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A conversation with business consultant and coach Erin Joy ahead of her new radio show

If you ask Erin Joy to name a couple of model entrepreneurs, she might point to her parents. Joy is the founder of Erin Joy Companies, a business consulting and coaching organization. Her parents, who owned insurance and real estate companies, had a dream: They wanted to build their businesses, cash out, and live on a boat in Florida for half the year—and that’s what they ended up doing. Through them, Joy saw how it was possible to have a great business and a great life. So when she left her career in the homebuilding industry in January 2008, she knew she wanted her next venture to be helping clients who are entrepreneurs achieve that same goal. 

“Entrepreneurship is all-consuming, all-encompassing,” Joy says. “For entrepreneurs and small business owners, the line between your business life and your non-business life is blurry if not nonexistent. I thought, This is something that I want to help entrepreneurs do. I want to support them in both their personal and professional lives. They don’t have to sacrifice their health, relationships, recreation, travel, and homes in order to have a great business.” 

Joy then decided to focus on women because she saw, in her own friends who were entrepreneurs, “that women were severely under-supported and sometimes misunderstood.” Her next step in this mission is her new Sunday radio show, Erin Joy Talks Business, debuting at 8 p.m. on March 13 on KMOX. She’ll be launching a multimedia platform with the radio show: a companion podcast and app, and, later, a YouTube channel. Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery founder Tamara Keefe will be Joy’s first guest.

Joy isn’t just “obsessed” (her words) with business—she’s also a scholar, working on earning her PhD in business psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Her focus is wellbeing, success, and entrepreneurship. You might expect her advice to sound like something you’d hear in a stuffy lecture hall. It’s anything but.  

You mentioned you saw in your friends how women who are entrepreneurs are under-supported. Can you share some examples? 

It’s well-known that female founders of high-growth, high-potential startup companies get something like 2 percent of all venture capital funding. The research also shows that female founders of high-growth, high-potential startup companies are asked different questions by the VC firms when they’re looking for funding than men. Women are asked questions that are more downside-oriented, more risk-focused: How are you going to handle the risk? How are you going to manage the risk? Men are asked questions about their vision and what’s possible. 

When I think about the under-supported piece, one of the other things that comes to mind is the difference between how men move through their workday and how women move through their workday. Men do 90 minutes less each day of unpaid household labor or caretaking labor than women do. This isn’t always the case because not all women have spouses and children, but often they are caring for aging parents and children while running their companies. Their networks tend to be a little less developed than their male counterparts because there are more demands on their time. And that matters in terms of deal opportunities. It matters in terms of access to the resources that lie within your business network. That’s why I have been so dedicated to, and successful at, developing a network of women entrepreneurs in our city, where the resources are being exchanged, people are collaborating, and people are doing business together. That really matters in the measurable success of women-owned companies.

It’s creating different opportunities for women who can’t meet up for drinks to network because they have other demands. 

That’s my mission. That’s one of the reasons that I host large events for women entrepreneurs. I’m really focused on creating those opportunities for connection among all of the women entrepreneurs and executives in our region and being intentional about including marginalized women.

You also mentioned that women who are entrepreneurs are sometimes misunderstood. In what ways?

I’m deep into this right now in my own dissertation journey as I’m finishing up my PhD. I think that the misunderstood piece comes from a couple of different angles. Number one, unless you’re an entrepreneur or a highly impassioned executive, most people do not understand entrepreneurial passion. That’s the academic term—entrepreneurial passion. For some of us, like me, it can express itself as obsession. I am obsessed with business. I admit that. It’s a healthy obsession, just like an artist would be obsessed with seeing art everywhere. They would never not notice the art in the environment that they’re in. Most entrepreneurs, male or female, have a high level of entrepreneurial passion. And when you look at women entrepreneurs from a mainstream view, those who have a high level of entrepreneurial passion, people might not understand why it’s so hard to prioritize seeing girlfriends or family or taking care of ourselves through exercise and a healthy lifestyle. It’s this competition between our passion for our businesses and more mainstream societal constructs. 

If we go one cut deeper, now we’ve got these highly impassioned women who are facing a lot of risk. So we’ve got these high-stakes environments, and women entrepreneurs have to be careful to not be perceived wrongly—to not be too ambitious, to not be too driven. Talk about a dynamic that puts women entrepreneurs on the back of their heels. I am interested in supporting women entrepreneurs to own it, to be fully empowered, and to go for what they want—no apologies.

It’s 2022. Why does being perceived that way still matter? 

I think more than anything, [worrying about perception] is an unnecessary distraction that’s unproductive and gets in the way of strategic thinking that makes money.

Not to speak for everyone, but I feel like my cohort—millennials—has rebelled against the “no apologies” mindset a bit after a string of high-profile women resigning amid accusations of toxic workplace culture a couple of years ago. We were really fired up about being bosses. Maybe not so much anymore.

It’s understandable when you think about this system that women are doing business inside of. In a capitalistic society, we know that certain ways of being produce results, and certain ways of being hinder results. I wouldn’t be surprised if what you’re pointing to is that some real world experience helped shape and form how your cohort orients to that term and what it implies. Because it implies that you’re here to get the work done, that you’re not making excuses, and that nothing’s going to get in your way. I think that part of becoming seasoned as a person in business, male or female, is you get punched in the face a couple of times, and you’re like, OK, I now know to do this and not that. However, that’s part of the problem. 

Maybe it’s an issue with resiliency. 

I have been thinking on the same topic for a variety of reasons. I’m 48 years old. Since the time I left the homebuilding industry, 14 years ago, I have done the hardest things of my entire life. I am now facing one of the hardest times I’ve ever experienced. What we know about resiliency is that it builds up. Thankfully, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been…. But the key is—whether you’re a woman in business, a woman entrepreneur, a new college graduate—it’s all about doing the deep work about yourself that actually creates the resiliency. It’s not just going through terrible, hard, challenging experiences, like Oh, that was really hard, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It is doing deep work in a therapist’s office, or sitting in silence with your journal. That is where the resiliency comes from.

Switching tracks, what can listeners expect from the radio show? 

Listeners can expect to hear powerful lessons on how to have a great career and life from accomplished women, entrepreneurs, and executives across a wide variety of industries. One of my next guests that I’m working on right now is WNBA star Napheesa Collier, and we’re talking about the business of her business. The podcast has these really juicy behind-the-scenes conversations where the same women are now letting their hair down a little bit more. We can talk more casually, openly, authentically, and transparently, to let people peek behind the curtain of what it takes and what it’s like to be a female top performer in any field.

When we last talked to you, it was 2019, so pre-COVID-19 pandemic. In what ways has COVID changed the reality for women entrepreneurs? 

I’m concerned for women worldwide who are caregivers. I’m worried that women are going to be bearing the brunt of the long-term chronic illness that COVID is causing and will cause. I’m concerned about the additional constraints that’s going to create for the long haul for women in the workforce.

In terms of women entrepreneurs, and where they are right now, there’s a couple of things. There’s a lot of disparity. A lot of businesses are doing well. And then other businesses are the exact opposite. The women who are doing really well, they’re having to learn how to scale up in an environment with inflation, supply chain and labor problems, and increasingly challenging global affairs beyond supply chain—that’s just one piece of it. 

The women whose businesses aren’t doing well because their industry has radically changed, they have to completely retool. That is a tall order at this point after two years of a pandemic. I’m in the middle of a big retooling not because my business isn’t doing well, but because I see the need for something new from me. The radio show is part of that. 

What have you learned while pursuing your PhD that has surprised you?

That entrepreneurship is a masculine pursuit. That blew my mind when I read that in the research, like Helene Ahl and Susan Marlow’s study on the dynamics of gender, feminism, and entrepreneurship in 2012, and many other studies that reinforce the idea. I read it and it was shocking.

How can something like entrepreneurship be labeled masculine? 

Industry in the United States has been historically driven and shaped by men. In 1976, when my family moved to Litchfield, Illinois, I was 3 years old. My mother opened a preschool in the basement of a church on the street that we lived on. It was her business, but the bank wanted her husband—my dad—to sign on the loan. She refused. She got the loan on her own eventually. But if we think about it historically, men were the ones creating and shaping industry, and that’s reflected in something like the meager number [41] of female CEOs at the head of Fortune 500 companies. 

Second, the traits of entrepreneurship that are typically admired, revered, and respected are masculine traits.

What are some of those? 

Being goal-oriented. Being a shrewd negotiator. Asking for what you want. Being a risk-taker. 

Is it discouraging to think about how it’s sometimes difficult for women—not even entrepreneurs but just employees—to exist in the workforce without flexible hours, paid leave, and other benefits like those, and then know that entrepreneurship is also a masculine pursuit?

I think women are starting to break out, though. That’s why we’re seeing the Great Resignation. A marketing email hit my inbox this morning from a colleague, and it said, “Ready to join the great resignation?” It’s for a workshop that she’s hosting on how to leave your job and start your own company. I think that there’s going to be a major shift in this country with women breaking free from the systems that are constraining their ability to have a great career and a great life.

They say that entrepreneurs are the only people who will reject a 40-hour-a-week job working for someone else in order to work 60 hours a week for themselves. But at least you’re calling the shots. There is power in that, and there is life satisfaction in that, even if it means you’re working 60 hours instead of 40. When you put your head on the pillow at night, you know that you are honoring yourself.

Erin Joy Talks Business premieres at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 13 on KMOX. It will air at 8 p.m. on Sundays after.