Rhonda Sciortino: 5 Best Ways to Empower More Women to Become Founders

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Rhonda Sciortino

Rhonda Sciortino wrote the book 30 Days to Happiness, which was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and included in her Kind Box.

In her book, Rhonda Sciortino “used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success.”

As proof of her methods, Rhonda Sciortino has “built two successful businesses.” Then she “turned her attention to helping others to find their purpose and their authentic success.”

Rhonda Sciortino spent the first 16 years of her life in the child welfare system. Her mother had abandoned her with a neighbor. She also lived with a “dysfunctional grandfather and addicted grandmother in a shack the size of a garage.”

Later on, Rhonda Sciortino spent a short time with a “foster family who showed me that there was a different way to live.” The family “didn’t yell or hit each other.” They also “had a clean house and plenty to eat.” More importantly, they “were kind” to her.

When she turned 16, Rhonda Sciortino finally emancipated herself. She credits this to “an amazing teacher” who “taught me typing and shorthand,” as well as an insurance agent who hired her.

Rhonda Sciortino would take the knowledge she gained from the insurance and “pair it with what I knew about foster care.”

For the next 30 years, Rhonda Sciortino protected and defended the “good people and organizations that care for children who have been abused.”

Check out more interviews with women advocates here. You can also watch Rhonda Sciortino in conversation here:

They told me that there was a purpose for my life — a revelation to a little girl who believed that she was an accident of biology who was unwanted and unloved. Rhonda Sciortino

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Rhonda Sciortino: I was in the child welfare system for the first 16 years of my life. I got there after my mother left me with a neighbor and never came back.

I spent most of that first 16 years with my dysfunctional grandfather and addicted grandmother in a shack the size of a garage that didn’t have functional plumbing.

I spent a brief part of that time with a foster family who showed me that there was a different way to live.

They didn’t yell or hit each other. They had a clean house and plenty to eat. They were kind to me.

And the best part was that they believed that I had worth and value. They told me that there was a purpose for my life — a revelation to a little girl who believed that she was an accident of biology who was unwanted and unloved.

I was able to emancipate at age 16 because an amazing teacher taught me typing and shorthand, and an insurance agent gave me a job.

What I had no way of knowing then was that I would take what I learned in the insurance office and pair it with what I knew about foster care, and I would spend the next three decades protecting and defending the good people and organizations that care for children who have been abused.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Rhonda Sciortino: There are so many, but the first story that comes to mind is the first time that I went to an industry association meeting for child welfare organization executives.

It was in Los Angeles at a fancy venue.

I had never driven the “spaghetti bowl of freeways” in LA.

I didn’t have the right clothes, and I was an off-the-chart introvert, so when I walked in and saw all those well-dressed professionals talking and laughing like they had all been friends for years, I was a nervous wreck, overwhelmed with intimidation.

I kept my head down and made my way to the ladies’ room. I sat in the little lounge area trying to muster up the courage to meet the prospective clients who wouldn’t be together in one place again for a year.

If I didn’t pull myself together and get out there, I’d have to try to get appointments to meet them individually, which seemed like an even more overwhelming task.

As I sat there beating myself up for wasting time in the ladies’ room, a bubbly, vivacious woman came bouncing into the ladies’ lounge like the Tigger character from Winnie the Pooh!

The minute she laid eyes on me she said, “Hi, my name is Connie. I’m here with the California Association of Children’s Homes. Who are you? Are you here with my group? What’s your name? This is my first time. What about you?”

Her words flew out in rapid fire, and my mind was spinning. She was so outgoing and unafraid even though she was there for the first time just like I was.

Before I knew it, Connie grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out of the ladies’ room and into the meeting room.

She literally took me from table to table and introduced herself and me.

Everyone loved her. She was a bright light in the room!

By the time we got to the fourth or fifth table in the room, Connie introduced me as the singer for the evening. I thought I was going to faint.

After a brief pause, she started laughing, and so did the people at the table, and I could finally exhale.

That was 1989, and Connie Rae Clendenan and I have been friends ever since … and I never could have imagined it then, but we have been the singing entertainment at many conference receptions since our meeting in the ladies’ room!

“You can succeed because of what you’ve been through!”

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Rhonda Sciortino: This is the most embarrassing thing I’ll ever admit, but here goes.

When I was first starting out, I was flying all over the country working 60–80 hours every week trying to change the way child welfare organizations were insured.

Back then I didn’t have an assistant. I was traveling so much and had so many different trips and meetings planned, that I would throw everything I thought I’d need for a trip into a standing file and not even get a moment to look at it until I had arrived.

On one trip, I arrived after 11 p.m. for a conference after a 5-hour flight from California to Florida. I got off the plane and made my way to the rental car counter.

While I was standing in line to rent my car, I rooted around in my travel file to find my hotel confirmation.

It wasn’t there. I dumped out the entire folder and found that not only did I not have the hotel information, I didn’t have the conference brochure.

I had no idea where the conference was being held.

This was before everything was on the internet, so I couldn’t simply look it up.

It was way too late to call anyone, so I turned the rental car towards St. Petersburg, Florida, the town where I remembered that the conference was to be held, and hoped the conference location would somehow come back to me during the drive.

It did not.

For most of the drive, the street lights lit up the road, but there were no lights to be seen on either side of the highway.

I had never been to that part of Florida before, so I had no clue what I was looking for.

When I finally saw a gas station, I pulled off the road. The clerk had no idea what hotels in St. Petersburg might be large enough to host a conference.

So I headed out to the payphone in the parking lot to try to find a phone book. (Note to the young’uns — phone books were these big directory books that listed businesses in an area.)

I stood in the dimly lit phone booth looking for hotels in the yellow pages. (By this time it was around 1 a.m.)

I called the ones that had advertisements because it seemed that they might be large enough to host a conference.

On the second call, GOOD NEWS! I found the hotel where the conference was being held.

The BAD NEWS was that they didn’t have a reservation for me, and they were sold out.

Yes, my most embarrassing moment was that I had registered for this conference months before, flown 5 hours, and had completely forgotten to make a hotel reservation.

When the clerk at the hotel told me it was sold out and that she had heard that the surrounding hotels were also sold out, I wanted to lose it.

I was exhausted. I looked hideous. I needed a shower.

And there was no way I was going to walk into a conference of clients and prospects after having slept in my rental car.

I was telling myself, “Keep it together. There’s no crying in business. Knock it off!

As I was saying to the hotel clerk, “I’ll stay in a room that needs to be remodeled or repaired, a coat closet, a cot in the back of the office, anything,” I remembered a story I had heard from Zig Ziglar about a time when he had needed a room in a sold-out hotel.

He asked the clerk if they had a presidential suite. She replied that they did, and he said, “Well, the president isn’t coming tonight, so I’ll take his room.

I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tried that corny joke with the clerk.

She asked me to hold on for a moment.

When she came back to the phone, she said, “Come to the hotel; we’re putting you in the presidential suite. But we’ll have to move you into a different room tomorrow morning as soon as one becomes available.

I was never so relieved!

I arrived at that hotel looking like something the cat had dragged in.

The lady I had spoken to on the phone came around the desk and put her arm around my shoulder.

She walked me to the presidential suite where a basket of goodies was waiting for me courtesy of the manager who had given her the OK to put me in that room.

Thanks to that reservations clerk, the night manager, and Zig Ziglar, no one, until now, knew what a boneheaded mistake I had made!

Jerome Knyszewski: Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Rhonda Sciortino: “You can succeed because of what you’ve been through!”

This is relevant for me because it’s literally the story of my life!

I used the coping skills from my abusive, chaotic childhood, along with the character traits I developed then — traits including resilience, resourcefulness, determination, perseverance, tenacity, and more — to succeed in business and in life.

I feel so strongly about not wasting our painful experiences that I wrote a book called Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, a book about mining the lessons out of our painful experiences and using those things as stepping stones to our successful lives.

Among the other 12 books I’ve written is, Successful Survivors: The 8 Character Traits of Successful Survivors and How You Can Attain Them, which is specifically about the character traits of people who have survived trauma and gone on to thrive.

We know that communities (and even countries) do better when women do better. Rhonda Sciortino

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Rhonda Sciortino:

1 . Women-supporting-women business support groups. Imagine a monthly meeting of women in business where everything shared in that room stayed confidentially in that room.

Imagine that competitors had to be in separate groups.

Imagine that the group was never larger than 14, and that every month these women in business knew that they’d be able to share their issues and get advice, opinions, and resources from every other woman in the group.

On top of all that, imagine a group facilitator who was a retired business woman who shared the wisdom and experience she had acquired in a career of successfully navigating the issues that individuals in the group faced.

This type of scenario exists, but not exclusively for women.

A group of this nature, exclusively for women in business, would give us the space to discuss openly, without judgement or criticism, the issues we typically face alone.

Women business leaders cannot go to a networking or leadership group and be totally transparent about the real issues they face in business, personal relationships, families, finances, etc.

The old saying, “It’s lonely at the top,” is more true for women than it ever has been for men because a woman who starts her own business typically has no one in her life who truly understands and can offer actionable advice and support.

How much farther would women business leaders be able to go with a group of like-minded, hard-working, resourceful women serving as their support group or informal board?

  1. Community networks of women helping women in business. Women in business have the unenviable task of trying to balance work, family, finances, and myriad other responsibilities.Work-Life-Balance is a laudable goal, but out of reach for many women in business.

These community networks would be groups of women who help one another with child care, getting their children to and from extra-curricular activities, and helping with all of the things that women business leaders typically don’t have time to do, such as getting groceries, picking up dry cleaning, waiting on repair people, gifting, entertaining, etc.

When I was a young, single business owner with a child in grade school, I was constantly asking for favors from friends for help.

Working 60 hours a week, traveling constantly, or working late into the night shouldn’t have to mean that children are home alone, left waiting at the soccer park, or scrounging through an empty kitchen for food.

Constantly asking friends for help can put a lot of strain on those relationships.

A community network of women helping women in business would connect women in business with women who are retired, who are home with young children, who have disabilities, etc.

The women in the community network could earn an income doing tasks for women who are working ridiculous hours trying to keep their businesses afloat.

  1. Women-led, mission-driven investment groups. Women who are in a position to invest money would do well while doing good if they would pool their time and treasure to help other women start businesses — especially mission-driven businesses.

Women with the capital to invest in the businesses of others are likely of a certain age and maturity. (I can say that because I am one!)

We have acquired a lifetime of wisdom about the issues that new entrepreneurs face, so we’re perfectly positioned to be able to help younger women business owners miss the pitfalls that we fell into.

Watching your money grow while adding value in the world is far more emotionally rewarding than investing in just another soulless mutual fund.

  1. Women in leadership speaker series. I didn’t have any women mentors in business when I was rising through the ranks in my male-dominated industry.I didn’t personally know anyone who had gone into business, so I literally had no one in my life to turn to for meaningful business advice. I read a lot of books, but all of them had been written by men.

It would have been so helpful and empowering to hear from women who had successfully navigated through many of the challenges that threatened to tank me and my business.

Imagine hearing monthly from different women in business sharing the things they wish they had known before starting their businesses, the things that happened that they didn’t anticipate, and the advice that could save other women business owners a boatload of time, money, and heartache. Priceless.

  1. National movement to support women-owned businesses. Lots of us would buy from women-owned businesses if we could easily identify among competitors which businesses were women-owned.

A hashtag, logo, or some other identifier of women-owned businesses could easily distinguish these companies so that it would be easier for buyers who want to support them to do so.

Imagine launching a movement that supported women-owned businesses that ultimately helped those courageous women to achieve their goals, feed their families, and fulfill their purpose.

We know that communities (and even countries) do better when women do better.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow your work online?

Rhonda Sciortino: You can learn more about my work from my website.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

 

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