Building the audacity muscle:
An interview with serial entrepreneur and women’s empowerment leader Fatou N’Diaye
Fatou N’Diaye is used to making audacious moves. The serial entrepreneur and international speaker left the comfort of a thriving corporate career heading the trade department for one of the big four consulting firms to become an entrepreneur and NGO founder.
Her NGO, ‘The Wonders,’ is dedicated to empowering women to launch impact-driven projects – and so far it’s had an audacious impact. Through her organization, she has built a community of more than 500 female entrepreneurs who work each day to build their confidence in business and create a more inclusive world.
N’Diaye recently spoke at a Rakuten Roundtable on “Women at Work,” a virtual event organized for Rakuten employees in the EMEA region. At the event, N’Diaye shared her take on the importance of empowering women in the workplace and offered advice on how anyone can become more audacious.
“AT THE WONDERS, OUR GOAL IS TO EMPOWER WOMEN TO BUILD TOMORROW’S WORLD ALONGSIDE MEN, 50/50.” – FATOU N’DIAYE, SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR & INTERNATIONAL SPEAKER
Why inspired you to found The Wonders?
During the first lockdown, I ended up spending some time on a boat in the South of France. After a week, I was already bored not being able to organize meet-ups for the members of the B2B barter ecosystem I had built. I started looking at the main issues I was finding around me: men were being better at bartering because they were more bold and confident. So, by creating Great Village, a bartering community, I was recreating an unequal world. I then decided to create a bootcamp to help build women’s audacity. During the bootcamp, I would throw daily challenges to the women, for example, talk to a stranger, reach out to someone inspiring on LinkedIn, buy yourself flowers, write a letter to someone… After 7 weeks, I received extraordinary feedback from the women in the program: it had changed their lives! They had built a new muscle, “the audacity muscle”! They felt stronger, more confident. I realized I had created something unique and that’s how The Wonders was born.
How does The Wonders help women and how can they participate?
At the Wonders, our goal is to empower women to build tomorrow’s world alongside men, 50/50. To reach that ambitious goal we have 3 main activities:
- INSPIRATION: We have launched the International Women of Impact Day, a day dedicated to showcasing amazing women breaking the status quo to build a better society.
- EDUCATION: We created the Equity Workshop, a two and a half hour interactive workshop to learn about the source of inequality and injustice against women. This workshop is held within every type of organization, from large corporations to schools.
- ACTION: We have training programs for women entrepreneurs or employees who would like to build their audacity, confidence and launch impact-driven projects. Our 12-week program is based on weekly challenges that push women outside of their comfort zones and towards growth and success. Today, we have built a community of more than 500 women who build their confidence, learn and grow together.
“THE MORE CONFIDENT WOMEN ARE, THE EASIER IT IS FOR THEM TO ACT. CONFIDENCE EMPOWERS WOMEN TO TALK, WRITE, RAISE THEIR HANDS, RAISE THEIR FISTS, GET INVOLVED IN POLITICS AND EVEN START A BUSINESS.”
In your opinion, what is holding women back in their careers?
To understand why women remain dramatically underrepresented in higher levels of organizations, we have to look at cultural bias and universal beliefs. Women are more often seen as caretakers in our society, therefore they are more often ascribed supporting roles in organizations, and are expected to spend more time on childcare, while men are seen as breadwinners, who succeed in their careers and monetarily support their families. This bias creates an environment where women struggle to reach the top of the hierarchy. They are excluded from informal networks, they suffer stereotyping, they have to commit to family responsibilities. Then you add to that that they lack role models. They don’t often see other women at the top or have them there to mentor them. Unfortunately this also creates internal barriers, preventing them from building their confidence and audacity.
How did you come up with the idea of the audacity muscle and what advice would you give women to train and flex it?
“The more confident women are, the easier it is for them to act. Confidence empowers women to talk, write, raise their hands, raise their fists, get involved in politics and even start a business.” [womensconfidence.report]
Confidence is relational, and women can’t increase it on their own. They have to be part of a pack or a tribe to strengthen it: increasing confidence is something collective.
“TO UNDERSTAND WHY WOMEN REMAIN DRAMATICALLY UNDERREPRESENTED IN HIGHER LEVELS OF ORGANIZATIONS, WE HAVE TO LOOK AT CULTURAL BIAS AND UNIVERSAL BELIEFS.”
I learned that very early when I used to see my mum gather one Sunday a month with her friend to do a “tontine.” It’s a voluntary system of group savings intended to help meet large expenses. I could see how empowering it was for her to have this group of women to learn from and share experiences with. As I grew up, wherever I lived, I always had a pack of inspiring women around me.
How can men be better allies in the business environment?
I believe that men have a role to play in gender equality. Indeed, they are the ones who still hold the power and have to share it. I love the expression “share the mic,” which literally means let someone else on the center of the stage. How can men be better allies? By making sure every time they are invited on a panel discussion they also invite women, that they give female-written books and female heroes books to their children, that everyone fights for equal pay.
The motto for International Women’s Day this year is #BreakTheBias – What are some biases you think exist in the workplace and what advice would you give to help tackle them? One strong bias I observe is in investment committees: female founders receive fewer or less investment than men. That comes from deeply ingrained biases that men are better at leading enterprises, or less likely to drop out for family reasons. I believe that every investment committee should be mixed and trained on recognizing and eliminating these biases.