Guest Columnist

Column: Raleigh conference Count Me In promotes a 'feminine bias'

Guest columnistNovember 25, 2013 

You can call it power broker Nell Merlino’s tough love.

The founder and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence is pushing the power of “feminine bias,” saying women have to quit thinking it’s a man’s world and value what female workers and business owners bring to the table.

“It is up to us to stop censoring our thoughts and ideas and to start thinking about what the workplace and world would be like if it tilted toward a feminine bias,” Merlino wrote on the national nonprofit group’s website. “I know equality at work is about getting the same opportunities and pay as the fellas, but how about getting more money for coming up with better ideas?!”

Merlino is bringing that challenge to Urban Rebound, a business growth initiative for female business owners that will hold a conference at the downtown Raleigh Sheraton Hotel on Dec. 2 and 3.

Urban Rebound aims to bring 100 female business owners to $250,000 in annual revenue within three years using professional business coaching and education, confidence building and support from peers.

At the Raleigh conference, female entrepreneurs will compete in a pitch contest to decide who wins the coaching package.

Merlino’s Count Me In, with help from corporate donors, is hosting the event, and held local practice sessions earlier this month to help women get ready to compete.

Merlino is so passionate about the power of “feminine bias” that she established an activist think tank of the same name that’s dedicated to meeting economic, social and environmental challenges by strengthening the female value chain.

Women have mistaken being equal with being the same as men, Merlino said, and it causes them to downplay their knowledge.

“When women first went to (corporate America) in droves in the ’70s, we were so intent on fitting in that we wore blouses with ties,” wrote Merlino, who is the creator of Take Our Daughters to Work Day. “We have confused equality with conformity when in fact equality, particularly for women, must be about the freedom to be ourselves, to bring our unique view of the world to the work we do.”

Women have saturated all work sectors and account for 50 to 70 percent of the consumer market, depending on which statistics you use, Merlino said in a phone interview from New York. That gives them an advantage.

She points to two entrepreneurs who value the female consumer. Spanx owner Sara Blakely built a multi-million dollar shapewear empire. Another will be a panelist coming to Urban Rebound: Tory Johnson is ABC’s Good Morning America contributor and founder of Women For Hire, which connects women to top employers, and Spark & Hustle conferences that teach winning strategies to small-business owners.

“Figure out what you (as a woman) want and you can figure out what the largest part of the consuming public wants,” she said.

Sheon Wilson is a personal stylist, image coach, wife, mother and writer who lives in Durham. Follow her on Twitter @SheonWilson.

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