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Women in Business – creating a safe space for Women in Finance

In celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2020), Experian spoke with Stephanie Eidelman, CEO of the IA Institute, a media company that produces news, events, education for the credit and collections industry. She is an influencer in the world of consumer debt and a strong advocate for Women in business. Her company hosts the Women in Consumer and Commercial Finance Conference.

Gary: So if you could tell me a little bit about when you were starting out in your career, did you set out to become a CEO and business owner or was that the trajectory that you thought that you would take?

Stephanie: My trajectory is nothing like I expected originally, I started my career in the theater. I was originally a theater major at school and that goes back to fifth grade when I started doing props in elementary school and I loved it and I really thought that what I would be was a stage manager and I wanted to ultimately be a Broadway producer.

Gary: So, you said recently that you are “calling women up versus calling men out?” What did you mean by that?

Stephanie: Yeah, well, you know, I think in a lot of areas it’s not, it can be fun and sort of cathartic to have a, a sort of a gripe session, you know, or a, oh, woe is us or, or to talk about things that are our problems. But, you know, as it relates to men and women take to get a whole bunch of women together and call men out or complain.

Again, it, it may be satisfying to some degree, but it’s not useful and it’s not going to move people forward. And so, the calling women up is really more about focusing on how we can get from here to there, what are the positive steps that we can take? What are the ways that we can influence our own behavior? and not necessarily depend on men to allow us or, or do it for us or with us but just focusing on the more positive aspect.

Gary: I’d say in the last few years, women in business, and women really taking their place in business, I know at Experian, we really champion women business leaders. We’ve got employee resource groups allocated to women, but the men are invited to those meetings too, and we get something out of it as well. I think it’s a partnership really. Would you agree with that?

Stephanie: Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s, you know, it doesn’t really matter. Again, you know, anybody who is passionate about developing women or developing anybody, you know, ought to be involved in that. Plenty of men have daughters or wives or sisters or whatever and would like to see them succeed, just as, you know, just as much as their sons or brothers or, or whatever.

So, I absolutely believe that we do, one thing you might be alluding to is, we started a Women’s Conference last year and, it’s, it’s not for men and maybe it will become for men at some point. And we’ve certainly had men ask about it, but you know, there is an element to creating a space that women do feel safe and the ability, the ability to, to share things that maybe they wouldn’t share in front of men. And so, it’s not so much about leaving them out as creating a space where women do feel comfortable to take that first step. And I can see that different conversations happen, and we have other conferences that have men too, and they’re also great. but, but the character of the conversation is different.

Gary: So if you overheard a conversation on the train about with a woman considering starting her own company and going into business for herself today in 2020, do you have any advice for her on what would set her off on a good footing?

Stephanie: Gosh, you know, I would suggest it for anybody, woman or, man, it’s interesting. I am a woman business owner and I don’t know that I would tell you a story of how I’ve not had opportunities, if I’ve been slighted as a woman, maybe it’s happened and I haven’t noticed it, or maybe my threshold for it is different than others. But I would certainly, for anyone looking to start a business, I would give the advice that it’s not easy. You have to be prepared for the fact that nobody’s going to care about it as much as you do, you know? Cause you’re the owner and the buck stops with you, however, we can’t do it alone. All right. So, there’s a real balance there. And I would just say go for it woman or man, I think if you have a passion for something and you’re willing to work hard at it, then you should do it. And what I find is it’s amazing how easily you can become an authority in something these days by just putting effort into it. That alone surpasses often 90% of the competition.

Gary: Yes. In the data that we’ve studied on women business owners, there seems to be a reliance on personal credit. That’s one of the trends that we’ve seen the last few times that we’ve done the study and a reluctance to shop for credit. You work in credit and collections in your industry, why do you think that is? Is it a confidence issue or maybe an education issue in terms of knowing what credit products are out there for business owners?

Stephanie: Well, I bet it is an education issue, and matching the right type of credit, to what you need. It may also be an overestimation of what you need, how much is needed. People may think they need millions of dollars to start a business and you know, that may be true in certain types of businesses, but probably not in most, and for that matter, bootstrapping it is probably a great way to go.

When you’re not beholden to somebody else you really have more ability to do what’s right for the business and not just what that creditor is demanding. So, I guess it might be. I will say in full disclosure, I didn’t really have to do a lot of shopping for credit because we have been able to fund the business through the cash, through operations of the business. So, I haven’t had to raise money.

Gary: I’d heard this a of your company, and that’s admirable. The thing that we are noticing when we study the credit profiles of women business owners and men business owners, there are different industries obviously, where you have a lot more groupings of businesses for women versus men. But generally, the credit profiles are quite comparable. So, it’s interesting that when you look at the breadth of credit and the types of credit, trade lines women business owners are accessing versus men that they’re not tapping trade-credit earlier in the life of the business. Setting up terms with leasing for office equipment or getting terms from distributors, whether it’s office supplies, you know, these are some of the things opening a business credit card versus using personal credit. These are some of the things that we were hoping can change over time. But generally, we see women are a good credit risk and they’re starting businesses in record numbers.

Stephanie: You know, it’s a great point as I think about my not only credit for the need to raise money but credit for the need to get more credit basically to open accounts. My business really was a spinoff of a business that my parents started in the late 1980s. And so before I spun it out and needed to get my own lease and my own phone bill and all those things, I realized, yeah, the business had been established for quite a while, but not by me. And the credit that I was surprised to find how thin the credit file was for my business because a lot of those accounts had been established under the prior parent company.

And so, it did take a few years to get that going. But it wasn’t really an impediment. I was able to do everything I needed it to do. I probably just needed to personally guarantee or, you know, put my personal information a little more than I would have thought originally, but it never really held me back.

Gary: So, is this a good year for your company? The economy seems stable. We had some worries of a recession there earlier in the year, but that seems to have kind of leveled out. Are you feeling confident about 2020 and moving into the next year or, or are you seeing uncertainty with things like trade and, those things impacting business?

Stephanie: Well, for my business, it’s what affects it most is the environment for my clients, which includes regulatory uncertainty. That’s, you know, in the last few years has been a little bit more favorable for our industry. Going forward, there’s certainly going to be uncertainty about what’s going to be in the coming years. And yeah, I would say that I’m optimistic about the coming year and next year as well. And in part it’s really because we’ve done a lot of work on focusing on differentiating ourselves and just kind of staying in our lane or creating our lane and then staying in it.

I think personally, this isn’t exactly the question you just asked, but personally, what I’ve learned a lot as a business owner – it’s so easy to become obsessed with what everyone else is doing. You know? The competitors, you certainly need to be aware of the competitive environment, but to focus too much on that and what you can’t control is really a large distraction. And focusing on what you do best and what you can do and doing it the best that you can, is going to make you more successful than trying to be on top of everything for everybody you compete with, you know, everyone else in the space. And so that, that’s been a, what’s most important for us and what exactly the macro economic factors are, don’t have to be noise that’s as impactful, especially for a smaller business.

Gary: Excellent advice. So, Stephanie, if our women viewers of this content would like to find out more about your institution and you mentioned your conference how would they go about doing that?

Stephanie: So our website is www.theiainstitute.com and there you can find all the different things that we do, including our Women in Consumer and Commercial Finance Conference, but our other initiatives as well are all summarized there.

Gary: Well, thank you very much for taking time out to speak with us today, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Thanks, Gary. I really appreciate it.