My wife, Jo Ann, owned an online curriculum development firm several years ago. She was the CEO and sole employee but made some business cards for me as VP in case I went with her on sales calls or important meetings. I would attend simply as moral support. It was definitely a one-woman show!
One day we met with three executives who were our first choice to build a comprehensive website for her. My wife strode in first and was clearly in charge of the meeting. Over the course of 5 minutes the conversation became between me and the three men leaving my wife visibly upset. When she pointed out that she was the CEO and expected them to talk to her they sheepishly apologized and the conversation continued. Again, within minutes, the men were speaking only to me.
Jo Ann stood up and berated the three of them for a couple of minutes and told them she would never work with a company that had so little respect for women. She walked out with me following and found a supplier that did give her the respect she deserved.
Not that many years ago women authors had to use pen names of men to be published. We talk about racism and bigotry in our society but diminish women as entrepreneurs without thinking. Only 17% of US start-ups have female founders, Africa has a better track record than Silicon Valley. Surely, there must be more women out there that want to found a start-up. There are and they are thriving in spite of the obstacles we throw at them.
When I ran my first incubator I can say, without hesitation, that women made the best entrepreneurs. Their ideas were often better thought out, they were better prepared, more ambitious and because of that their businesses were more successful. It became so clear that women were better that the acceptance in each cohort was skewed towards female domination.
One of my star founders owned a manufacturing business making high-end women’s wear. She had faced discrimination but had found a solution – a male owner. She would pass her business card to prospective buyers with her name and the title Business Development. She explained that the owner, 94-year-old Oscar Stein gave her almost complete control of the business because she was doing so well. Oscar had made a good living over the years making tuxedos and military uniforms for men. She explained that since he never came into the plant any longer she had switched the inventory over to women’s wear because as she would say, “as long as the bills are paid and he makes money he will never know we stopped making tuxedos.”
Every buyer laughed at her story and would give her an order. Her boss, Oscar, was her alter ego and fictional. She had tried making sales without Oscar but often was dismissed when they saw CEO after her name. The fake owner Oscar allowed her to overcome obstacles including the pressure of appearing to be the decision maker of the company. If the buyer was particularly tough on pricing she’d tell him she had to check with Oscar. A perfect answer to the situation.
Penelope Gazin and Kate Dyer of Witchsy (a company similar to Etsy (ETSY)) used the same plan when they started their successful business. They invented a third founder called Keith. The perceived involvement of a male made things happen and had an effect on people’s assumptions about them and the business. They could have been bent out of shape by the discrimination they faced early on in the business but turned the situation around by using Keith.
It’s not only the lack of respect women seem to garner from men, or the easy manner in which we dismiss a woman’s opinion but there is the sexism they must deal with as well. I have no doubt the reason women are not Founder’s in bigger numbers is that it’s just plain too much trouble to overcome.
However, BusinessWeek said, “Women business owners are frequently cited as one of the fastest growing segments in entrepreneurship.” Why do you think that may be true?
Women ask for help, have different values than men, and while it may seem they are less prone to taking risk the opposite is true. According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs 87% of women see themselves as calculated financial risk takers and 80% see opportunity where others see risk. They are more likely to temper risk with the realistic assessment of possible future problems.
Since it often seems there are fewer financial resources for women, women entrepreneurs would rather re-invest profits into their business than look for equity-fueled investors. Women are more educated than in the past and are not as prone to over-confidence as men. Over confidence is a sure formula for disaster and many men I know suffer its effects.
The Centre for Entrepreneurs also amazed me with the research that women are more ambitious than men. We are so used to the stereotypes of the hard-driven businessman and the mompreneur running a fluffy company that we fail to see women as ambitious. One of the differentiators here is that women will work towards a more long term goal than men who tend to look for the quick growth and the fast exit.
According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, between 1997 and 2004, privately held, woman-owned businesses grew at three times the rate of all U.S. privately held firms, and woman-owned businesses created jobs at twice the rate of all other firms. Furthermore, women did all of this with less than 1% of the venture capital that’s invested in small businesses.
More than 9 million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly 8 million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales, according to 2015 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners.
CNN reminded me last Mothers Day about the top women, in this case, also mothers, who shaped the world with their successful businesses.
–Gerber Dorothy Gerber figured there had to be a better way to make baby food and her husband agreed. Most of you have been nurtured by her decision.
–Mrs. Fields A 20 year old woman developed a cookie business for mass production and is now in thousands of malls in the US
–Mary Kay Ash Said “You can’t keep determined people from success.” What can you say about a woman who took a good product and created women entrepreneurs making women completely independent of the first time in their lives
–Estee Lauder– famous cosmetologist said “If you don’t sell, it’s not the product that’s wrong it’s you.”
–Oprah Winfrey What can you say about the billionaire media mogul?
–Arianna Huffington She is perhaps one of the most successful female Internet entrepreneurs ever and is the founder of the top blog in the world according to Technorati!
–Baby Einstein – When mom Julie Aigner-Clark went looking for educational materials for her newborn daughter in 1996, she couldn’t find educational items that helped her child so she started a highly successful business.
When everything is said and done, given equal opportunities, women are on the way to break the glass ceiling in so many ways. I’ve known and worked with so many successful women entrepreneurs it always begs the question – Are they better than men?