Journalist and entrepreneur Rhonesha Byng has stories to tell. The heroines may change from tale to tale, but the plot stays the same: woman achieves success with the support of others.
A decade ago, when Byng was a college sophomore and student journalist, she noted a paucity of published stories about women leaders and wondered how millennial women would fare without knowing the inspirational journeys of those who came before them.
What Byng saw in that void was an opportunity — an opening for her to create a digital platform where progressive women could find success stories, practical advice and real opportunities.
Byng today is founder and CEO of Her Agenda, a website that bridges the gap between ambition and achievement by showcasing the success stories of women executives and entrepreneurs.
By virtue of its focus, the outlet is challenging assumptions about who can be a leader. The company name derives from an acronym Byng created for herself using the letters in her first name: N.E.S.H.A. stands for No one Ever Slows Her Agenda.
“The concept is that no matter what your goal is, don’t let anyone or anything stop you,” explained Byng. “Too often in society we tell ourselves ‘no’ before someone else can.”
Her Agenda includes an online network where women can share advice about salary negotiations and other workplace issues to help remove bias from the equation. To be a successful leader “you need to be in the room where deals are made,” Byng noted. “But you can’t be in the room and you can’t be at the table if you don’t know that the room exists.”
After 10 years at the helm, Byng says she is most proud of her staying power, and the fact that her dorm-room startup still retains loyal readers and makes a profit.NICK GRAHAM & BERN HARDY / FORBES
As with many women-owned businesses, growth was an initial challenge for Byng. She founded Her Agenda in 2008, but couldn’t afford to work on the platform full time until 2015.
“There were a lot of starts and stops and ups and downs,” she admitted. “I had to learn from scratch how to make the brand profitable and visible.”
According to a 2018 report from Score, a nonprofit that supports small businesses, women-owned small businesses account for 39 percent of all U.S. firms but earn only 4 percent of the nation’s business revenues. In contrast, small business owned by men account for nearly 30 percent of the nation’s business revenues.
Byng overcame some of the obstacles to expansion by joining a startup accelerator program, which taught her ways to propel the platform’s growth.
“The challenge there was learning to get over my own ego and be vulnerable enough to realize what I didn’t know,” she said.
While women have made progress in claiming leadership positions over the last decade, there is still more work to be done before the top echelons of business are truly inclusive, Byng said. Her strategy is clear.
To further her mission of giving women access to positions of power, Byng is launching a new platform this year: Her Agenda 2.0 aims to more directly connect employers with the next generation of ambitious women through content.
Her Agenda is also expanding its staff, growth that is creating new leadership challenges for Byng. For this woman leader, employee satisfaction will be a priority throughout that process.
“I want to make sure that the company I am building is providing a healthy and happy office culture and giving opportunities for staff to grow,” she said.
As one of the first digital journalism brands to focus on women who lead, Her Agenda helped to shine a light on how success is achieved. For Byng, the practical aspect is key.
“To be able to provide access not only to the stories of the people who have succeeded, but also to the opportunities and resources that helped them get there, is really the biggest impact that I’ve seen us create,” she said.
Her Agenda includes a nationwide directory of organizations that empower women, as well as relevant events, panels, job opportunities and internships.
Byng said she is still “blown away” by the personal stories she hears about how her platform has inspired women to push forward in their own careers.
“It helps me to see there’s a purpose behind this all and reminds me that this is bigger than me,” Byng added. “It’s about being a change in the world for a generation of women leaders who are hungry and ready to take over.”
After 10 years at the helm, Byng says she is most proud of her staying power, and the fact that her dorm-room startup still retains loyal readers and makes a profit. Her advice for other women entrepreneurs is threefold: strive for excellence, be adaptable, and of course, never let anyone slow your agenda – not even yourself.