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Sidonie Kiner reads a poem alongside her mother, Reverb CEO Mikaela Kiner, at the Champion Awards in Seattle on Thursday at the Pacific Science Center. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Our world says women can’t break through …

All women should be born with a sledgehammer to smash through that glass wall …

All we want is gender equality …

Women’s rights are human rights …

The crowd fell silent as Sidonie Kiner read a poem written by her friend that echoed core themes of the Champion Awards, an event held Thursday night in Seattle that celebrated local women founders, investors, entrepreneurs, and others.

By the time Sidonie finished the poem, called Pantoum of a Glass Ceiling, the tears were flowing for some of the 300 people in attendance. At her side was Sidonie’s mother, Reverb co-founder and CEO Mikaela Kiner, who helped co-host the second annual event with the Female Founders Alliance (FFA), a Seattle-based startup aiming to help close the gender gap in angel and venture financing.

The event’s purpose is to put a spotlight on champions for gender equity across categories such as “The Advocate,” “The Founder,” and “Unsung Heroes.” Kiner, who heads up Seattle-based HR consulting firm Reverb, and Leslie Feinzaig, CEO of FFA, were joined by leaders from organizations such as WTIA, Bank of America, the Seattle Office of Economic Development, and many more on Thursday at the Pacific Science Center.

“We bonded over our hopes that the world and workplace would be better and more inclusive for our daughters,” Kiner said of her partnership with Feinzaig. “We want women to have equal opportunities. We want women to have equal pay. Primarily, we want women to have a voice. We want for women to be seen for our values and recognized for our contributions.”

(Female Founders Alliance Photo)

Female Founders Alliance was born from Feinzaig and her members’ experiences seeking to raise investment capital. Less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars went to all-women founding teams last year, a number that hasn’t moved much in recent years despite more attention on the gaps.

Women-founded companies accounted for just 16 percent of first venture capital financings between 2005-2017, according to a Center for American Entrepreneurship study. This year, Silicon Valley Bank researchers found 63 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors and 47 percent have no women in leadership.

Men outnumber women three to one in the tech industry, according to stats shared last month at the HopperX1 Seattle conference.

Across all industries, women earn around 79 cents for each dollar a man makes, according to 2019 study from PayScale, based on an “uncontrolled” gender pay gap calculation. The gap has narrowed by 1 percent over the past year.

Leslie Feinzaig, founder of the Female Founders Alliance, speaks at Thursday’s event. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Feinzaig, who is 37 weeks pregnant with her second child, gave an impassioned speech to close out the event that recounted how her own life experiences growing up in Costa Rica and immigrating to the U.S. have helped shape her views on equality and unity today.

“Allyship, championship — they are not binaries,” Feinzaig said. “The world, as much as you might not believe it, is not made up of allies and assholes. All of us are in the imperfect, messy middle.”

The FFA founder said she wants her daughter to live in a world not divided but rather “where we can all be each other’s allies.”

“To those with the dreams, those who are unseen, those that have been hearing the us vs. them language for so long, that have been told we don’t have the power, that we are less than — I just want to say that you do have power,” Feinzaig told the crowd. “You have power and you can use it. There’s power in being beaten down. There’s power in not having anything. There’s power in not being seen, because when you’re beaten down, you learn how to get back up and when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. And when you’re on unseen, then nobody sees you coming.”

Leslie Feinzaig, founder of the Female Founders Alliance. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Here are the other winners from the Champion Awards, with category descriptions from FFA and Reverb.

The Role Model: The role demonstrates what is possible for ambitious women. She is someone with a long trajectory, demonstrated integrity and leadership in her field, who inspires other women to strive for greatness.

Winner: Jill Angelo, CEO and co-founder, genneve

Jill Angelo, CEO and co-founder of Seattle startup genneve. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The Sponsor: The sponsor leverages their network and resources to help the women that they mentor advance and succeed in their career.

Winner: Shellie Willis, founder, Redefining You Foundation

Shellie Willis, founder, Redefining You Foundation. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The Investor: The investor has literally put “their money where their mouth is” when it comes to investing in women- and non-binary-led businesses and helping founders succeed.

Winner: Yoko Okano, angel investor and founding member, Grubstakes

Yoko Okano, angel investor and founding member, Grubstakes. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The Advocate: The advocate is an individual or organization who uses their public platform to promote and advance women’s causes.

Winner: Julie Pham, PhD, vice president, community engagement and marketing, WTIA

Julie Pham (left), PhD, vice president, community engagement and marketing, WTIA. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The Company: This organization has created a work culture that supports and advances women, forging meaningful outcomes for its employees that run counter to what’s typical in its industry as a whole.

Winner: Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream

Molly Moon’s founder Molly Moon Neitzel. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Unsung Heroes: Often working behind the scenes, these are the champions who uplift women entrepreneurs every day. They provide opportunities, support, and mentoring. They excel in delivering others into the spotlight. The seven recipients announced at the Champion Awards are:

– Jennifer Arlem Molina, lead consultant, j.a.Molina Creative

– Michaela Ayers, founder, Nourish

– Mar Brettmann, PhD, founding executive director, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST)

– Chelsea Cooper, co-chair, Starbucks Women’s Impact Network

– Laura Espriu, founder & principal consultant at Laura Espriu Coaching & Consulting

– Judy Loehr, enterprise SaaS advisor, Bayla Ventures

– Amy Pak, founder, executive director, Families of Color Seattle

From left to right: Amy Pak, Founder, Executive Director, Families of Color Seattle; Judy Loehr, Enterprise SaaS Advisor, Bayla Ventures; Laura Espriu, Founder & Principal Consultant at Laura Espriu Coaching & Consulting; Michaela Ayers, Founder, Nourish; Jennifer Arlem Molina, Lead Consultant, j.a.Molina Creative; Chelsea Cooper, Co-chair, Starbucks Women’s Impact Network; and Mar Brettmann, PhD, Founding Executive Director, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST). (Female Founders Alliance Photo)

The Founder: The founder has persevered in the face of adversity to launch and grow a business. This is a peer award that was voted on by the members of the Female Founders Alliance.

Winner: Karen Okonkwo, co-founder, TONL (award accepted by colleague)

Editor’s note: Taylor Soper was a judge for the 2019 Champion Awards.

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