Burch’s company launched in 2004, with a humble boutique in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood. Since then it has blossomed into an international success with more than 150 independent stores and a presence in more than 3,000 department and specialty shops.
Today, she is using her influence to encourage more women and girls to roll up their sleeves and invest in their dreams.
“Women entrepreneurs are a vital part of our economy — yet they face tremendous obstacles,” she explains. “Compared to men, women struggle to access critical business resources, including capital to start and grow their businesses.”
The glass ceiling
Women who own businesses face more barriers to obtaining financing for their ventures than similarly situated men do. Research by Wells Fargo and the Center for Women’s Business Research found that 52 percent of women business owners, as opposed to 59 percent of men business owners, had access to bank credit. Further, in fast-growth firms, only 39 percent of women owners had bank loans, compared to 52 percent of men owners.
In 2009, the self-starter launched the Tory Burch Foundation in an effort to help level the playing field. It’s mission: providing female small business owners with access to reasonable loans, continued education and free online resources.
“Through our program with Bank of America, we are providing one million dollars in affordable loans each month,” Burch outlines. “More than 140 women have graduated from our education program with Goldman Sachs, and the business planning tool on our website has helped more than 10,000 women get started.”
More women, better business
Burch is also focused on destigmatizing ambition for businesswomen.
“In one of my first interviews, when the reporter mentioned the word ‘ambitious,’ I commented that the word annoyed me,” Tory recalls. “A friend of mine said, ‘You should never shy away from that word.’ She was right.”
In a recent study by the University of Chicago, single women in an elite MBA program responded to a career survey with lower salary targets and acceptable levels of work travel if they thought their responses might be visible to their classmates.
“I realized that I had bought into the stigma that women shouldn’t be ambitious — that it was unattractive,” Burch continues. “If we are truly to achieve parity in the workplace, we have to own our bold ideas, celebrate our aspirations and embrace ambition.”
A balancing act
From health care to manufacturing, the most persistent conversation about women in the workplace has revolved around achieving a “healthy work-life balance.”
“It is always a work in progress,” Tory explains. “For me, it comes down to setting clear priorities — my boys come first no matter what.”
One Mental Health Foundation survey found that many more women report workplace unhappiness than men (42 percent of women, compared with 29 percent of men), which is in all likelihood a result of competing life roles and more pressure to “’juggle.”
“Time management is key,” adds Burch. “It helps that I am very good at multitasking. But the line between work and family can be porous in a good way. I love when my family joins me on inspiration trips and, at this point, my team feels like part of my extended family.”
Burch’s advice for women hoping to become successful entrepreneurs?
“Embrace ambition,” she urges. “There is never any need to hide the fact that you want to grow and thrive. Part of that means always thinking big. If your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.”