A few months ago I was thrilled when the lovely woman I was chatting with at an industry event introduced herself as Loretta McCarthy managing partner, Golden Seeds. I knew about Golden Seeds, which was the first angel-seed network that exclusively supports women-lead companies, founded 12 years ago in 2005.
McCarthy, former executive VP and CMO at Oppenheimer Funds, and VP of Marketing at American Express, knew first-hand how sexist the corporate world was, and saw this play out in startup world.
While half of businesses in the United States were started by women, just 17 percent of startups that get funding are led by a woman, and Bloomberg found that just 7 percent of companies that received $20 million or more in funding between 2009 and 2015 were owned by women. Companies founded by women also get an average of $77 million compared with $100 million for male-led startups. The startup paygap is real.
Golden Seeds is changing that startup paygap. In its 12 years, the organization has grown to 300 investors who have invested $96 million in 90 female-led companies.
In this interview, Loretta McCarthy explains why this investment gender gap exists, why men are as big of champions as women when it comes to sinking their own investment dollars in female-led organizations, and what you can do to close this investment gap!
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Full transcript of interview with Loretta McCarthy
Emma: If you listen to my show or you follow my writing, you know that my number one passion in this world is talking about money and women. It’s the pay gap, it’s the home gap, it’s the wealth gap, it’s all of those. Needless to say, I was horrified when TechCrunch just recently reported that today, 2017, only 17 percent of startups that have a female founder actually get funded. I think it’s more than 50 percent of new companies are led by women. That’s a huge gap. Just 17 percent get funding, whereas at least half have a female founder. Now, I have the perfect guest today to address this. Loretta McCarthy, she is managing partner of Golden Seeds. Now, Golden Seeds is one of the largest active organizations that focuses on investing solely in women-led companies, and they’ve been around for a long time. We’re all talking about women, and founders, and start-ups today. They were talking about it before it was even a thing. Loretta, thank you so much for being in the studio with me today.
Loretta: Thank you, Emma. It’s great to be here.
Emma: You have a long and very successful career as an executive on Wall Street before you became part of Golden Seeds. You were the former Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of OppenheimerFunds, and you were Vice President of Marketing for American Express. So, you were deep in marketing, deep in money, and I want to hear a little bit about what’s going on today, and how you got into that. What’s your personal passion? Where does this come from? Talk to me about that 17 percent, why are we still stuck at 17 percent today?
Golden Seeds history, focused on female leaders of startups
Loretta: When we started Golden Seeds, which is now 12 years ago, women led companies were actually only three percent of all the companies that got funded that year. So, you have to say that there has been progress. The challenge is, the gap is still very large. We do believe that about half of the companies being started in this country are led by women. Many women that would like to get funding still struggle with getting any funding or the inadequate amount of funding to really grow their businesses. That’s what we’ve been focusing on for 12 years. We want to meet all companies that feel that they qualify for funding, as long as there’s one woman. At least one woman leading the company.
Emma: What qualifies as a leader? An executive board, or?
Loretta: Most of these companies are very small when they come to us. They may have three, five, or no more than 10 people because they’re startups. So, we want to be sure that at least one woman is in a leadership role, which often is the founder. It might be the president or somebody else who has a real voice in the business. We also want to be sure that she owns a reasonable share of the business. If she doesn’t have a really good equity stake in the business, she may not have the kind of voice that we want her to have in running the business.
Emma: So, we’ve gone from three percent to 17 percent of female led companies that are getting funding, in 12 years. I have mixed feelings about those numbers. Again, to your point, it’s an incredible leap, but it’s still so far from our goal.
Loretta: That’s right.
Emma: Why is this happening, and why should we care? Why are women still lagging in funding?
Loretta: There are many reasons for this. The early reason was that the people that were doing the check writing to invest in these companies, for many, many years, were primarily men. They weren’t accustomed to seeing women in business. They weren’t accustomed to seeing women entrepreneurs, they weren’t accustomed to funding them. There is quite a lot of history and data now that say that even today, when a woman led company presents a business plan and if her name is anonymous, or if it’s not clear whether it’s male or female, then audience who thinks it is a male-led company will be very much more likely to respond favorably to that company compared to whether they think it’s led by women. There really still is a lot of bias.
The really good news is that there are many accelerators, there are many universities that are focusing on really getting women entrepreneurs ready to seek funding. There are great success stories of companies that are actually scaling and achieving real success. Those companies become role models for new entrepreneurs every day, every month. It’s a slow road, but there really has been very good progress. What we’re really focused on is creating the environment within our organization at Golden Seeds, to ensure that any women-led company feels totally confident about coming in and finding an environment in which their ideas will be seriously considered.
Emma: Okay, so the other part of the puzzle though is there’s a lot of great research that shows that female led companies are, by some metrics, are more successful, grow quicker, more sustainable, than male led companies.
Loretta: Increasingly there is research that says exactly that. Which we are thrilled by because there’s nothing is going to accelerate the rate at which women get funding than proven success in being able to say to all of their potential funders, that there is research now that proves that women led companies are particularly successful. Another way to say that is gender diverse companies are often more successful because what we are really seeking is a world that is gender diverse. The way we get there is by ensuring that there is at least one woman. The reason I say that is that we now know, through many, many, pieces of research that organizations, big, medium, and small that are gender diverse, simply have better investment results. The discourse, the conversations, the considerations for all decisions are just simply more enlightened if there is a diverse set of people making those decisions.
Emma: It’s so interesting. Tell me about who your investors are, because for the record, you have invested in 90 female led companies, invested $96 million over these 12 years, and that includes over 300 investors. Who are those 300 people?
Who invests in female-led startups?
Loretta: The 300 investors are people from all over the country. We have active members in over 22 states, and we have active chapters in five locations. We are truly nationwide, which is unusual for an angel investment group. Great women led companies are existing all over the country, so we really felt that we needed to go out and create a way for us to find them locally all over the country. As opposed to assuming that they’re gonna pick up and go to the hotspots where entrepreneurship is happening. We find them all over the country, we have members who cover the territory and many states to help us identify great women led companies.
Our investors are both women and men, so we believe in gender diversity of our 300 or so investors, about 20 percent of them are men, who we always feel are especially enlightened to understand what we’re trying to do here and the importance of this work. Most of our investors have had careers of some substance, sometimes long careers where they have been able to accumulate the capital to do this work. They bring incredible skills from long working careers. They also have remarkable networks that can be used on behalf of all of these entrepreneurs. They are all asked to do quite a lot of work at Golden Seeds because we put our members to work. We ask them to meet the entrepreneurs, do due diligence, give them feedback, mentor them, serve on their boards. There are many, many roles that our members play with the companies.
Emma: Let’s dial this back for listeners that might not be so familiar with the whole process of getting an investor. Can you just in 30 seconds explain what this process is about, about the pitching process. Because, it’s very personal, it’s a person, a woman, in a room, with other people, pitching herself essentially. So, how does that go?
How can women get funding for their startup businesses?
Loretta: That’s such a great way to say it because it actually, it is pitching herself. She obviously has to have an idea that has merit, which hopefully is an idea that is in a big enough market that it will capture our attention. But essentially, when a company applies for funding, whether it’s to us or to other groups of angel investors, they’re usually asked to make a stand-up pitch, where they present their idea and their progress, usually in 10 minutes, maybe 12 minutes. They have to get really good at being able to give their idea quickly, explain the problems they’re solving, how big their company is going to be, and be really ready to answer questions.
Emma: And we know that women are judged by our appearance, and our charm, and all of these things that men are simply not judged on.
Loretta: To a large degree that’s true. We may want to say that that is less important than it used to be, but it is certainly is important for anyone, whether it’s men or women in my view. Think about how you’re presenting yourself. It is true that at the end of the day, most angel investors will say, “As long as the idea is good and has merit, I know that when I write a check to an entrepreneur or a startup company, that I’m investing in the team. I’m investing in the people.” Because all of these ideas change, all of these companies modify their plans quite frequently. It’s absolutely important to realize that what we’re investing in is the judgment of that entrepreneur to know when to change when to adjust, when to ramp their business, how to hire. All the judgment that you need to grow a business.
Emma: Right, and so you mentioned one of the advancements. One of the reasons for this advancement in closing the funding gap is the accelerators, and the incubators, and the academic courses that are preparing young business people, or new business people for that pitch. Right?
Loretta: Right. Right.
Emma: You must have heard horror stories over these years of women going in that would sort of illustrate this gap. Give me some anecdotes here.
Discrimination for female founders seeking investors
Loretta: There are many stories, and we like to feel that they don’t face some of those same situations when they are appearing in front of people in our organization, but it is very common that women when they are entrepreneurs they create businesses that are born of their own life experiences. That’s very natural. It’s not at all uncommon for men to say, “I’ll have to go home and ask my wife how she feels about this.” Because he just doesn’t really know how to react to a business idea that might relate to children, or education, or women’s health, or something that she might have created a business about. There definitely are times where angel investors who have never invested in women will say, “I just don’t invest in women.” Or, “I haven’t invested in women.”
Emma: They’ll say that to her face?
Loretta: They may. I think that fortunately, those times are changing, but very often the investors do want to have a personal mentorship relationship with the entrepreneur and if they do, they have to be comfortable with the fact that they will be able to work on the company’s progress with those companies. So, there will be some people who will say, “I only invest in young men in tech.” It’s good to know that before you walk in the door. It’s really important to know as much as you can about who it is you’re appearing in front of. I’m really happy to say that is very rapidly changing in some ways. Because women are getting the skills and the education in so many of these fields that they’re the ones who are really doing the work here to prove that they can get in front of investors, even if it is a room full of men, and really prove that they’ve got what it takes to grow a business.
Emma: That’s interesting. I just hired a digital marketing firm to work on my platform, my book that’s coming out, my blog, and this show, and I was talking to the guy. He’s sort of this, known digital marketing guru in his nerd-circles. He’s been very successful at what he’s done and he’s like, “You know what? I don’t know anything about what you write about, at all. But my wife went to Barnard and I need a really cool feminist project to get some street cred with my wife.” And I think that’s really funny, but I think it also speaks to a change in culture. Men know, even just socially, it’s not cool to say, “I don’t fund women.” I think most social circles that’d be a very taboo thing to say.
So, Loretta, where does your passion come from? You had a corporate career before this. But I know you’ve told me that you grew up in an entrepreneurial family.
“My father inspired me to be an entrepreneur”
Loretta: I did grow up in an entrepreneurial family. I was one of six children, my dad was an entrepreneur, I had my sights set on working in a big corporation and going to Wall Street. So, I did that, but I do feel at some point this kicked in, in terms of really appreciating what he did for many years. Figuring out how to raise a big family with being an entrepreneur. He was, by far, my biggest inspiration for what I now do with entrepreneurs.
Emma: Your mother was a remarkable woman, especially for her time.
Loretta: She was. Thank you, Emma. She went to law school in the 1930s, so she was completely remarkable. Then she had six children. So, she really didn’t practice law like she had aspired to, but she was another incredible role model to me in terms of her education, and her passion, and her diligence in many ways.
Emma: So where does your passion come from when it comes to this work with women? It’s really a feminist endeavor that you’re on, in many ways. What’s in you that drives this big project that you’ve been on for 12 years?
Loretta: I always was keenly away from when I once started my own career, that I was very frequently at the front end of a movement to pull more and more women into the workplace. It wasn’t unusual for me to be the only woman in the room, or the only woman in the boardroom, or the only woman on the executive committee in various situations that I was in. I was very aware that I was being watched by a lot of other women in the organization. I also was very aware of the challenges of being taken seriously. Pay equity was always on my mind. It’s still very much a national, if not, international issues in a lot of ways. So, I think it’s impossible to have started working at a time when I did, without being really aware that you were the front end of the movement. When women were going into the workplace in large numbers.
Since then I have become very focused on the whole issue of women and money. That happened to me really when I was Chief Marketing Officer at OppenheimerFunds. A remarkable thing happened one day there, where we had a phone from a woman whose husband had died quite unexpectedly, and she was trying to figure out what to do about money. She really didn’t know where the money was. But, she did find an envelope that came from OppenheimerFunds, the company that I was working in at the time, where it was clear to her that possibly this company was managing some of her money. She called and simply explained who she was, that her husband had recently died, that she didn’t know anything about where the family’s money was. Could we help her understand whether she had any money?
It became an incredibly emotional moment to realize that the world is really full of a lot of families where the women, at that time, this was in about 1990, the early ’90s, when the world was really full of a lot of households where the division of labor was very clear. Where he managed the money and she handled household tasks. I’m happy to say in a lot of ways that has changed, but it is still true, even today, that 50 percent of households do divide their chores more or less that way. If it is a man and a woman, 50 percent of households, he manages the money. 37 percent of households, they manage it together, and the balanced 12 or 13 percent she will manage it not involving him. But when you think that 50 percent of households he manages the money solely, it makes me really realize why we had that phone call that many years ago where this woman was completely terrified that, not only wondering where the money is but whether they had any money.
In that organization, we started an initiative that really tried to educate women and urge them to just get more involved and be more informed about their own financial situation. As you probably know, Emma, a very big percentage of women in this country will be responsible for managing their own money at some point. The most recent data on that is that somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all women are going to have to manage their own money at some point. That’s such a high percentage that all women simply have to take that incredibly seriously and understand what their own financial plan is. Because they’re probably going to have to do it alone at some point in their lives.
Emma: Well, yes because they have to do it alone, but even if you are with the most wonderful man, husband, in the world, you still have to get your financial act together.
Emma: I keep referring to this story, last year I was at one of the big asset management firms in town, had this luncheon, and it was really about preparing women for divorce. So, they had a couple divorce lawyers, and an accountant, and a financial advisor, and couple other professionals in this space. They went around and made their opening remarks, general advice in this space, and they all had the same story. It’s not old women. We’re talking about younger professional– And their clients are all highly educated. Our country’s most educated women. With multiple degrees from the best schools, often working or not working–whatever. Professional moms and it was the same story over and over again, mimicking what you just said. They call up the lawyer, “My husband wants to get divorced.” Or, “We’re getting divorced. I don’t know about money. I don’t know if my name’s on the house. I don’t know nothing.” And advice, this killed me, the advice is, “Well, start rummaging around in drawers and closets, and if you find something that even looks like a partial statement we can maybe work with that. And if you see something from Switzerland, it’s a red flag.”
Where are we, that that is the common advice to young, professional, highly educated, people with money? These women– And it’s not just that one day you’ll be divorced, or widowed, or single, that’s not it. It’s when you are in that relationship you are at such a disadvantage in so many ways if you don’t have control over your money.
Loretta: It may be a disadvantage if you don’t have control, or it’s a disadvantage if you just simply are not participating in the discussion. One thing that we did at the time we were working on this program is that we would urge women to ensure that if she and her husband went to have– That if her husband was going to have a meeting with a financial advisor, that she needed to ensure that she participated in that, and make it very clear to her husband of all the reasons that it’s important for her to be part of it. She should know the financial advisor, if for no other reason in case something happens to him.
At that time, it was not uncommon for a woman not to be included at all in those discussions, which were very important meetings. The way their entire– all of their financial resources were being allocated across asset classes, were big decisions that she was not part of.
Emma: It’s so fascinating. I want to go back to the whole investor/founder dynamic. So, I’m going to tread on this question very lightly, because it can easily veer off into blaming the victim, right? What advice do you give founders, when they’re doing their pitch or interacting with potential investors. What’s a common mistake that women make in that process, that you help coach them out of?
Loretta: It’s really important for any founder to realize that whoever’s sitting there listening to your pitch has to look at you and imagine that you are someone who can grow a great business. Think about the fact that they want to be confident that you have a great idea, that you’re focusing on a market that you understand fully, that you have the ability to attract great talent to work in that business, and that you have a vision of how big this company could become, and how successful this company could become. There’s not a lot of room for being timid when you’re asking for money. There is such a thing as being over-confident, most women don’t suffer from being over-confident.
Emma: I’ve been accused of it.
Loretta: Oh I doubt that. But it’s also really important to really realize that the people that are sitting there are going to take out a personal checkbook, write a check, hand it over to someone that they barely know or that they just met and say, “Good luck with my money.” It really has to do with whether the investor has the confidence in the entrepreneurs being able to execute.
Women don’t ask for raises or what they’re worth
Emma: Okay, so I can hear you dancing around that answer a little bit, right? So, what I’m hearing you say– And we know this, there’s lots of research– That women have a problem asking for a raise, for example. Or a promotion. I mean, we’re making huge strides, there’s a lot of movement in that space, but historically that’s been a challenge for women. We go in and we don’t ask for what we want. And that’s translating into the investor/founder dynamic too.
Loretta: I think that’s true, and I don’t want to be evasive about it. One of the things I heard recently from some other investors who focus on this space is that when women ask for money for their businesses it is very much more likely that they are expected to show progress. They’re expected to prove that they’ve met certain milestones already and that they’re already headed toward great success.
When men ask for money, the data says it is less likely that their potential investors are going to expect them to show the progress they’ve already made. They are more likely to say, “I like this guy. He has a good idea. I like his energy, and I can imagine that he could be a successful entrepreneur.” So, it is true that women have to be more specific about the progress they’ve already made, the vision they have for their future. Because it is, for whatever reason, less likely that potential investors will fund them without more facts about how they’re going to get to a successful company, than some male entrepreneurs.
Emma: That’s so interesting. It’s just, in a way, it’s just human. We go with what we know. If we know that a founder– We see that CEO in the Brooks Brothers suit, right? The white guy with the square jaw. We don’t see that. Not to be forgiving of that, but it’s– I think it’s not necessarily a malicious decision, it’s simply human.
Loretta: It’s pattern recognition, right? It’s that we have some vision of what we believe successful entrepreneurs are, and very happy to say that more and more women are populating those ranks these days, and that’s great. It’s great for the world, it’s great for those women, it’s great for younger women to imagine that I could be that eventually. We have generations of people that imagine that successful entrepreneurs look a certain way. The other thing that we sometimes say, is that all of us, particularly men have suffered a bit from something we call the Homophily Effect, which is the human tendency to surround ourselves with people just like ourselves.
Loretta: So, it’s not unusual. You know, birds of a feather, and all of that. To gravitate toward people that are familiar to you. What we are trying to do is make sure that anyone who doesn’t seriously consider entrepreneurs come to realize, even though they may have a different background, they may look different, they may sound different, that if those ideas are not being seriously considered that they are missing great ideas; great opportunities to make some great investments in companies that they may not have years ago seriously considered.
Female founders who are mothers
Emma: Let’s talk about babies, and maternity, right? I mean, this is a real thing. I’m a mom, and I did take some time off and you become a different person after you become a mom. I did. I’m speaking from personal experience, it’s very common. Lots of founders are young women, in their childbearing years. How does that play into everything we’re talking about?
Loretta: First of all, the path of entrepreneurship can be a great choice for a lot of young moms. We see many of them and we believe that most of the remarkable entrepreneurs we deal with have just figured it out. How to run their businesses, how to have children, and how to ensure that they also have created a working environment for their organizations that accommodates other working moms in many cases. I’m sure that there are investors who are concerned about that if they’re looking at a young woman who may have children in the future and they are wondering about whether this is a correct investment now. I like to feel that most people, or most entrepreneurs if they are really presenting a great business idea, do not today face that as a sole reason to be declined for funding. If they start building a business that has a number of people in it, there’s no reason to feel that they can’t continue to run the business with the same kind of passion they present at the beginning. So, we actually have not, in our case, experienced at least among our population, which of course understands this fully. We have not experienced even conversations that discuss the personal lives of these entrepreneurs. Many of our members have been through exactly this. Have had big careers, have had great successes, and have taken it more or less in stride. Figuring out how to juggle it every step along the way. It may be one more reason that we want to create the environment so these women will be seriously considered.
Emma: And that is really what it takes. It just takes like people to support each other. It’s just– I don’t know. Is there even a shortcut around that? Whatever social inequity that we’re trying to resolve, you just need like people with like experiences to help usher in the new generation and close these gaps.
Loretta: In many ways that’s absolutely true. I will go one step further and say when we think of women entrepreneurs, it’s important to realize that they themselves are very diverse. So, we have women entrepreneurs of many ethnicities, many financial economic backgrounds, and we also do the best we can to ensure that they too have an equal opportunity to be funded by our organization. That they have the opportunity to be mentored by people who do understand a bit more about how to mentor and work with entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, because it is– I think it goes without saying, African American and Latina women entrepreneurs face an even tougher challenge in seeking funding than white women. We do whatever we can to be completely open and try to understand the extra challenges that certain entrepreneurs may face.
Emma: I just remembered something I want to share. Being a little vulnerable here, a few weeks ago I was in Costa Rica with my kids, we’re on the beach, and a jet ski– A rogue jet ski that was kind of parked on the shore, it just floated and it hit my daughter’s foot. She’s 9, whatever, she freaked out and ultimately she was totally fine. But it had a good scratch on it, and this woman, an American woman just jetted up to us on the beach. She was like in her 50s, she looked phenomenal in her bikini, and she just took it upon herself to be an aid and she looked at it and asked her to move her foot and assessed it right there. I said to her, “Are you a nurse?” She goes, “No, I’m a doctor and she’s going to be fine. Put some ice on it.” And I was like, “I am so sorry. That was the most sexist thing that I just said.” I’m guilty of it, I think we all are. It’s the human condition that we all have these things, and all we can do is try and be conscious, and woke, and call ourselves and each other out on it.
Loretta: You know, that’s a great point. For you, that was a teachable moment. And that is fine. It was probably, sometimes for all of us who make those slip ups at times, you find yourself making them only once and then you’ve learned.
Emma: Well, I said it out loud once, but that doesn’t mean that there’s some deep, ingrained, unconscious thing going on that’s informing me in lots of different ways that I’m not even aware of. Because that’s a person.
“The world is full of unconscious bias”
Loretta: The world is full of unconscious bias, and sometimes it is particularly challenging in the worlds that you live in and I live in because some biases are less obvious than they might have been years ago. People try to be politically correct about many topics, but in truth, some of this runs very deep.
Emma: It’s tough and it’s tricky. I’ll just tell one more personal anecdote. I went for lunch with somebody I’d met professionally, a woman, and we went and talking about business and seeing about working together or whatever. We found out that we’re both from small towns in the Midwest. She was from Iowa I think, and I’m from a small town in Illinois. So I sent her the requisite little follow-up, “Thanks for your time” email. I thought I put in there, “Us small town Midwestern girls gotta stick together.” Send. Well, do white guys say, “Hey, us white bros gotta stick together?”
Emma: You know, we know they kind of are, consciously or not. But, was my little missive any better? No, it really wasn’t. That’s not cool either.
Loretta: That’s right. That’s right. It also, I think makes all of us think that the more in our personal lives we can cultivate relationships, and friendships, and professional, and personal interactions with people of all types, the more enlightened we’ll be on many topics. So, if we gravitate– That’s the Homophily Effect, right? If we gravitate to anyone in our personal lives to people who look just like us, we’re not learning. This is really important, every day to think– I mean we live in the most important interesting city in the whole world in terms of diversity, and we have the opportunity every day to surround ourselves with people who have diverse points of view.
Emma: Absolutely. So, if you can just leave us with three tips. So women who might have a phenomenal business idea, three quick tips to pursue that dream.
Loretta: The first idea thing is to develop an idea to a point where you can confidently speak about it in front of anyone who is likely to ask. The more you hear yourself talk about your idea, the more likely you’ll get from there to a business plan. So that would be the first thing. The second thing is, to be really confident that you have created something that the market wants. It’s very easy to get quite far down the road with a business idea and then discover later that customers just don’t want it. It’s not necessarily a better idea or it’s not necessarily anything that people will really buy. So, get into the marketplace as soon as possible. Talk to people who are potential customers to find out if they would really like it. The other thing in general, and this is true with most of us in our careers, but it’s true with entrepreneurs, is to get out of the office often. Because it’s until you are really talking to the marketplace, observing the competition, talking to people about your business, it’s really hard to know if you have something worthwhile. So, don’t get so nailed to your chair, your desk, and your computer, that you can’t look up every once in awhile and figure out where you fit in the context of your industry and other people who are working on some of the same ideas.
Emma: I love that. So, practice your pitch, really. Nail your message. And there’s professional people that will help you do that.
Emma: Then it was, make sure there’s a market. Test your market, talk to people, literally talking to humans. It doesn’t have to be some high-level survey. Talk to humans and get your butt out of your chair and get out there. Just be a person, in your industry and in the world.
Loretta: Right. Exactly.
Emma: Loretta McCarthy, Golden Seeds managing partner. But really, I mean, you’re an activist. You are an important part of what we’re all doing here and I thank you for your work.
Loretta: Thank you, Emma. Great to be here.