How a female entrepreneur can level the playing field

Fact 1: The world of business is largely male-dominated, even if statistics show a general increase in number of female-owned businesses. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the global number of women in business increased by 10 per cent in 2017. The highest rates of female entrepreneurship were seen in Sub-Saharan Africa at 11.3 per cent followed by Asia at 9.1 per cent.

Fact 2:  Women mostly own small, informal businesses. The same research showed that globally, only 6.2 per cent of women entrepreneurs own established businesses – about two thirds the rate of men. GEM defines established businesses as those that have been in operation for more than 42 months.

Fact 3: The study found that women are still more likely than men to discontinue their businesses. Most female-owned businesses were discontinued due to financial reasons (45.8 per cent), including 29.6 reporting closure due to lack of profit and 16.2 per cent citing lack of financing.

These statistics indicate that while female entrepreneurs are in a more favourable position to grow their businesses, it is still a struggle to make it as a female entrepreneur. But such statistics shouldn’t scare or deter you as a female entrepreneur. Female entrepreneurs play a key role in any economy. In fact, the GEM study found that women entrepreneurs have higher levels of innovation than their male counterparts. Innovation was defined as “offering products that are new to some or all customers.”

With that in mind, the following tips will help you stay and succeed as a female entrepreneur:

1. Find a good mentor

One of the major reasons for gender disparity in entrepreneurship, arguably, is the lack of access to female role models. With fewer female business founders, the pool of women who can mentor younger and newer female entrepreneurs is considerably small. It is therefore no surprise that 48 per cent of female entrepreneurs report that lack of advisors and mentors limits their business growth.

A good business mentor is someone who shares hands-on business wisdom with you on an ongoing basis. With the advice and guidance provided by a business mentor, it will be easier to avoid some costly mistakes that can kill your business. You will also make better decisions and be more proficient in the business, therefore achieving business success faster.

According to data from a 2018 analysis by Endevour (a non-profit organisation that supports high-impact entrepreneurs across the world), companies whose founders were mentored by a top performing entrepreneur were three times more likely to become top performers too.

While you can still benefit from male mentors, having a female mentor is even better. A female mentor will be better equipped to help you overcome the special challenges you will face as a female entrepreneur. Such challenges might include sexism, juggling childcare and a growing business, and dealing with impostor syndrome.

To find a mentor, you can reach out to women entrepreneurs that you look up to. LinkedIn and other social media sites have made it easy to connect with people who might previously been out of reach. You should also attend local business networking events with an aim to connect with potential mentors. Luckily, a lot of women-focused networking events and clubs have cropped up in recent years.

2. Network with Women

Women are their own worst enemies, right? Wrong! If you go into business with this kind of mentality as a woman, you might be increasing your risk of failing. As a female entrepreneur, it is important that you have a few reliable female connections in the business world.

More than 75 per cent of women in high-ranking positions have female-dominated inner circles or strong ties with women in their network whom they are frequently in contact with. This is according to a 2019 study published by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University.

You might think, “No problem. I have a few female entrepreneur friends, even though most of my business friends are male.” That strategy won’t do. The study also showed women with either mixed-gender or male-dominated inner circles were likely to hold lower-ranking positions. But unlike women, the findings showed that men’s success in corporate or business world isn’t affected by the gender make-up of their network.

As a woman, you’re less likely to benefit from the “boys club” networks that your male counterparts have. Men are less likely to invite you to a game of golf or to share drinks as you work out a business deal or to advance your business network. Therefore, you have to be more intentional with forming a “girls club”. Be on the lookout for like-minded female entrepreneurs with whom you can create mutually beneficial business relationships.

3. Own Your Accomplishments

Due to social conditioning, women are more likely than men to downplay their own contributions and accomplishments. This results in many female entrepreneurs suffering from imposter syndrome. For instance, due to feelings of inadequacy, you might find yourself charging less for your expertise or giving away too much without a financial commitment from a potential client.

You might also find yourself struggling to take charge, which affects your ability to run the business. Too often, most women CEOs find themselves in male-dominated workplaces where their leadership is undermined. You must always remind yourself that you’ve really earned your position and that you’re as good as male entrepreneurs in your position. Don’t be afraid to assert your authority when the situation calls for it.

Networks will get you far

JUDY MUNYINYI, Information Secretary at Government of Kenya

Opportunity comes to those who are prepared. Be ready to jump in at any time. On TV, it was through Rose Kimotho (founder of Regional Reach LTD) who recommended me to someone who owned a TV station. I then applied to Reuters for a job, came second, and was taken by KTN to replace the one who came first. I have been fortunate in that I do not usually look for work; jobs find me. So I’d say networks are important. I’ve applied for only two of the jobs I have held. The rest have been the result of head-hunters and recommendations.

Everyone has a network. No one is an island. The only difference may be in the levels of our networks but as you grow, they grow. When I was hiring my nanny, I didn’t just pick anyone. I asked a security guard whose character I liked. He found me his relative and the rest is history. We’ve been together for over 7 years. That is a network at work. If you do your work, people notice.

My mother always said… do your best. It has guided me ever since. It is good, but it can also be limiting because if you can’t do your best on a matter then you shy away from it; you don’t touch it because you feel you can’t deliver. Recently, God had to step in and say, “Judy, so what if it fails?” That’s my new mantra: Just begin the work, so what if it fails?  

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