Meet our latest VOZWoman, Dee Poku-Spalding – a social entrepreneur who was born in the UK and raised between London and Accra.
She is the Co-Founder and CEO of WIE (Women Inspiration and Enterprise), a social network for women leaders and creators focused on supporting women in their career ambitions. WIE provides its members with educational programming, networking opportunities and unique access to established business leaders. Dee is also known for being one of the first to reimagine and democratize the conference sector for women, by launching the WIE Symposium back in 2010, one of the early modern women’s forums.
We interviewed Dee to collect her perspectives on entrepreneurship, motherhood, and life in general.
What are the cultural influences of your childhood?
I was born in the UK and then moved to Ghana at the age of 6, so my childhood was very much shaped by my experiences in those two countries. Ghana in particular guides my sense of self. Growing up there in what were my formative years, allowed me to navigate the world rooted in a strong sense of who I am and where I come from. As a black woman I cannot over emphasize how much it meant to look around and see people at the highest levels of business and society who looked like me. To have that feeling of true belonging. It meant nothing felt impossible.
Who were some of your early role models?
I mostly remember Oprah. In particular, I’ve always appreciated the ease with which she interacts with people. She’s interested in them for who they are and what they stand for. I’ve tried to model my own approach to community the same way. In my line of work I meet a lot of new people and I truly thrive on it. Not because of the social aspects but because of how enriching each encounter can be and how it anchors your sense of humanity. We learn so much from being around diversity in all its forms . Never walk into any room with preset ideas of who you are willing to talk to, or want to meet. Always stay open. Remember that everyone has a story, and you’ll be happily surprised by the outcomes.
The VOZWoman campaign is meant to give voice to women. How do you give women a voice?
I run a leadership platform and membership network called WIE, which is designed to help women succeed and thrive in the workplace. Women make up just 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs, as founders we receive only 3% of available investment funding, and in government, just 24% of parliamentarians are women. We are still so hugely underrepresented at the highest levels of business and society. We all know that much of career success is determined by our professional relationships and support systems. WIE helps women build and tap into those valuable networks. Above all, our goal to get women doing business together, hiring one another and supporting one another’s careers.
What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs, especially women of color?
Be part of a strong community. It’s tough to struggle through alone and there’s so much we can teach one another about the nuances of navigating the start up world. Why allow others to stumble when you’ve successfully navigated and learned from an experience?
Using every opportunity you can to broaden your network is also what’s going to get you closer to funding and to potential clients, partnerships and growth.
How can start-up culture better accommodate makers and creators who are also mothers?
I’ve heard so many stories of women founders hiding their pregnancies from potential investors or who went back to work too soon after giving birth to prove they had what it takes. If you work for yourself and are in a position to, take all the time you need. There’s no judgement and every pregnancy is different.
And don’t buy into the ‘hustle porn’ that’s all over social media - the fetishization of entrepreneurs overworking themselves. It’s not true and it’s not realistic. The best entrepreneurs work smart.
Overall, we just need to see more realistic depictions in the media of mothers who work, with the highs and the lows. And those in a position to, should lead by example.
You’ve written about the problem of father shaming on your blog. How can women support men in building a more empowered culture of masculinity?
It starts early, with how we raise our sons. We have to teach boys that it’s ok to express emotion. That it’s ok to cry. But we also have to model the right behaviors. Boys should ideally see their fathers contributing equally to housework and childcare. And as mothers we must never feel guilty about going out to work or loving our careers, and instead remember that we’re providing our children with positive examples of women who work outside the home and contribute financially to the household.
How does climate change play into your current thinking?
Marginalized communities will pay the highest price for global warming so it makes me so angry when those in positions of power stand by and do nothing. I try to play my part as an individual, removing as much plastic as possible from our home and trying never to use plastic bottles or bags. And we just started composting. From a clothing perspective, I’m also buying less overall, and focusing more on vintage and borrowing. It’s going to take all of us - both changing our personal habits as well as putting real pressure on world leaders to act.
What are some of your favorite self-care rituals?
Every morning I drink room temperature water and lemon juice. It’s a cleansing ritual I love. I also walk everywhere as it’s when I do my best thinking.
Where do you look to when you are in need of inspiration?
My two initial go to’s are my best friend Celine and my husband. They are my biggest fans! But I’m also lucky to have built an incredible network of friends and colleagues I can turn to in times of need, whether personal or professional.
When I’m feeling really stagnant I try to escape my immediate environment and travel, even if it’s a day trip somewhere. Just the act of changing your surroundings can have a huge impact.
What motivates you socially, creatively, and politically?
For me, it’s about having autonomy and agency. It’s having the ability to make my own decisions about who I work with, how I live, what I do or do not do with my body. It’s about being treated equally and having the same opportunities. I believe every woman deserves that right and that’s what informs my work on a daily basis.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been piloting a new kind of community focused on connecting women leaders and creators around curated dinner and salon experiences, and using their collective experience and expertise to help one another advance and succeed. We have some pretty awe inspiring members already including CMOs, heads of ad agencies, fashion designers, tech founders etc. I’m excited to finally launch this publicly early this year. Founders, creatives and senior level executives can apply via our website.