Traditionally, women seeking success in the business world have been up against different sorts of challenges than their male counterparts. Operating outside the benefits of the “old boys network” and subject to different expectations regarding likeability and domestic responsibilities, women professionals have often had to forge ahead largely on their own, without any major support. In 2011, Caroline Ghosn, along with Amanda Pouchot, decided that they would tackle this problem on behalf of Gen Y women by co-founding an organization to develop access to jobs, skills and community, in support of their careers. This organization is the Levo League.
A membership organization with an open network, the Levo League has attracted the attention of ambitious women between the ages of 18 and 35, as well as many peers who are attracted to the idea of helping the cause and serving its mission. What started as a two-person, self-funded operation has, in short order, attracted investors the likes of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.
This is a company that is in active development. As of the time of our conversation back in January, a new activity feed had just been launched on their website, marking significant advancement of the community development portion of their operations. In fact, as of the publication of this article, the number of employees has also most likely increased past the 14 full timers noted during our interview. The Levo League is HAPPENING.
Gen Y women are entering the workforce at a very precarious economic time. Traditional corporate structures are not as stable as they once were. In order to remain relevant in a shifting environment, it’s become necessary to develop multiple skill sets for maximum flexibility. Thus, the Levo League has not limited itself in terms of its outreach or the training it offers. Its job boards represent positions in traditional, large companies and non-profits, as well as smaller start-ups with high growth potential.
Ghosn’s motivation is extremely personal. The first woman in her family to go to college, she did not have the benefit of female role models guiding her path when she was getting started. Graduating from Stanford University in 2008 with a dual degree in International Relations and Economics, she went right to work at the global management consulting firm of McKinsey & Company. Her experience there with co-worker Pouchot brought to life the statistical data related to being part of the female minority in the business world.
Despite the significant achievement of being awarded a prestigious Sustainability and Resource Productivity Fellowship during her last year there, Ghosn recognized that she had a higher calling. After three years at McKinsey, she and Pouchot left in 2011 to form the Levo League. With a passion for leveling the playing field for women in business, they have stepped in to fill a need using the best that technology has to offer. Their model is a more intimate version of LinkedIn, geared specifically towards women. With their job boards, informative articles & videos and newly launched city by city discussion platform (including London and Paris), they have provided a polished yet inviting forum for mentorship, peer support and international networking.
Although they take great pride in their bootstrapped roots, Ghosn pointed out that the goal of the Levo League is to create a body of knowledge and resources that would obviate the need for women to continually reinvent the wheel. The community she envisions is also based on the principle that women can be inspired by one another, rather than jealous and competitive in a way that inhibits collective success.
To that end, she was happy to share some of the challenges and rewards of her experience, in the hopes that others will benefit. First off, she recommends that new entrepreneurs think very carefully about what type of people they partner with as investors, since for all practical purposes, you are going to be married to them. For their purposes, it was important to find individuals who really understand the ins and outs of creating scalable technology, as well as those who think very carefully about creating a friendly and timely brand. Levo League’s investors and advisory board have been critical catalysts to the growth and success of the company.
Like many other entrepreneurs I’ve met, Caroline impressed me with her great passion for her work. A great believer in using technology to meet pressing social needs, she sees the work of the Levo League as more than just helping individuals. It is part of a larger global movement to achieve parity for women in the professional world. And of course, her brand of personal commitment is an essential ingredient in managing the ongoing obstacles that are a part of building any successful enterprise.
The process of creating a startup is “…a marathon that feels like a series of small sprints without recovery time.” The biggest challenge, she says, is “…learning how to manage your own energy, your own expectations, and by extension the expectations of your team towards success,” and learning “…how to be kind to yourself and be kind to your team.” She hopes that as they grow, they can maintain the kind of supportive office environment they have created thus far.
Finally, inspired by her partner Amanda, the biggest piece of advice Caroline has to offer is to never be afraid of asking questions. It’s important to put yourself out there and learn from both the positive as well as negative experiences of others. She believes that if approached nicely, most women in successful positions will be willing to share a few moments of their time towards that end. Here’s hoping that her organization’s efforts will help create more and more of those very women.
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative & innovative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is preparing to launch Project Mavens, a content branding firm. On Twitter @projectmaven.
Category: Entrepreneur Interviews