Sorry I’m Not Sorry: I Founded A For-Profit Business

My male peers never seem to have to explain their tax status. Why should I? What is so uncomfortable about a woman making a buck providing services that help others?

Last year I joined the ranks of the far-too-few female founders.

I started a business that provides intensive training and coaching for women facing career transition. I want to bring a pragmatic approach to closing the gender leadership gaps that persist across industries by helping individual women craft sustainable careers, based on the latest research and social science.

And yet for some reason, when I use the word “business” to describe my work, I am too often met with suspicious, if not downright hostile, responses.

When I first launched Bossed Up, a friend who leads a wonderful progressive organization strongly encouraged me to apply for their incubator program. They would assist in providing some funding, support, connections, and office space. There was just one string attached: We needed to already be established as a nonprofit or currently be pursuing our 501(c)3 status.

I had just finished reading a detailed report from Barnard, co-authored by a dozen women in the activist space that included a special section devoted to “Debating the Nonprofit Model.” In it, these powerhouse women echoed the same concerns I hear every day from our clients at Bossed Up: the lack of sustainability in their workplaces meant a lack of sustainability for themselves, personally.

They’re facing the limiting factors of burnout, too. “The current assumption that charities,” they wrote, “unlike for-profit entities, should operate on as small an operating budget as possible, is precisely what is preventing the sector from having the impact it should be having.“

I couldn’t have agreed more. And I didn’t want to start a new organization that would be in direct competition for and rely on grants and donations that so many other worthy women’s causes already live on.

But for some reason, even in a landscape where hybrid models are growing immensely in popularity, it’s hard for folks to imagine us doing well while doing good: for-profit and for-purpose in one.

I have sat through countless inaccurate introductions of, “meet my friend Emilie, she just started a nonprofit…” Another friend of mine told me, “Wow, this would just be so much easier if you decided to go the non-profit route,” which I found both mildly insulting and inaccurate.

I even came across a recent email exchange on an industry listserv in which someone asked if anyone had an opinion about Bossed Up. Another list member piped up to say her friend had attended one of our training programs and said it was life-changing. The author then added “BUT BEWARE: they are NOT a nonprofit.”

Why the inquisition? Sorry for not wanting to spend 80% of my time fundraising and 20% of my time delivering on our mission.

And hey, my male peers never seem to have to explain their tax status. What is so uncomfortable about a woman making a buck providing services that help others?

We can always explore becoming a non-profit, but why the overwhelming inclination to confine me to a particular tax structure? I hope this isn’t another example of the many reasons why there are so few female founders in the for-profit space.

It’s my hope that we can empower female and male founders alike to opt into our chosen tax structures without social pressure, presumption, or judgement, and that we can open our minds to the possibility of providing meaningful goods and services on an economically sustainable foundation.

I’m tired of apologizing. It’s hard enough to hustle to bring a new organization to life—whether it’s for or non-profit. I’m not sorry for striving for sustainability that will enable me to contribute to this industry for the long-haul.

Sorry I’m not sorry, but no founder I know has time for that.

Emilie Aries is a digital strategist and organizer who recently launched Bossed Up, a women’s empowerment startup focused on providing hands-on training for women entering the workforce with a holistic approach centered on health, happiness, and assertive communication.

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