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Interview with Kelly McGonigle, Co-Founder of LWL

I have already shared how much I have benefit from Ladies who Launchand other women spaces, and for me it was a huge privilege to interview Kelly McGonigle, one of its 2 co-founders. 

What is LWL?

The boilerplate answer is this: Ladies Who Launch is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established to provide education, inspiration and community to women entrepreneurs.

The Kelly answer is closer to this: An authentic place for badass women entrepreneurs and business owners around the globe to come together, learn from one another, get schooled with some Real Talk, gain inspiration from other women who have forged the path before them, and even perhaps, find some grant funding for their business or idea. ;-)

Ultimately though, LWL is an ever-evolving organization based on the needs of our global community. In our nascent stage, we were mainly a live event series (more on that below). Given everything that's happened over the last year, we've had to pivot significantly, testing out different projects and ideas as the world went completely digital.  We'll continue to iterate, finding what works best for our women because at the end of the day, we're here to serve them!

How was it born?

Sarah Friar (a proud N.Irish native!) and I initially started Ladies Who Launch as an event series, operating within Square, the company we were both working for at the time. We realized there were so many amazing women who were using Square's products to start, run, and grow their businesses and could we find a way to bring them all together for a chance to connect with each other, gain some valuable advice and inspiration, and build community. After all, the entrepreneurial journey can feel like a lonely one.

After our very first event (all the way back in March of 2013, which now feels like a lifetime ago!), we had a flood of requests to host more of these gatherings around the world. Sarah and I took every opportunity we had to bring women business owners together, whether in Sydney, St. Louis, New York or Belfast, and found ourselves incredibly humbled by these women who yearned for business education and a sense of community.

We realized over time that this movement was actually much bigger than just women using Square's products, and so, like many of the gals we'd met along the way, we decided to 'launch' out on our own in 2018, and turn Ladies Who Launch into a real thing -- an official non-profit organization dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs everywhere.

What is the biggest impact of what you do?

Today, I think the biggest impact we have is helping our community members realize they are not alone and there is a place for them to go to find educational resources, support for their business and ideas, and authentic advice from other women.

While we are vertical agnostic and welcome all women into our community, I believe those who want to start or grow businesses within their local communities currently need the most support. It's these women who are truly hustling, oftentimes managing unequal family duties and perhaps have other careers, but have a passion for their products like no one else and truly want to bring them to the world. Giving them the shot of energy or thoughtful piece of advice or meaningful connection they need to keep moving forward is what drives us.

What is the biggest ambition for LWL, the big dream?

Sarah and I, early on, dreamt of being able to provide capital to the women we'd met around the world. We heard over and over again that finding the money to start or grow their businesses was a key issue for them as the majority of business funding year after year was going to male-led ventures. This sad reality was both nauseating and infuriating to us, but we thought, could we be a source of capital for our community in the future and what would that look like?

This year, our fearless group of LWL volunteers, lovingly known as the Rocketeers, lead by our newly minted Executive Director, started small by creating the Launch Program, which offered women business owners in the US the opportunity to receive grants between $5,000 - $25,000 to help their businesses pivot or grow during the pandemic.

We're thrilled to see our first cohort of Launch Program recipients leaning into the resources and opportunities we've provided and cannot wait to roll this program out to other countries in the coming years and grow the number of grant recipients based on available capital with the hope that we can push the needle towards funding parity for women led companies.

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 And now the feminist questionnaire...

What is Feminism for you?

Simply put, to me, it means you believe in equal rights for men and women (and quite frankly everyone in between that gets left out of the mix when speaking about gender equality).

There's this idea that somehow if you're a feminist, you're in the business of trying to take rights away from men and give them to women, but really, it's just about equality, plain and simple. Feels like a very reasonable thing to ask for, no?

I like to ask men who balk or eye roll at the mention of the word 'feminist': "Do you think your mother should have less rights than your father?" Oh, no? Okay, well then congratulations, you're a feminist!

I've also recently become more aware of the feminist movement and how it has, advertantly and inadvertantly, historically excluded minority women from the collective voice which has been viewed by many as a white women's movement. I'm very interested in this perspective and encourage us all to take a moment to consider how we can be more thoughtful and inclusive as we fight for equality for ALL women.

Which “everyday sexism” really bothers you?

I find that I'm bothered most when I'm on the receiving end of assumptions that because I am a woman, I don't have a clue or concept as to what a man or a group of men are discussing or explaining.

My husband and I recently purchased a home, a true fixer upper, and as the project manager for the remodel, I had to quickly get up to speed on construction knowledge, industry speak and local building code in a short amount of time. You wouldn't believe how many conversations I've had begin with, "Maybe I'll just wait till your husband is back to give him the update" or "Are you working with a contractor? Why don't you have him call me and I'll give him the details." Infuriating!

Do you remember when you start identifying as a Feminist and why?

I suppose there wasn't any sort of 'ah ha' moment that I can pinpoint, but I attribute this to growing up in a family of incredible women (from my great-grandmother on down), all of whom were fearless, independent and resilient in varied and unique ways and I just assumed that was how the world worked. Women = Badasses.Trailblazers.Fighters.

My earnestness and fight for equality though (which of course translated very seamlessly into identifying as a feminist) came from my best friend from childhood, Bryan, who came out to me our freshman year in college. Bryan's rights and liberties as a gay man (and who Bryan loved and was 'allowed' to love) should be equal to the same ones I had as a straight women. There was no doubt in my mind. I decided from that moment on, equality for all and no stopping until we got there.

Similarly, with my work on Ladies Who Launch, a non-profit organization with a mission to educate, inspire and provide community to women entrepreneurs around the world, I'm disheartened and unsurprised to read the data around funding for the millions of women around the world who are working tirelessly to start, run and grow their own businesses, improve their livelihoods, provide for their families and share their passions with others.

Why is it that men receive the majority of funding for their entrepreneurial ideas (real or not!), but women get passed over time and time again? The stats are abysmal on this front, and they're even worse for minority women business owners, by the way. This should make everyone angry. Like steam coming out of your ears angry. In this case, equality, and equity most especially, for all and like I said above: no stopping until we get there! Who's with me?!

Who is your biggest feminist role model?

There are thousands of unnamed women who have come before me, before all of us living today that paved the way, fought the good fight, gave of themselves, so that we could be afforded the rights we have currently. Deciding what we are allowed to do with our own bodies, voting for elected officials and having that vote count equally, ensuring we have time off work to birth and care for our children, etc --  these are all rights we've had to work hard for, they weren't given to us based on goodwill or wishful thinking.

I'm grateful to all of those unnamed women who fought tirelessly for their future generations. And I'm even more inspired by the women (young and old) who are still at it today, even as we continually have to prove why we should have equal rights under the law.

What is your favourite Feminist quote?

"I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I'm beautiful. I say if I'm strong. You will not determine my story—I will."

Amy Schumer (my favorite comedian and all around badass gal!)

What is your proud feminist victory?

Okay, so in thinking about this question, my first gut response was: getting married at 35 instead of 22. I know that might seem odd or a little backwards to some that one of my proudest feminist victories has to do with marriage...but hear me out!

Giving myself the time and space to allow for career and personal growth, the ability to travel solo and with friends, learn that I can make strategic decisions about money and how I want to spend my time and where I want to live and what charitable causes are important to me, all shape who I am today. It's tempting to fall for the societal pressures around women getting married to the first guy they meet and having children by the time you're 30 and so on and so forth, but to resist all that noise in favor of establishing yourself as an independent woman feels like a real win. And by no means is this intended to suggest that if you got married at 22, you did it wrong! This was just a personal victory for me, gals, especially if you knew what a 'winner' my college boyfriend was. 😂

What is your feminist recommendation?

  • Book: Amy Poehler's Yes, Please
  • TV show: I recently finished Mrs. America, about the fight for the Equal Rights Act in America. While it's based on American history, any woman watching will appreciate the nuances shown of navigating relationships, politics, men, family life and otherwise. Plus, the cast is made up of about a million noteworthy actresses.
  • Film: Recently watched The Forty-Year-Old Version. Quite the story/comedy/tragedy all wrapped up into one.

What is your feminist call of action to whoever is reading?

Never settle for less than what you absolutely know you're worth, no excuses. Whether that's in friendships, funding for your business, relationships, job offers, or anything else that comes your way. Women sometimes default to accepting a particular set of circumstances that in no way benefits them in order to accommodate others. F*ck that, because you're worth so much more, so go out and get it.

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