Because the Women Founders Foundation is driven to inspire young women, the connection between our work and Diondraya Taylor felt entirely natural. As one of the Foundation’s key partners, Diondraya leads workshops for girls - as well as their parents - and shares her content and philosophy about entrepreneurship and leadership with our audiences.
Fueled by a desire to bring female leadership to a mostly male-dominated ecosystem, Diondraya felt compelled to join the realm of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneurship minor in college, Diondraya found herself with a population of all male professors. She noticed herself lacking a role model that she could personally relate to as a woman of color, as well as an aspiring entrepreneur. As the author of Mindset and Milestones, Diondraya aimed to be that role model she needed, helping to guide and inspire young women to strive toward and acquire leadership roles. She wrote the book over a span of two years, acquiring skills and experience along the way. It is a workbook that includes worksheets and opportunities for self-reflection, tables, and charts for mini research. While the book can be used individually, she hopes for the book to be used in group settings, allowing readers to bounce ideas off one another. The 2020 WFF Junior Judges piloted virtual meetings designed around Mindset and Milestones. The book is available online at mindsetnmilestones.com.
It was truly a treat to interview Diondraya; her passion and ideas are much needed to inspire young women to become leaders and innovators. During this interview, she discussed her experience as an entrepreneurship student and the shift that she experienced while assimilating into the domain of business. She discussed that in her entrepreneurship class at UCLA, the way in which women participated tended to be very different from their male counterparts. She recalled, “Sometimes the classroom does tend to have a more masculine-leaning environment… you either adapt to that or you don’t. I don’t feel like I particularly dealt with difficulties in the classroom as a woman, but… the business world is an entirely different monster… in that it is still severely lacking in female leadership.”
While Diondraya recalls it being a difficult line to walk, she feels that she was welcomed with open arms by other students and professors. But in the “real” world of business, it can be harder for young, aspiring female leaders to rise up, though it seems to be easier for women to assume leadership roles in more modernized and upcoming companies.
Diondraya stated that in terms of investment and fundraising, companies dealing with female-centered issues find it much more challenging to acquire investments, simply because many men who dominate the venture capital world don’t see the issues as necessary. She mentioned the fact that for women entrepreneurs, it is exceedingly more difficult to raise capital. “The barrier certainly still exists in fundraising,” she said. While there is a promising upward trend of female figureheads, as a whole there is still much-needed improvement.
Since all of this can be daunting to upcoming entrepreneurs or leaders, Diondraya offered up her best advice for tackling the realm of business. She believes that showing young women how to establish themselves as female leaders in business is very important right now. Her greatest piece of advice is to have a strong sense of self, “recognizing that your perspective as a woman is valuable… figure out who you are and stand firm in that.” She speaks to the fact that many women feel that in order to be “taken seriously” in business they have to opt for a more “masculine” approach when, instead, being able to embrace their femininity can possibly lead to more success, and help them be true to themselves.
According to recent research, there is a vast difference between how women and men lead, so being able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches can help lead to a stronger company altogether. This research displays that companies led by women tend to make more money or have better work environments. Diondraya expounded on this idea, saying, “It’s better for everyone when we have different kinds of leaders and people who can share different perspectives and come at problems from a different angle. The more you can hone your perspective and understand what kind of lens you’re looking at everything through, the better.” As opposed to trying to fit into the traditional mold, she imparted the notion that being able to stand true to one’s ideals can allow young women to not only survive, but thrive as female entrepreneurs.
Mira Soin is a volunteer with the Women Founders Foundation.