While women are entering entrepreneurial circles in numbers that haven’t been seen before, they are also still struggling to make overall headway in many different ways. The #metoo movement has shown that sexism is far from being eradicated in the workplace, and the pushback against the concept of equal pay for equal work has demonstrated that many people still don’t believe that women can succeed equally in the workplace.
Despite the disadvantages women have when trying to fund a startup or get capital to expand a small business, they are continuing to gain headway and create space for themselves in boardrooms and corner offices. Learning from other successful women can make it easier for those who are up-and-coming to keep fighting. These three women offer great advice on key topics relevant to women in the startup sphere.
Don’t Go It Alone
Being an entrepreneur can at times, feel very lonely; you can get lost in your work and struggle to make the social connections that are important to keeping a balanced life. This can be particularly complicated for women, who tend to be isolated within the entrepreneurial field. Sylvia Browder, a speaker about entrepreneurial topics for women, told Mint:
…a suggestion that I find myself sharing repeatedly to other entrepreneurs is to always surround themselves with like-minded people. Why? Well, they understand the highs and lows of business ownership and tend to be very empathetic and supportive.
Women often focus on creating microbusinesses or being solopreneurs, especially when they also have families. Sometimes, this is a matter of practicality; childcare is incredibly expensive in the United States, and many families find that it’s impossible for both parents to rejoin the workforce after they have children. Many mothers choose to leave their jobs and start their own businesses.
But this can be even more isolating as women try to juggle playdates and conference calls. In these cases, connecting with other entrepreneurial mothers can really help a woman succeed, both in her personal life and her work situation.
Be Willing To Improvise
One of the reasons that businesses are encouraged to bring women into their boards and C-suites are that companies with more diversity in place are more flexible and creative when facing challenges. For example, when creating a new co-working space, Marlene Meija Weiss from The INC. realized that the best way to differentiate from the competition was to offer childcare in their spaces. This hadn’t been done before, and they needed to completely recreate the way a co-working space would operate.
We’re streamlining our processes. We’re trying to get better at that. It’s such a unique model that there are no tools out there that are specifically for our business model. We had to go out, find out what works for us, and hack a solution together. Or we’ve had to create something on our own.
For many years, women, people of color, disabled people, and other minorities were completely shut out of the world of business. That homogeneity resulted in a business world where things were done a particular way simply because they were. Having more diverse voices at the table brings fresh ideas into the conversation, which helps companies succeed.
Having more diverse decision makers can also help companies avoid certain racially or culturally insensitive gaffs or missteps that can cause their brand serious damage. Having someone say “that’s not a good idea” early in the process can help prevent big investments in big mistakes.
Women in business often struggle to find mentorship – something that is often cited as one of the most important factors in business success. Many organizations are devoted to trying to connect women to mentors, helping them get the support they need to succeed. These organizations often function online. Ana Moreira has created Casa Feminaria in Brazil to help combat sexism in the entrepreneurial circles there. Through that mentorship, she has created something similar to a business incubator:
We also provide multidisciplinary services that are similar to those of a business incubator, given that we mentor professional businesswomen in the development of their business, all the way through their consolidation. Our goal for next year is to fully operate as an incubator, help women spread their wings with their business to reach more markets.
Mentors are so crucial because they have been through what the entrepreneur they’re mentoring has been through. This is why it’s so important that women have other women as mentors. It’s not that men can’t teach women about business, it’s that men can’t speak to the specific types of discrimination that women face when they, for example, see venture capital or traditional funding.
A female mentor may be able to direct a woman to a VC firm that focuses on women-owned businesses or connect them with programs through the Small Business Administration that may meet their needs. The more marginalizations a woman has – being Black, disabled, or LGBT, for example – the more she needs a mentor who shares as many of those marginalizations as possible.
Women are finding new ways to succeed in business. They are moving away from traditional boys’ club havens like Silicon Valley and finding more women-friendly areas to found their businesses. They are looking to funding opportunities like Kickstarter to get their businesses going. And they are, most importantly, continuing to fight for the space they deserve.