Exclusive: Lauren Maillian on Her New Role as Interim CEO at digitalundivided
I first saw Lauren Maillian in action speaking as a panelist at Black Women Talk Tech’s “Roadmap to Billions” 2018 conference in New York City. The discussion was around Black women entrepreneurs, and Maillian couldn’t have been more knowledgeable on the subject, and charismatic in the telling of her journey to becoming an entrepreneur as the founder & CEO of LMB Group, a strategic marketing and brand advisory company driving consumer connection and brand innovation, and a brand in her own right. I recall that her story stood out; she had moxie.
A year later, she spoke on a panel that I moderated at the National Urban League’s Annual Conference. Again, she contributed a unique and engaging energy to the group as we discussed strategic ways to raise capital for businesses.
So, when I heard that she had recently become Interim CEO of digitalundivided, Kathryn Finney’s masterpiece of a social enterprise launched to empower Black and Latino women to own their work through entrepreneurship and innovation, I thought, “makes sense.” Not only is she a long-time board member of digitalundivided (she also serves on the board of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Engagement), Maillian is a sought-after speaker who has offered thought leadership at Harvard, Columbia, and Cornell Universities; at Fortune 500 companies including Google, Dell, Ernst and Young (EY), Prudential, Ogilvy, L’Oréal, LinkedIn and Bloomberg; and at industry-leading conferences and events such as Social Media Week, ColorComm and AdWeek.
She has received numerous awards and accolades for her achievements, including a 2011 Kauffman Foundation Empact100 top 100 entrepreneurs under 30 Award; a nod from Essence as a 2013 “Shot Caller” to watch in business; a Smart CEO Brava Award in 2015; and a spot on Walker’s Legacy’s 2016 WL50Power List, honoring women making strides in the business and philanthropic community.
The author of a 2014 best-selling memoir, “The Path Redefined: Getting To the Top On Your Own Terms,” Maillian serves as Master Marketer and co-star of the popular Oxygen series, “Quit Your Day Job.”
We recently spoke about her new role.
TNJ.com: Congratulations on your new role as Interim CEO at digitalundivided! I’ve covered the company quite a bit over the past few years, so I’m familiar with its mission. Have there been any major changes recently, or is the overall mission of the organization still the same?
Lauren Maillian: Hi Sergie! It’s so great to be connected again, this time as CEO of digitalundivided! As you know, I’m passionate about empowering and supporting women as part of my life’s mission and that’s at the core of our work at digitalundivided. I want to help equip women, especially women of color, to succeed especially in innovation and industries where they are typically underrepresented and often underestimated.
It’s a true honor to be able to lead our incredible organization at a time when our mission and purpose has never been more critical and necessary. Our mission remains the same, and as a longtime supporter and advisor to the organization since its inception in 2011, and most recently as co-chair of the board of directors, this is the pivotal moment for us as an organization to expand the definition of who we serve. The definition of an entrepreneur and innovator is changing in front of our eyes. digitalundivided continues to shape and create the solutions to the obstacles our community encounters in this new normal. We are fully tapping into the power of digital to continue impacting, building, and catalyzing the genius of Black and Latinx women in spaces of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our mission is stronger and more dynamic than it’s ever been.
TNJ.com: You have over 15 years of experience in entrepreneurial management, marketing and investments. Based on your background, is there a unique approach you plan to bring to the role?
Lauren Maillian: YES! As with all leadership transitions, comes a different interpretation of how to best achieve the goals and meet the milestones of the company. I’ve watched digitalundivided grow and expand over the years, and I am intimately aware of the challenges of being early to identify problems that need to be solved from my own entrepreneurial and investment pursuits. digitalundivided was incredibly early as a company to call out the need for diversity in innovation across tech, media, and life sciences for Black and Latinx women. Now our organization understands the challenges of this particular moment in time – which has disproportionately impacted us, and those we serve every day. We are at the center of the mainstream conversation and this requires a unique and newly-minted approach. The pandemic and the racial reckoning have highlighted, and in many ways exacerbated, the problem(s) we have been working to solve for over eight years.
We will be changing and enhancing our approach to problem-solving, expanding the depth and breadth of our proprietary research to ensure we most accurately reflect and capture the data and insights of the pre and post pandemic impacts. We will closely follow new trends that are still evolving to determine how that shifts the narrative and needs of Black and Latinx women in innovation.
We will also be debuting and releasing many more digital offerings of our proven programs. On Juneteenth, we hosted our very first virtual conference, undivided We Rise, and we have a new social media LIVE series on Instagram and Facebook entitled undivided ATTENTION. In addition to digitizing our proven programs, START, and our BIG incubator, we are also bringing our digital alumni and community together online soon for ongoing product support and professional development. My current focus is our own organizational innovation to ensure we are always ahead of the curve and the best thought leader and resource to our community when, and before they even know, they need us.
TNJ.com: Through digitalundivided, you released a study in May about the impact of COVID-19 on Black women entrepreneurs. Let’s break it down. Some key takeaways from the report are the following:
· 98% report of black female entrepreneurs found that their business has been directly impacted by COVID-19
· 82% report that they have experienced decrease/loss of revenue
· Only 12% expressed an ability to pay themselves a sustainable wage
· 51% report that their businesses will sustain themselves for “less than one month”
Can you elaborate on some of these findings?
Lauren Maillian: Our research around the impacts of COVID-19 surveyed 1157 women of color. We sought to identify and understand the immediate and long term impacts of the pandemic on them personally, their families, and their businesses. We know that women of color are often the leaders and breadwinners at home and that the confluence of events during the pandemic created new paradigms that we wanted and, in many ways, were compelled to explore. The power of our research is that it underscores our thought leadership, informs our programming, and in this instance, allows us to know how to best be reactive when historically we are a proactive organization.
TNJ.com: The study includes data based on Guidant Financials’ survey of over 3,000 business owners. What did the survey reveal about the industries that most Black-owned businesses affected by COVID-19 are in, and what steps can be taken to help these businesses recover?
Lauren Maillian: COVID-19 is unprecedented because it has affected all businesses and all industries. Black-owned businesses need pipelines for new business, many need to find new vendors, partners, and manufacturers to keep their companies going. The pandemic highlighted a level of comfortability for business owners who feel a plan A and plan B is enough. The pandemic showed that agility, quick response, and resourcefulness are the most critical skills to have in order to survive and thrive through unprecedented challenges.
TNJ.com: In 2017, it was reported that out of $85 billion in VC funding, only 2.2% went to female founders, and every year, women of color founders get less than 1% of total funding. Yet, women of color founders are the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs. Do you think those numbers are still accurate three years later? If so, what would it take to turn that bleak statistic around?
Lauren Maillian: Stay tuned for our Project Diane 2020 Research Report out in the fall! Those numbers are still very concerning and we will likely not see drastic improvement – especially with COVID-19. This is our moment to turn that bleak statistic around. The entire team at digitalundivided works hard to ensure that we continue to provide the solutions our communities need and ensure that the change we work to create today is sustained for years to come.
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