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4 Key Challenges Women Face In Today’s Crowded Business Landscape

Women face many specific challenges on their entrepreneurial path. These 4 challenges directly relate to their gender.

The entrepreneurial landscape is crowded; with crowdfunding websites, new paths to business ownership, and traditional funding options all available, there are more women than ever trying to create their own businesses. Entrepreneurial career paths are also particularly interesting when the economy is particularly volatile.

Women are just as capable and interested in being entrepreneurs as any other group – 9 million businesses are owned by women, companies which employ almost 8 million people and generate $1.4 trillion in sales – but they face many specific challenges on their entrepreneurial path. These challenges directly relate to their gender.

1. Meeting (or Breaking) Expectations

Entrepreneurship is a male dominated field. There are some sectors in which women are the dominating force – healthcare and education are the traditional examples – but when it comes to business ownership, the vast majority of CEOs are men. While women are often encouraged to take on roles in STEM fields, to find their path to business ownership, and to expand opportunities for other women, there is very little practical support to help them on that journey.

Women are expected to fit the mold of men in the workplace. They are told to eliminate vocal fry and upspeak – essentially, to sound more like men – in the workplace, but may then be chastised for being too aggressive and demanding. These same traits in their male counterparts are often sought after.

2. Networking

In part because of the above, many women entrepreneurs struggle with networking. Women are societally assumed to be more gregarious than men, but when a woman walks into a room that is primarily filled by men, many of whom don’t believe she belongs there, succeeding can become difficult.

Women are also more likely to struggle to find mentors with their own experiences (with the difficulties compounded if they are women of color or disabled women). Mentorship is absolutely crucial for successful entrepreneurial careers.

3. Funding

In 2014, Babson found that only 15% of the venture capital funded firms from that year had a woman on the executive team; less than 3% had a female CEO. The same study found a direct correlation between the VC company having a woman as partner and funding more women-led companies – and that the number of women in VC was dropping. Only 30% of the women-owned businesses who pursue a bank loan get the loan underwritten; the rate for businesses overall is significantly higher.

While bootstrapping a business can sometimes be done, it is also difficult, requires a lot of personal credit, and can leave the owner personally struggling if the business doesn’t succeed. Startup capital is an important piece of entrepreneurship that women struggle to access.

4. Gender Bias of “Work-Life Balance”

Male entrepreneurs are rarely asked about work-life balance; that question is generally only asked of women who are business people. There is an inherent bias in the question, much like how actresses on the red carpet get asked about their dresses while men are asked more substantive questions.

Women are societally presumed to be mothers, homemakers, and more; if they are working outside the home, it is assumed that they must also be performing significant duties with their families, and that these must be balanced equally with their work tasks.

Men may be asked how they “make time” for their families, which is a very different question.

While this specific issue may not be a particular hinderance for women advancing in business, it gets at the underlying difference in how men and women are treated in the workplace. This isn’t solely a problem for entrepreneurial women; any woman who works outside the home has probably faced this question at least once in her career.

Women are making huge inroads in business through multiple means; there are successful women entrepreneurs who are changing the scope of a woman’s role in the business world, and who are actively mentoring the next generation of women. There are studies and papers showing that it is to a company’s direct advantage to diversify its executive team. Alternative funding sources like crowdfunding and smaller lenders are more willing to take chances on women and people of color, demonstrating that they are just as capable of being entrepreneurs as white men.

Women are often asked to change their mode of dress, hair, makeup preferences, speech patterns, and more to suit the workplace. They are now finding ways to make the workplace change to suit them.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon should be turning the volume up. Their current quiet murmur is just not enough.