Women founders are Founders…and so much MORE


   By Pon Angara, VisionReady storyteller

I recently took my son to visit an engineering trade school in a suburb of Illinois to check out what they have to offer an 18-year-old who’s passionate about the automotive industry. Anthony wants to be able to work under the hoods of cars, especially flashy sports cars that, in his mind, will help him attract the girl of his dreams. At this point in his life and in my parenting, I figure, “…whatever works to get him into a serious path toward a stable vocation!”

We walked out of the school’s open house very impressed with the facility, the program, their job placement, and their staff. Looking back, I recall seeing a room packed with potential student enrollees that were all male. A handful of staff attending to guests were female, but I wasn’t sure if they were faculty or support staff (i.e., admissions, financial aid, student housing, etc.) who were professionals in the trade.

Maybe that day was a fluke, and the reality is that the number of women has been rising exponentially in the historically male-dominated automotive industry. Or maybe there’s still a long way to go.

“The industries in which my company operates are highly male-dominated,” points out Jessica Billingsley, Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer of Akerna. In June 2019. she became the first CEO of a cannabis-technology company to be listed on Nasdaq. She co-founded MJ Freeway in 2010, where she served as president until April 2018, and later as the CEO until MJ Freeway was acquired by MTech to form Akerna.

“Go to any industry conference or event and you’ll see it firsthand,” says Billingsley. “Being among the small percentages of women in leadership in the space, I often find myself invited to conferences with an agenda full of male leadership, only to be offered a spot on a women’s panel — and nothing else. When launching Akerna’s flagship product, MJ Freeway, we invented seed-to-sale tracking for the industry. And yet, many who organize these conferences think I can only speak to being a woman in business. I code, I sell, I scale, I lead, but to them, I am merely a female CEO, a checked box on a diversity-and-inclusion initiative. And I know my fellow female peers across a variety of industries have experienced the same.”

So how do we fix this gender discrimination that is so deeply baked into business today?

“It starts with the language we use,” suggests Billingsley. “Words have power. Let’s drop the qualifier when highlighting women who achieve. Countless amazing organizations seek to bring women into business and develop them into future leaders, but we still have miles to go.”

“Ultimately, equal representation will be crucial for women to be seen as what we are: businesspeople delivering value, innovation and skill to our individual companies and missions,” says Billingsley. “I hope for a future where women leaders are categorized by skill and success — not by gender. Yes, I am a proud female founder. But I am so much more than just that.”

VisionReady regularly highlights the contributions of women in all sectors of society and the impact they’ve created—and are continuing to create—for people’s lives. For more information, send an email to info@visionready.org or call (305) 791-2610.

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