Ilene Fischer, Founder of WomenLEAD, Inc.
Ilene Fischer’s BIO
IN THE SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
1. Please tell us about the inception of WomenLEAD, Inc.
Fischer: I started my career as a chemical engineer in 1980. I was the first woman engineer ever hired at Raytheon in Andover, MA. But I was horrified to realize how isolated I was. There were no mentors, role models, or clear career paths—and the work environment was unsupportive and at times even hostile to women.
In 2012, when I was the CEO of WEST, a non-profit to advance women in science & technology, I read the Harvard Business Review’s “Athena Factor Report” that said 53% of all women leave their career not to take care of their family, but for the same reasons I left my engineering career: lack of mentors and role models; feeling isolated; having no clear career path; and unsupportive work environments. I knew at that moment that it was time to make an impact on this problem. That’s when I founded WomenLEAD.
As CEO of WEST, I put together a personal advisory board of 22 women and men, and in 18 months, we tripled the revenue and doubled the membership. I asked myself, what if every women had an advisory board to help them with their goals? How would that impact their development? That’s why I founded WomenLEAD.
2. Please share with us a sample of your day, start to finish.
Fischer: I wake up between 7 and 8 am and I meditate for 5-30 minutes each day. I check to see if there are any important emails I need to attend to.
I skim the Boston Globe, BBJ, NYT, Recode, and HuffPost Women. And scan the news from the women’s groups I’m connected with on LinkedIn. If I find interesting stories that are related to women’s issues, I post them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Then I get dressed and go to our office at MassChallenge, the startup accelerator. I get there between 9:30 and 11 am and start working with the team. This week, we are working on the design of the dashboard and inviting Super Advisors to join our site. I am usually at the MassChallenge until 5 to 7 pm.
I have Google Alerts set up on women’s issues, so late in the day I look at the alerts and post on Twitter or LinkedIn any interesting stories I find. I attend an average of two to three events a week at The Boston Club, The Capital Network, or women’s entrepreneurs’ groups. I network at those events for specific reasons—for instance, to meet someone I haven’t met before or to recruit Super Advisors for our platform. When I get home at night, I usually have hours of writing to do—posts for The Huffington Post, applications for various awards, and follow-up emails.
I work until 10 pm, watch a TV show, then work until 11:30 pm to 1 am.
3. What are your ‘can’t live without’ software applications?
Fischer: Twitter, Linkedin, Paper.li, Evernote, and Uber.
4. What are tricks for accomplishing so much under tight deadlines?
Fischer: Prioritizing, doing what I say I will do, following up with people, and staying focused.
I often work for 20- to 60-minute chunks of time to accomplish one thing, and then I take a break and start on the next task. I walk inside and outside, which helps me think and clear my mind.
5. What was the best advice you received when you started your career?
Fischer: Nothing is impossible! You can accomplish whatever you set out to do. Also, never give up! I am very tenacious.
6. What are your strategies for building awareness of WomenLEAD, Inc. for the short term and the long term?
Fischer: We are working on releasing our Minimum Viable Product, which will launch in the next three weeks. We are in stealth mode right until the soft launch. We have Biogen Idec, Kimberly Clark, and seven additional F500 companies that will beta test with us.
We have a great relationship with the media. The documentary that Verizon produced has created a lot of awareness about WomenLEAD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK9AHGE-b3U I am looking to speak at women’s leadership conferences and I regularly post for HuffPost Women. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ilene-fischer/the-unintended-consequenc_3_b_4769887.html?utm_hp_ref=tw
7. What are your proudest professional achievements?
Fischer: Becoming a 2013 MassChallenge Finalist and receiving the 2013 Verizon Powerful Answers Award. Also, when I was a management consultant, selling and managing a seven-year consulting contract to NASA Langley Research Center. The first 2.5 years represented a 5.5 million-dollar contract.
8. How do you maintain the work-life balance? Is it a challenge or does it come naturally to you?
Fischer: I do not believe in work-life balance. I believe in work-life integration. By meditating, by walking, and by being in touch with friends and family, I experience the integration.
I do not think there is balance. Sometimes you are busy, other times not. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you do not have an issue with what some might perceive as a lack of balance. We all need to take time for ourselves, but when you are passionate about something you often throw yourself into it 100%. That being said, you have to plan time for yourself.
9. What are your top 3 book recommendations?
The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World by Helen Fisher.
The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future by John Gerzema.
Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used by Peter Block.
10. What charitable causes are most meaningful to you and why?
Fischer: Non-profits that focus on women and girls.
11. Who has influenced your career the most?
Fischer: My mother. She told me not to learn how to type. She did not want me to be a secretary, so I never learned how to type. She told me I could do what ever I wanted to do in life. She was a great role model as a single parent with three daughters. She completed her B.S., got an M.S., and changed her career three times. She was a powerhouse. She ran “Women Strike for Peace” in New Jersey. We were marching to “Ban the Bomb” in the late sixties. Later in her life, she was managing quality in healthcare for the prison system in New York City. She also ran the tenants association at Yorkville Towers when they converted to condos. She never gave up and was a fighter. She got what she wanted and worked hard for it. I know she would be proud of what we are doing with WomenLEAD.
12. What is your advice for women entrepreneurs interested in starting a business?
Fischer: Starting a business is the most wonderful and terrifying experience. You are your own boss. Yes, you get to make decisions, but without your team you will be lost.
Make sure you can focus full-time on your venture. You should have two years of living expenses and about $100 to 200K in capital, which will barely get you through the first year.
Engage people in your ideas—everyone, all of the time. Get into a start-up accelerator. The community and mentors will push you to accelerate results. If you have a co-founder, make sure you know the person well and you really think it will work. If you have any doubt about your co-founder, do not go forward with her or him.
I am a solo founder with a great team. My husband has been our CTO, but he is not a co-founder. I am glad he isn’t. When we disagree on things, we both know we cannot dig our heels in and we have to learn to pick our battles. We are totally aligned with the vision and mission of the company. Co-founders have to be totally aligned with the vision and mission of the company.