A Full Circle Moment (Part Deux)

Last month I had the opportunity to sit down, surrounded by some magical women who I am lucky enough to work with, and across from a senior White House official and senior White House advisor, to talk about the issues that motivated me to start All Places in the first place: capital equity, women fund managers, and female entrepreneurship. Here’s what happened.

In the early evening of July 20, I walked into Kimika restaurant in Nolita, where we’d chosen to host the dinner. Trying to find a restaurant with a beautiful and available private room with less than a week’s notice had been a challenge, but with the help of some amazing White House staff (thank you, Hazel and Dhruv) and a bit of luck, this is where we landed. As it turned out, it was perfect. 

After taking a look around and talking to the woman who was going to be taking care of us that night, I settled into one of the wicker chairs in the corner of the room. I’m sure I looked crazy, fully decked out in an ALC jumpsuit I’d bought a year before but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to wear, sitting there just staring at the table. But I’d arrived early because I needed at least a few minutes to soak it all in. It’s easy to launch into an evening like this and get so caught up in everything that you’re never fully there to experience any of it. So here I was, in it. I ordered some icy cold Pellegrino (it’s been a hot summer here in NYC!) and a bottle of sparkling rosé, poured myself a glass, and sipped it slowly as I walked around the room. Soon people started to arrive. 

Our clients came first. When I’d agreed to host the dinner in NYC and was invited to bring a small group of women, I had no idea what kind of attendee list I could cobble together on such short notice. As it turns out (and, in retrospect, not surprisingly), this was a pretty hot ticket. Then came the “advance” team, checking in to make sure everything was in order, and Carrie Lee, senior advisor to the Department of Commerce. 

Then, finally (but remarkably on time), came Don Graves, the Deputy Secretary of Commerce for the United States. Chills. He was accompanied by Lauren Kerner, his “body” person. My mind immediately went to Veep’s Gary Walsh, but there was no Leviathan and I didn’t at any point in the evening hear her ask the Deputy Secretary if he needed a nice almond croissant.

What followed was magical. It’s one thing to get asked to spend the evening with someone from the White House to talk about a topic near and dear. That is one thing and that thing is amazing. As it turns out, it’s a whole other thing when that person from the White House is in fact deeply committed to, and educated on, that topic. This dinner was not a casual gab session, or capital equity “lite,” or a roundtable of moaning. It was a genuine discussion about the importance of capital equality for all Americans, where we are, why we are where we are, and what the federal government can do to affect the status quo. This was a conversation amongst people who were already experts. 

I was blown away but not at all surprised by the level of discourse. Each woman at that dinner brought very specific and succinct suggestions about what needed to change. And they weren’t blah blah talking point suggestions, they were concrete recommendations. They were concrete because they were each speaking from their own experience as business owners. At the same time, it was clear from the knowing looks exchanged between Ms. Lee and the Deputy Secretary that they were not considering these topics for the first time. This wasn’t a first draft meeting. This was a “we already have a very detailed and well-researched outline and we just want to fully level up before we make anything final” meeting. They weren’t looking for us to do the work for them (how refreshing to those of us who have been responsible for managing corporate diversity efforts and employee resource groups for free)--they had already done the work. They just wanted to make sure they weren’t missing anything.

We were also educated by them on some of the resources the Department of Commerce already has on offer. Seriously, check out their website. We’re hoping to offer a more in-depth overview of these programs this fall, but for now I’ll highlight one: Build to Scale. There is money (grants!) out there for new fund managers and early stage companies. Give it a look.

But hey, it wasn’t all stats and policy. This is a topic that was personal to each person at that table and the conversation was also very personal. Everyone there shared why this mattered so much to them. There were tears . . . at multiple points in the evening. And when the Deputy Secretary needed to depart in preparation for some early morning meetings, more tears and laughter ensued. That portion of the conversation I will keep to myself. ;)

Before that night, I have to admit I didn’t have the greatest confidence that the people working in our government were truly committed to doing anything other than getting re-elected and talking a whole lot about themselves and about how people that weren’t them really sucked. That seems to occupy about 90% of the political discourse in this country. If I’m being honest, I assumed that many political appointees had received their positions due primarily to campaign contributions and their goal while in office was to find as many ways as possible to celebrate themselves. If Deputy Secretary Graves is at all representative of the people populating the White House, my assumption was wrong. So, so wrong.

As I sat on the B-train back to Brooklyn, crossing over the Manhattan Bridge with a view of the sparkling downtown, Brooklyn Bridge, and Statue of Liberty, I soaked it all up. I remembered the subway ride home after that dinner two years ago, and the sense of relief, elation, and disbelief I experienced then. Here I was again, this time with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and astonishment at what is possible. 

And then the next day there was this.

--Jessie Gabriel

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