Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Elisabeth Williams, Founder of AWE Partners, LLC, a social impact advisory firm that educates female entrepreneurs and executives on how to bake mission into their life and business for more passion, purpose, and profit.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I wish I had known that there was a way to blend all of my passions and turn it into a career.
I studied business in undergrad and then went on to pursue my MBA. I loved business, but I was also passionate about making a difference in the world. At the time I was in the corporate world, back in the late 80s and 90s, there wasn’t as much opportunity to merge profit and purpose. And there certainly wasn’t as much of a concern for people and the planet! I wish I had known that I had it within me to create something new – a new way forward.
2. What is your greatest professional challenge?
My greatest professional challenge is staying focused on what I’m here to do. I’m what you call a “multi-passionate”. I have so many interests and a desire to always be learning something new. As soon as I create something, I’m ready to move on to the next thing. As an entrepreneur, I’d rather spend my time visioning and creating than marketing my latest service or product. That’s why having a team is so critical to success.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
The potential to change lives. I have always had a vision of a world where everyone on the planet has the opportunity to share their gifts and talents and to shine their light fully. Obviously, we are not even close to that yet. But I refuse to give up on the dream. As our old belief systems and paradigms are breaking down and shifting, we have the opportunity to co-create a better future for everyone.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
As a woman, I couldn’t be more excited to be alive during this pivotal time of change. I absolutely believe that women must lead the way forward and come into full and equal partnership with men. Therefore, we need to encourage and inspire more women to lead with courage, confidence, and conviction. And to model that authentically. When we see another woman stepping up and into her magnificence, it stirs something within us that says, “I want that, too!”
5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?
Absolutely! How could it not? Both for good and for bad.
I certainly felt it more when I was in the corporate world. I was in banking where an “old boys” culture was prevalent. I got along well with men, so it didn’t keep me out of the conversations; however, there was no denying I was a woman. And I had no interest in changing to fit in. That’s ultimately what led to my decision to leave the corporate world and pursue entrepreneurship. I didn’t want to have to play the game and I wanted more control over my destiny.
6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?
Philanthropy has the power to keep the issue of gender equality at the forefront. I launched AWE Partners six years ago because I wanted to encourage more conversations around the issues affecting women and girls. I was surrounded by wealthy, educated women, and no one was talking about the challenges our sisters around the globe were facing. I knew that nothing would change if we remained silent. And I knew I could do something about that. Philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, impact investing – they all have the potential to shine a light on the issues that women and girls are up against and how we effect real and lasting change together.
7. In the next ten years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?
I am hopeful that with all the focus on the challenges we face collectively, gender equality will be at the forefront. The next decade is a critical time for all of us. Women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID and we’ll need to focus our efforts to regain the momentum we had and set our visions higher. But we can’t do it if we’re operating in silos.
The way forward is inviting us into more cooperation, collaboration, and partnership. And this can only happen as women heal the schism between us – rising above division based on politics, religion, race, culture – and recognize that we are all women. It’s time to rise together!
About Lis Williams: Lis is the Founder of AWE Partners, LLC, a social impact advisory firm that educates female entrepreneurs and executives on how to bake mission into their life and business for more passion, purpose, and profit. The AWE Community is a non-partisan, inter-faith, global community of women committed to social impact. Together, they seek to discover meaning in life through service to the Universe. By embracing our unique gifts and talents, honing them and sharing with others, AWE Partners live out our soul’s calling in solidarity with all of humanity.
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