Women, Entrepreneurship, and Atlanta in the New South

On Tuesday, February 16th, 2021 the Rockefeller Center welcomed Monica Delores Hooks to speak in its virtual public policy broadcast, Rocky Watch. The lecture, entitled "Women, Entrepreneurship, and Atlanta in the New South," highlighted the policy and leadership initiatives coming from the city of Atlanta, as part of the Portman Lectures in the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. As Executive Director of Atlanta's Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI), as well as founder and CEO of m-oracle, Monica is fluent in innovation policy, entrepreneur workforce programs, financial capacity building and entrepreneur retention and development, as it pertains to women's entrepreneurship throughout Atlanta. Monica relayed this knowledge through her lecture, which focused on the success she has experienced in creating economic mobility and economic resilience through women's entrepreneurship. 

Monica opened her discussion by addressing society's common narrative that women aren't businesspeople. Contrary to popular belief, women-owned businesses are proven to be more resilient than their male-counterparts and could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.  When I asked why this narrative exists despite statistics clearly suggesting otherwise, and what we can do to combat it, Monica replied, "those stereotypes exist. Those gender-biases exist. If you are looking at this space as a career, you should acknowledge it and know it, and put together your strategy for maneuvering through it and don't let anything else hold you down." This sentiment is echoed by Monica's attempts to reach into Atlanta's communities and help young women develop and leverage their skills, so that they are prepared and confident entering the world of entrepreneurship if they so choose.

These very skills are what Monica attributes to the WEI program's continued success. The program consists of four pillars, working with founders on their leadership development, strategic partnerships, and funding opportunities. Empowering women with the necessary knowledge and skills gives them the support that they need to start or stay in business, reducing the marginalization that comes with gender biases. While leadership development and securing financial capital are both integral parts of the program's success, Monica noted that if you "get the skills to build a business, the money will come." While capital is certainly important, it is not the be-all and end-all for budding entrepreneurs.

Monica's advice clearly has its merits, considering the WEI program has created over 370 jobs and secured $2.2 million in capital investments. However, her goal is to scale the program up from its current cohort of 15 entrepreneurs, expanding the program so that it can reach a "much greater community of entrepreneurs, both in the greater Atlanta area and throughout the world." Monica aims to accomplish this goal by entering the public, as opposed to government-owned, space, so that more people know about the program and can take advantage of the resources that it offers.

The WEI program has helped expose the huge disparities that exist in our society for women entrepreneurs. The program's continued success in creating economic mobility through the empowerment of women, shows just how much potential there is for women to continue breaking the mold and leveraging their knowledge and skills in the corporate world. Great work has been done but needs to continue to be done to revolutionize the economic and social inequalities faced by women business owners.

Written by Sydney Towle '22, Rockefeller Center Student Assistant for Public Programs