Article by: Lillian Kazmierczak - Finance Writer for Toarc United
In the past decade, women have established and become more successful in business. Currently, there are over 252 million (approximately 1/3 of all businesses) female entrepreneurs in business. While all of them face daily challenges, there are some challenges that are unique to female entrepreneurs.
While these numbers are impressive, where these entrepreneurs live and the culture in which she lives can significantly affect how they can conduct business. Most female entrepreneurs face some of the same challenges no matter where they live.
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Sometimes the Facts Are Disturbing
The federal government set up a program in 1994 to spend 5% of its contracting dollars on female-owned businesses. It took 20 years to achieve this goal; it didn't meet this goal until 2016. As a result, it had to make new rules in 2011 that set aside specific contracts for female-owned businesses only to bid on. Today, a female business still has a 21% less chance than a male business of getting a federal contract, even when the companies are similar.
Female entrepreneurs have a better chance at a state or local contract only because they are more business friendly. But, in fact, women must get their businesses certified as a women-owned business even to get these opportunities that have been set aside for female entrepreneurs. This just seems so backward. Is the male-owned business being forced to get certified as well? My business is no more equipped than a male-owned business with this certificate, so why am I forced to get the certification? Why not have everyone who wants these contracts get the certificates.
Singling out one group for certification is wrong and sends a message that it is ok to do this. It’s not!!! But if no one is aware that this is going on, then no one will squawk. Too late, I know, and I am the squawker!! I'm calling this sexist because it is! The government knows this, I know this, and now you know!
These are precisely what female entrepreneurs are challenged with to do the same thing their male counterparts are doing. But unfortunately, while some things are improving, there are places where females are still standing still!
Build a Better Brand
The lack of female funding is the first and most daunting challenge women face. While women
are more likely to invest in other female start-ups, 2/3 fewer women than men invest. This leaves a small pool of investors for women to choose from.
It is essential for women to build a good team and create a sound business plan. The upside to this is that as your business becomes stronger, it will increase your self-assuredness. Your business will also reap the rewards of having a good team and a sound plan. Male-based companies have been reinforcing this idea for centuries.
Investors look for business growth valuation. If they are only investing in companies earning $500,000 annually, women need to think about how to achieve this. In addition, investors want to make sure that their team can achieve this.
Investors need to have confidence that you and your team can follow your business plan and achieve success. This is the expectation, and this is what female entrepreneurs need to succeed. However, this expectation is not gender-related; it is business-related. This becomes gender-biased when most of the start-up investments are awarded to men. The truth is, no one is investing in someone who doesn't have their shit together!
The Importance of Networking
Female entrepreneurs need to support each other. Besides encouraging and inspiring other businesswomen, there needs to be support for funding and educational workshops. Women in business need to ask for what they want effectively.
Assertive women are seen as aggressive or even bitchy. But the truth may be that their male counterparts don't always take them seriously. The man's lack of self-confidence may cause him to be more caustic, giving off an "I'm better than you vibe." Some men are simply threatened by a female that shows up and out presents them in a meeting. Granted, some are misogynists, but I think most of them are just not sure how to deal with a successful woman, especially when she becomes his equal.
Decades of men were raised to protect and take care of women as their wives and daughters, so you can expect them to struggle with how to deal with strong, confident women in the workplace. I am not making excuses for the behavior, merely looking at it from a more male perspective. So many businessmen do not see gender, just a great worth ethic, fabulous ideas, and know-how; they are simply in the minority.
Men who have been raised by a meeker and less confident mother may have never dealt with an assertive female and could be left standing on shaky ground. Understand…this is their problem and should not affect a female entrepreneur, BUT it does… No matter the motivation, that male mindset affects how women receive funding, are offered the same jobs, and generate a smaller salary.
Creating Gender Equality
I think we all realize most industries are male dominated; this is not a good or bad thing. It just is a fact. Men have been running the business for eons. Most large-life thinks are male-dominated, politics, religion, cultures, and in many countries’ laws. Despite some policies and laws, there remains discrimination and stigma. Significant changes are still needed, and the Gender Lens Investing movement is trying to help this along.
Gender Lens Investing considers gender-based factors when investing in a business. They are vested in female-owned and female-led enterprises, companies that promote workplace equality, and businesses that offer services and products that significantly improve the lives of women and girls. Their goal is to close the gender gap and to encourage women to support each other.
Sadly, to say that globally some female entrepreneurs still need a male partner to have a business (It does not get more antiquated than this!). Imagine having to find a male business partner and do all the other things that are involved in a start-up. I fear that there are a lot of foreign start-ups that were dead before they had the chance to get started.
The one thing that female entrepreneurs can do is be confident, be ready for every presentation or proposal. Know your worth! Most importantly, know how to execute this confidence as a professional or better than anyone else in the room, male or female.
When requesting funding, women need to ask for what they need and a little more. I'm not saying lie; I'm saying you need to ask for what you actually need. This ensures you have what you need plus a small cushion, so you don't have to go back and ask for more.
Men have been doing this for years. Women tend to give realistic numbers, whereas men tend to exaggerate a bit. Don't get me wrong; this is a great way to create wiggle room financially. This is an" if you can't beat them, join them" situation. Women tend to request funding at lower levels; it is insane to believe that you can do a comparable or better job if you are consistently working with thousands of dollars less. No matter how brilliant you are, a good idea needs to be backed up by great actions, which cost money.
Female Entrepreneurs fight to be taken seriously at times. However, if you are in a male-dominated industry, there will be times when your leadership will be in question, especially in a male-dominated company. While this is repugnant and hardly fair (we all know life is not fair), it will happen. If you are working in a family-owned company, it may be said that you are riding a family member's coattails (as if!). It all comes down to respect.
Women will need to be willing to put in the work and create a reputation for the quality of their work. Honestly, this is not a solely female issue; it is all entrepreneurs. Women just seem to have to work harder for the same respect.
Building your self-confidence and getting a thicker skin help women to work past the negative comments. Reigning in emotions is difficult. Instead, appear calm and confident and snap the hell out of the pencils in private. Learning to take any negative feedback will only improve your brand, which is the ultimate goal.
Women for centuries have been raised to downplay their accomplishments. It is going to be challenging to flip the switch on this internally. This can make owning your accomplishments difficult. Learning to toot your horn in a humble yet effective way takes time and practice. Therefore, this is an area where female networking and workshops are needed for female entrepreneurs.
When women discuss their businesses, they tend to say "we"; they are not well versed in bragging. Instead, women need to use "I" (unless they have a mouse in their pocket, then we is grammatically correct). You have worked hard, you are, and you own the company-Embrace "I"! Female entrepreneurs need to acknowledge what they have accomplished.
Females in business need to stop underestimating the value of their knowledge. Knowing what you do and how you do something can create new opportunities and catapult your financial achievements. Being prepared and anticipating what comes next ensures you will not second guess yourself or your business choices, especially if you are in a small business.
Before you can overcome your insecurities, you will have to look inside yourself and identify where these insecurities come from. Once identified, you will be able to tackle them, not an easy task, but one that will be well worth it.
Finding the Right Support
A support network is essential in achieving any entrepreneurial venture. More than half the female business community has stated their most significant need is a female-based support network.
This is where the cookie may start to crumble for some. Girls are not always nice growing up. If you were the target of the mean girls or rebuffed during high school seeking out a group of female mentors may be challenging. All living beings base their future responses on their history of experiences…anyone treated disrespectfully in the past, whether male or female, will wrestle with this. Making this the moment you pull up the big girl panties and do what needs to be done for you and the business is so much easier to do!
Once they can turn that thinking around, this will be a group of female entrepreneurs willing to show you how to do it with grace and obtain that business-based self-respect—females who can share what works will become living breathing how-to-books. Then, relationships and contacts can be made!
As far as we have come, there is still that "It's who know, not what you know" mentality that makes it a bit more complicated. You have the "what you know" now it's time to find the who you know."
Finding a network may not be as difficult as you think. Social media forums and a web search will help you find a network that will fit your needs. Once you join the group, you are going to need to participate. If there's no discussion on what you need, create one. There are a thousand businesswomen out there with the same question…if you don't ask it, how is anyone going to answer it? If you ask a specific question, someone out there will have an answer. Most likely, you will get several responses, which can open up all kinds of things for you.
Look for in-person events on trade sights and in social media groups. Websites for business associations, podcasts, books, and free webinars. If you aren't finding them, you are looking in the wrong place or not hard enough.
Being a parent is challenging; being a female entrepreneur is tough; combining them can be hair pulling, and then there is the guilt. Unfortunately, social norms have forced women to take the lead in parenting. Not that men don't or can't, women are just the majority of caretakers. Anyone who must do this understands this is a balancing act in itself.
Combining them is very difficult; the younger the children, the more challenging it is. So, my tongue-cheek response would be to start your business younger so you can integrate a spouse and children into it as it grows. Unfortunately, this is probably not the reality for most, as I came into entrepreneurship later than most.
It involves limits on your time in your career and with your family and a partner willing to share in the responsibilities if you want to make it work. Then, as with anything, there is trial and error, using your ability to see when something isn't working and make a change.
Female entrepreneurship is ever-changing; while society is much more open to this, time and persistence will go a long way to change this. Increasing flexibility in the business world needs to come from the female businesswomen already there. As women have done in the past, we need to forge a path for women who will follow us!
Sometimes You Just Drop a Ball
I would be remiss to discuss female entrepreneurs without discussing failure. The more balls you juggle, the more you have to drop! Sometimes you just have "to fake it till you make it," It has gotten me through Nursing school twice. My current business is rooted in this on my less self-confident days.
I have learned to look at everything as a good experience, even the "bad" experiences. There is no bad experience; even the negative experiences offer clarity and motivate me to do better or approach it differently. No one is getting through business unscathed.
Career experience is acquired; few of us are born with it. I have spent many nights with coffee and a YouTube tutorial; they have become a source of networking. People who have done a task, some very well and others…well not so much. They are sharing skill and their experience. I can watch three or four of these skills and approaches for the same thing and then tweak it to work for me (See my blog on The US dependency on India's IT), an approach India has taken in their entrepreneurship of the country.
As in life, the road to entrepreneurship for females can be full of disappointments, bad presentations, and mistakes. Success comes from learning from them and making them work for you. Take all that feedback and weed out the helpful stuff; Ignore the "no you can't" and do not give up!
While there is still a gap for female entrepreneurs to fill, it is getting smaller. Creating networks, workshops, and lobbying for what is needed will be some ways to fill in these gaps quicker. Each passing generation has moved this closer to the finish line. As the numbers for these entrepreneurs increase and younger generations step into the roles, there will be significant changes!
If you're looking for more Thoughts of a Random Citizen, head to the podcast section. I think you'll find some fascinating podcasts to listen to.