In the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of successful women in business, with over 252 million female entrepreneurs (about 1/3 of all businesses) currently in business. While all face daily challenges, there are some that are unique to female entrepreneurs.
While these numbers are impressive, where these entrepreneurs live and the culture in which they live can significantly affect how they conduct business. However, most female entrepreneurs face common challenges, regardless of their location.
Sometimes the Facts Are Disturbing
The federal government established a program in 1994 to spend 5% of its contracting dollars on female-owned businesses. Unfortunately, it took 20 years to achieve this goal, which was only accomplished in 2016. As a result, in 2011 new rules were created that set aside specific contracts for female-owned businesses only to bid on. However, today, female-owned businesses still have a 21% lower chance than male-owned businesses 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 these areas are more business-friendly. However, women must first get their businesses certified as women-owned businesses to take advantage of these opportunities. This seems backward. Is a 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 are women forced to get the certification? Why not have everyone who wants these contracts get the certificates?
These are the challenges that female entrepreneurs face to do the same thing their male counterparts are doing. Unfortunately, while some things are improving, there are still places where women are not progressing.
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, two-thirds fewer women than men invest. This leaves a small pool of investors for women to choose from.
It is crucial 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 what female entrepreneurs need to succeed. However, this expectation is not related to gender; it’s related to business. It becomes gender-biased when most of the start-up investments are awarded to men.
The Importance of Networking
Networking is essential for every woman in business, regardless of her level or role. Networking can help women build relationships with other professionals, share resources and knowledge, and gain access to new opportunities. It can also increase visibility for female-led initiatives and provide support in a male-dominated industry. By leveraging the power of networking, women can make strides in their career and create a lasting impact on the business world.
Creating Gender Equality
The fact that most industries are male-dominated is not good or bad; it is a fact. Men have been running businesses for centuries, and most large aspects of life are male-dominated, such as politics, religion, cultures, and laws in many countries. Despite some policies and laws, discrimination and stigma still exist. Significant changes are still needed, and the Gender Lens Investing movement is trying to help.
Gender Lens Investing considers gender-based factors when investing in businesses. They are invested 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 encourage women to support each other.
Unfortunately, globally, some female entrepreneurs still need a male partner to have a business. Imagine having to find a male business partner and do all the other things involved in a start-up. Many foreign start-ups may have failed 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. It is not about lying; it is about asking for what you actually need. This ensures you have what you need plus a small cushion, so you do not 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. 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 questioned, especially in a male-dominated company. While this is repugnant and hardly 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. 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. This is not a solely female issue; it is a challenge for all entrepreneurs. Women just seem to have to work harder for the same respect.
Building your self-confidence and getting a thicker skin help you work past negative comments. Reining in emotions is difficult. Instead, appear calm and confident and deal with frustrations privately. Learning to take any negative feedback will improve your brand, which is the ultimate goal.
Women have been raised to downplay their accomplishments for centuries. It can be challenging to flip the switch on this internally, making it difficult to own your accomplishments. Learning to promote yourself in a humble yet effective way takes time and practice. This is an area where female networking and workshops are needed for female entrepreneurs.
When women discuss their businesses, they tend to say “we,” and they are not well-versed in bragging. Instead, women need to use “I.” You have worked hard, you own the company- embrace “I”! Female entrepreneurs need to acknowledge their accomplishments.
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 for achieving any entrepreneurial venture. More than half of the female business community has stated their greatest need is a female-based support network.
However, some may struggle to find such support due to negative experiences with girls growing up. Individuals who have been treated disrespectfully in the past may find it challenging to seek out a group of female mentors.
Once this mindset is overcome, a group of female entrepreneurs willing to share their knowledge and show how to navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship with grace can be found. These women can become living, breathing how-to-books, and through their guidance, relationships and contacts can be made.
While the “It’s who you know, not what you know” mentality still exists, finding a network may not be as difficult as one may think. Utilizing social media forums and web searches can help individuals find a network that will fit their needs. Active participation is essential, and if there is no discussion, create one. There are likely other businesswomen with the same questions and creating a conversation can lead to valuable connections.
In-person events, trade sites, social media groups, business association websites, podcasts, books, and free webinars are all excellent resources to find support and networking opportunities.
Being a parent is challenging, being a female entrepreneur is tough, and combining them can be hair-pulling. Social norms have forced women into the primary caretaker role, and balancing these responsibilities can be challenging.
Starting a business at a younger age can make it easier to integrate family and work. It requires setting limits on time spent in one’s career and with family and having a partner willing to share responsibilities. Trial and error and the ability to recognize when something isn’t working and make changes is also essential.
As women have done in the past, it is up to current female businesswomen to forge a path for future generations. Increasing flexibility in the business world needs to come from those already there.
It’ Okay to Drop a Ball
Failure is a part of entrepreneurship, and the more balls one juggles, the more likely they are to drop some. Learning from negative experiences can offer clarity and motivation to do better. Success comes from taking feedback and using it to one’s advantage while ignoring the “no you can’t.”
While there is still a gap for female entrepreneurs to fill, creating networks, workshops, and lobbying for what is needed can help to bridge this gap. As the number of female entrepreneurs increases and younger generations step into these roles, significant changes will occur.