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Opinion Editorials

Open letter to first-time female entrepreneurs

So many times we think we have our lives figured out and then life throws us a curve ball. You feel the urge to do something different, go somewhere different, or be someone different. You have a great idea for a new business, something that feels one hundred percent right, but you don’t know if taking the plunge into entrepreneurship is right for you.

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Is entrepreneurship right for you?

So many times we think we have our lives figured out and then life throws us a curve ball. You feel the urge to do something different, go somewhere different, or be someone different. You have a great idea for a new business, something that feels one hundred percent right, but you don’t know if taking the plunge into entrepreneurship is right for you.

It is. If you feel it in your gut, it is.

Some things in life are worth the risk. The absolute worst thing that can happen if you try is that it doesn’t completely work out and you come up with a new plan. The absolute worst thing that can happen if you don’t try and you place your dreams on the back burner is that you never know what could have been. Life is full of regrets that we cannot avoid; don’t let your dreams be one of them. If you think about your idea constantly, do something about it.

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Find balance in everything

The best advice I was ever given was by my favorite professor. He said, ‘find balance in everything” when we were discussing my career as a scholar and my future as a writer after graduation. Being younger, at first, I wondered what this meant, really. I mean, I was balanced. I worked full-time, went to college full-time and still managed to see my friends and family on the weekends. That felt like balance to me and it probably was at that particular point in my life. However, now that I’m older, I know exactly what he meant (and this is why he was and always will be my favorite professor: he gave students the knowledge, but let them find their own way to the answer).

By “finding balance” he meant don’t let one thing consume you. It’s so easy when you’re just starting out to keep your eye on the prize and not want to give up working on a project to do other things. Those other things are equally important.  Starting a new business can consume you. You’ll forget prior commitments. You’ll forget to eat. You’ll lose sleep. Don’t let it consume you. Instead, schedule breaks and stick to them. Pick a day or time to connect with family and friends. You don’t want to lose sight of “you” outside of work.

Take it step by step, and don’t be afraid to reach out

Starting a business is hard. There will be days you want to give up. You’ll wonder why you ever decided to do this. There will be days you cry. You’ll stress out and shut down. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Start with your idea. Do some research. Develop your plan. Talk to people who have been in similar situations. Use those social media channels to network with like-minded entrepreneurs.

Then, one day, you’ll see part of your plan working. You’ll make progress and you’ll realize you CAN do this. Along the way, if you find there is something that you can’t do, or don’t know how to do, ask for help. Help can come from a family member, mentor, friend, or expert.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, asking for help can often save you time and money. If you need a professional website and don’t have a great deal of experience, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I did this many times when I started as a freelance writer.

Believe that it’s possible

Prioritize what matters and don’t worry about what you can’t control. Stress is always the enemy. Believe in yourself. Believe in your idea, your team, your project and your goals. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t do it. You can. The risk of failure is minimal when you finally realize your dream. Every champion was once a contender. Every pro was once an amateur. Every expert was once a beginner. So dream big and start now.

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Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

DNA ancestry tests are cool, but are they worth giving up your rights?

(EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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By now you’ve heard – the Golden State Killer’s 40+ year reign of terror is potentially over as the FBI agents used an ancestry website DNA sample to arrest their suspect, James DeAngelo, Jr.

Over the last few years, DNA testing has gone mainstream for novelty reasons. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, and even reconnect family members, through simple genetic tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPAA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

This story was first published, October 2017.

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Opinion Editorials

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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