A Woman’s Rx to Grow a Company
Women own 38% of the businesses in the US today. However, many women struggle with growth and in building a team that employs others. In my 10 years of experience guiding women and men through startup, I have seen no gender disparities in their abilities as entrepreneurs. How, then, is the woman’s struggle explained? And more importantly, can we prescribe new remedies so that women founders can create viable careers for both themselves and others?
Unfortunately, gender stereotypes of entrepreneurs still exist today. These continue to create roadblocks for women, and in some cases, leads to a business skills gap. Here are three examples:
First, innovation and entrepreneurship have been largely associated with masculinity. Even today, the Kaufmann Foundation profiles the typical entrepreneur in the US as Caucasian (80%) and male (65%).
Other findings suggest that typically, women don’t feel “good enough” or educated to be an entrepreneur, as indicated in this article. This begs the question: when starting a business, why are women harder on themselves than men?
Second, the June 2017 Harvard Business Review article Male and Female Entrepreneurs Get Asked different questions by VCs – and It Affects How Much Funding they Get describes a study that revealed an enormous gender gap as to why women have serious trouble raising money. It explained that Venture Capitalists (VCs) typically frame questions to men about their business potential for gain whereas women were far more likely to be asked questions about their businesses potential for loss.
Even more surprising, 40% of the respondents from this study were women VCs. This phenomenon identified unfairness in a line of questioning that was substantial from both men and women working in VC firms.
Finally, it seems that in general, women don’t possess the traits to negotiate. Whether it’s a contract with an employee or the cost for rented space, an entrepreneur’s skills in negotiation are necessary to grow a business. Compared to men, women don’t tend to ask for what they want. This was abundantly evident in Linda Babcock’s 2003 renowned publication Women Don’t Ask. And sadly, reports like this persist today, suggesting the gender divide on negotiated pay is evident: Research Stating ‘Women Ask for Pay Raises As Much As Men’ Is Misleading.
So rather than dwelling in doom and gloom scenarios, let’s understand these gender stereotypes and create different programming that resolves any misconceptions or skills gap. Here are proposed remedies for women business owners to consider:
- Leverage both men and women coaches to help build your business. Find a coach who is an experienced entrepreneur or change maker who has experience in risk-taking. A good coach cares about your business and guides you in implementation activities and provides help to reach key milestones.
- Learn how to be “promotion-orientated” versus “prevention-orientated.” The Harvard Business Review study validated that communicating a business potential for gains and opportunities will lead to better results for women when financing is needed.
- Learn and practice asking for what you want. This is a key barrier that continues to holds women back. Remember: What’s the worst that can happen?
- Take a self-assessment of your entrepreneurial abilities. Identify your strengths and weaknesses in growing your business, and find ways to complement them by finding talent through employees, contractors or student interns.
- Understand that growth happens when females transition from working in the business to working on the business. Engage in a woman’s CEO roundtable to support your growth. Belonging to a group helps so you are not alone or second-guessing yourself in decisions that are important for the business.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining. Women’s needs are no less important than men’s; they’re just different. Women entrepreneurs must be seen as equal drivers of job creation and economic development and active contributors in their community.
At ConVerge, the Project CEO workshop series is just one of many programs designed to support women in growing their businesses. Learn more here: Project CEO.