January 31, 2012 | Economic Opportunity

Woman of the Week: Victoria Colligan

A former corporate lawyer, Victoria Colligan started Ladies Who Launch to help women entrepreneurs combine passion and profit.

Woman of the Week: Victoria Colligan

By Anna Louie Sussman

This story may sound familiar: woman enters corporate world and works her tail off, only to find dissatisfaction at the top. She turns her back on the rat race, and launches the business of her dreams.

For Victoria Colligan, the happy ending at the end of the story was Ladies Who Launch, a full-spectrum resource dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs realize their dreams in turn. Ladies Who Launch convenes hands-on incubator workshops and networking events in dozens of cities across the United States, and has a virtual community of 50,000 subscribers.

After leaving her job at the New York law firm Kelley Drye and Warren, she worked briefly in the wedding industry. In 2002, she founded Ladies Who Launch, and co-wrote her first book, “Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship and Creativity as a Lifestyle.” Her second book, “Dream It, Launch It, Live It: Get the Life You Want in Five Minutes a Day,” comes out this month on Amazon. She spoke to Women in the World Foundation editor Anna Louie Sussman about entrepreneurship, women’s relationship with money, and why she’s intent on teaching her daughters financial literacy.

Can you describe the process of founding Ladies Who Launch? How did you decide to focus on ladies and why is that important?

It stemmed from my personal experiences working with women, specifically in the wedding industry. I kept running into these women who had started these successful businesses, and I kept thinking, “Wow, this is really cool – why have I never heard of her before?” Their stories just weren’t being told. In addition, a lot of these women entrepreneurs weren’t reading traditional business outlets to get the resources, information and the networks that they offer.

So that was the genesis – I wanted to get their stories out. The easiest way to do that was a weekly newsletter that would feature a different woman’s story each week. And then it grew very organically, as a lot of women-owned businesses do. As I built up this email list, I started to get responses from subscribers, asking for a network, asking to be connected, or for resources. My initial goal was just to share stories, but I felt a sense of responsibility. I need to figure out a way to provide more, and that’s how we began our in-person events, the first of which was held in New York in 2005.

I recently interviewed Gloria Feldt, whose last book examined the sometimes-uncomfortable relationship between women and power. Can you talk about women’s relationship with money?

I think that issue is really under-addressed. When I first started Ladies Who Launch, it was not about money at all for me. I thought, “If I can just make X dollars a year, I’ll be fine. I don’t care about the upside, I just want to be happy.” For some reason, I equated happiness and passion for my work with a lack of money. I do think it’s more important to women that their work reflects their passion, whereas the masculine mindset is “I don’t care what I do to make money, I can pursue my passion on the side.” 

I think a lot of messages that our parents, teachers and other influencers send us since we’re children – and I’m not entirely sure this is women-specific – cause us to believe that it’s impossible to make money in a passion-based career, so either do something else or resign to a life of poverty. It’s unfortunate because there are so many opportunities right now, in technology for example, that require creativity – and have a big win attached to them.

There’s also a certain amount of guilt attached to it. Women think, the only way I can make money is if I work 24/7, but I can’t work 24/7, because I want to have kids, so therefore I can’t make money. I can’t even begin to dig into the psychology of it, but there’s a sense that we’re not deserving of money, or that we have to make certain choices because we can’t “have it all.”

There’s a lot of research and debate about how “women-led management” differs from traditional management. What’s your take?

The typical 9-to-5 corporate job still revolves around a hierarchical, linear power structure, and I do think women are much more horizontal in the way they approach relationships, partnerships, work, family, all of it. Ideally you need a hybrid of male and female energy. There’s a place for emotional intelligence, and also a place for, “Okay, this is what needs to get done.”

In terms of the workplace, we’ve seen some small changes, like having daycare at work, but what we really need is an overhaul in the structure of all of it. Even if you can bring your kid to work, the mindset is still the same – it’s still revolving around the same core. There needs to be something that actually disrupts the core, and I think it needs to start with our educational system, among other things. The world is shifting, and there needs to be a rethink, a disruption of the core. Entrepreneurship has actually been one major disruption of the core: the fact that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men, and fewer of them are going to business schools, that does disrupt in a way.

You’ve mentioned your two young daughters a lot in the book and they clearly mean a lot to you. How has having a family has influenced your professional life?

The biggest thing I’ve seen is how it’s reoriented my focus on education. I’d really like to see more of a focus on business, on entrepreneurship, finance, cost-benefit analysis, the value of things, in our school system. We talked about women’s relationship with money – if we can start to do that in our next generation of girls, it will make a huge difference. For example, I give my daughters chores to do, and we talk about what the minimum wage is.

They go to a private school here in Cleveland, and I’ve been working with the school to create an entrepreneurship program, to create a finance program, where they start to learn the cost of making something versus selling something. There’s been a lot of focus on women and sports, which I think is great, but the next big shift needs to be training a business mindset from the ground up.

Anna Louie Sussman is a writer and editor for the Women in the World Foundation website, and a frequent contributor to major U.S. magazines and newspapers.