witter

It turns out that the word sistering is used primarily as a construction term, and at its most basic, it means to make stronger. Jess described it like this: when you are constructing a building and the frame or support system is proven to be not strong enough, you sister (add) additional material to make it stronger. This process is called sistering. We both agreed that not only was this term awesome, but it was also what we were doing on that phone call. We were sharing our challenges, hopes, and dreams with each other, and asking what we could do to help. We were, and still are, sistering.

Since that day, sistering has become my own personal action word, and I have since stretched it into a personal mantra that I am calling sistering up. To qualify as a good mantra, the words should be motivational, and they should inspire you to be a better version of yourself. I hope that after reading what it means to me, you might consider adopting sistering up as your own mantra as well. And I will connect this back to investing. Promise.

But first, let me explain what I mean.

The way I see it, sistering up is both a mindset and an action oriented framework. And because I am making up this new word combination, I want to take the time to fully explain it. Of course, a sister is usually defined as a woman or girl in relation to other daughters and sons of her parents, as well as close female friends or associates. And we also know that the sisterhood has been commonly used to extend beyond the familial ties to refer to women working together in support of one another. But what about sistering? Well, sistering can describe what we do to support one another. Specifically, what we do as women to make each other stronger. It involves positive action, which is where the “up” in “sistering up” comes into play. We are sistering up in acknowledgement that there are still huge inequities and power structures that exist, and which result in gender related disparities. By sistering up, we will accelerate positive change. #SisteringUp

So on to the framework. The primary idea is that when you learn about something another woman is doing, or are presented with the opportunity to help another woman, there are four buckets of what you can do: Connect, Amplify, Champion, and Partner. And when I say women, I mean all self-identifying women, because we still live in a world where women are less likely to have embedded and unearned societal support systems and networks that help them flourish, which is why this is necessary. And if you don’t agree, please see the most recent edition of the Global Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum by clicking here.

The SisteringUp Framework

Connect

Take the time to think about who you are connecting with and who you are connected to, and more importantly, to what ends? Make a conscious decision to deepen and expand your connections, especially if you notice that most of your connections are with people from the same background and demographics as you. Take the time to listen and learn about new people and organizations, and park that information somewhere in your brain. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable passing along that information yet, but just knowing about it and making the conscious decision to continue learning every day will enrich your ability to help others in countless ways.

Amplify

You’ve connected and you’ve learned. Now share that information. Sharing can mean telling someone else, buying a product or service, tweeting something out, and in general, making a conscious effort to do something. It may not seem like much, but simply sharing your knowledge, not to mention your endorsement, can do so much. I truly believe that this bucket is incredibly undervalued and under-appreciated. Who knows what outcomes can result from these small acts of amplification? It could very well be that your one tweet, or post, or like, can bridge the gap between two of your followers, who together can make magic happen.

Champion

This bucket reflects a much deeper level of engagement than simply amplifying, as this is where you meaningfully put your capital, be it financial or social, on the line. You are vouching for someone or something because you did your homework, you know the person/company/product/service, and you believe in it. To champion something takes more time and effort, and there is absolutely risk involved. You are putting your reputation behind someone/thing else, and therefore your reputation is now on the line. But the inherent possibilities are also that much more grand. Perhaps there are doors that only you specifically can open because of your lived experience, and this is where you pay that privilege forward.

Partner

This is where you go ALL IN. This is where you don’t just vouch for someone; you partner with them and throw all of your support behind them. To do this, you will have to spend a significant amount of time and energy in support of this person, cause, and/or organization, so there is a limit to how many people with whom you can fully and thoughtfully partner. Therefore, when making that choice, think about why you are doing this and what you hope to accomplish. Both your head (logical) and heart (emotional) should be fully committed, but if you had to pick one, pick heart. Every time.

I feel like I have been using this framework for a long time, but until now, I never articulated it in this way, nor did I have a name for it. But now I do. Sistering Up.

So what does this have to do with investing? A heck of a lot, actually. Let me give you some examples of how I have applied this framework around my own investing, and how you can as well.

Connect

Since I began writing the SheInvests newsletter, I have been talking to more and more women about their money stories. I often start with a question. Can you tell me your earliest memory as it relates to money? Other questions include, what is your biggest fear around money? Do you think you know what you need to know about managing your money? If not, what do you think stops you from gaining that knowledge? To connect means to talk to other people about things, so I invite you to begin to talk to your friends and family members about money.

For myself, this past year, with the help of the incredible Rose Maizner, I have connected with many women, and in particular, women of color fund managers. If you read my Cheerios post, you know why. It is simply unacceptable to me that such a small percentage of investment capital goes to these managers, and I am determined to do as much as I can to change it. My first step was connection.

Amplify

As mentioned above, amplifying can mean a lot of things, but the core idea is to learn, do, and then share. If you read a book about investing, pass it on to a friend. If you have a wonderful woman financial advisor, recommend her to someone else. If you are not feeling confident in your knowledge about money, commit to taking an online course on money fundamentals. You can invite someone to do it with you, or you can buy the course for someone else. I recommend SmartPurse, and full disclosure, I am an investor with them because I believe wholeheartedly in their mission. If you are in a position to write a check of any size to fund a great women-founded company, of course go ahead and do it, but it’s equally important to then tell your friends who might also be in a position to do so as well. And if you are not in a position to write a check, you can still amplify by letting others know that fantastic women founders and entrepreneurs in your network are looking for financial support. Be the person who makes that introduction.

I spend a lot of my time amplifying both in a very personal way, and through all of my social platforms, including this newsletter. On my website I list all of the companies I have invested in, as well as books by authors I know and respect and so much more.

Champion

Championing as it relates to investing depends a lot on how much time you spend in this area. To champion, you want to have done your research and really believe in something. People ask me for investment advice all the time, and what I always say is that I am not an investment advisor, but here is what I am doing and why. Championing, not advising. If you spend the time to identify a great company, stock, or gender lens ETF, tell your friends about it.

For me, when I invest in a start-up or a fund, I allow the founders to use my name with other investors. And this is incredibly helpful to them! It is human nature to want to know who else is ‘in’, and at times, it is that social capital that is as important as the financial capital. I also champion people and funds that I may not be invested in for one reason or another, but really believe in nevertheless.

Partner

Again, to some degree, this depends on how active of an investor you are, but partnering can mean that you go out of your way to make introductions on behalf of your investment advisor to new clients. Or perhaps you provide some amount of crowdfunding to a new company, and then take the time to share this with everyone you know because you dig them so much. The key differentiator here is the amount of time you put in, the amount of social capital you put out there, and/or a higher amount of financial capital you invest, whatever that means for you.

For me, partnering means not only investing personally, but also reaching into my network to try and bring other investors to the table. And due to the time investment required, I can only do this for a small number of companies, advisors, and/or funds. This means that I have to choose carefully when deciding to partner with someone, because I always strive to be a full partner with my support. For example, with SmartPurse, not only did I bring other investors to the table, but I also took the time to help them test and refine their revenue, build out their market strategy, and helped to bring in key advisors to fill gaps in expertise.

Sistering Up

That is the framework for how you can bring a sistering up mindset to your investments. To bring it to life even further, I am thrilled to announce recent investments into two outstanding funds, both of which focus on tech innovations being brought to market by inclusive teams, especially those being built by women of color: the WOCstar Fund, led by Gayle Jennings O’Byrne and Pialy Aditya (pictured directly below), and The 22 Fund, led by Tracy Gray (pictured in the next paragraph).

Side by side headshot photos of Gayle and Pialy

Last October, I shared (again, amplify, amplify, amplify!) a robust list of ways to invest in racial equity. But beyond sharing, I wanted to find additional opportunities for sistering up. So Rose and I dove in, learning about the many funds, leaders, resources, and tools that are available to invest in people of color. Several funds stood out to us, and I plan to make more allocations soon, but WOCstars and The 22 were two that I knew I wanted to partner with almost immediately. I believe deeply in the missions of both of these funds, I am hugely confident in the profound expertise and capabilities of the managers, and the funds’ investment themes, sectors, and stages add important diversification to my portfolio. And, as an early investor in The 22 and a top investor in WOCstars, I know that I can help bring resources to bear that, I hope, will help them to raise additional capital in an environment that notoriously undervalues and overlooks women of color fund managers. Stronger together. Sistering Up.

Close up photo of Tracy Gray

Incidentally, The 22 and WOCstars are also both part of the Ally Collaborative, a group of six venture funds that are collaborating to increase representation in funds led by diverse fund managers, and investment into diverse-led companies. While not all of the funds are women-led (five out of the six are led or co-led by women), this is a powerful example of Sistering Up. By eschewing the tired culture of competition, these funds are actively helping one another to succeed, realizing that a rising tide lifts all boats.

I will be sharing more about both of these incredible funds, as well as the Ally Collaborative, in the coming months.

So there you have it. I invite you to embrace the sistering up (#SisteringUp) framework, and when you do, please share it! Anyone who thinks that hashtags cannot create change has obviously never heard of #metoo.

I also welcome your comments, your ideas, and your commitments to do more to support each other. According to the most recent Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 135 years to achieve gender equality at the rate we are going, which is frankly about 100 years too long. And if you are a man reading this newsletter and wondering if you can join in the sistering up movement, the answer is heck yes! The more the merrier.

Love the Cartoon? Meet Liza! 

Headshot photo of Liza Donnelly

I met award-winning cartoonist and writer Liza Donnelly when we both gave a TED Talk at the 2010 Ted Women Conference. Nearly a decade later, our paths crossed again while we both were serving on the Advisory Council for the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College. In the process of getting to know each other and becoming friends, a collaboration was born. I am absolutely delighted to be sistering up with Liza, who will be creating an original drawing for each newsletter. We are also working on a book together on women and money, so please stay tuned for more updates on that project!

Liza has been drawing for The New Yorker Magazine for over 40 years, and she has also been a contributor for The New York Times, CNN, and CBS News, to name a few. She is the author/editor of several books, including the highly acclaimed Women on Men. Liza is also the creator and pioneer of live drawing journalism, and in recent years has covered protest marches, inaugurations, political national conventions, and entertainment award shows.

To find out more about Liza and her work, please click here. If you are on instagram you simply must follow her. @LizaDonnelly. #SisteringUp with Liza Donnelly.