There’s a running trope you may have heard that for every woman in upper management, you’ll easily find at least one man named John. The reason this idea is so pervasive is that it’s both preposterous and true—even though men named John are a paltry 3.3 percent of the male population, and women comprise 50.8 percent of the total U.S. population.
The Internet is a potential goldmine for startup businesses, but some challenges are unique to women. There are fewer female leaders because it’s unfortunately still difficult to break the glass ceiling in many industries. So it’s important to know what challenges you may encounter as a woman in the business world, and have a plan for addressing them.
Ask any working woman what the most challenging part of her life is, and she’s likely to say it’s her work-life balance. This statement is even more accurate when you’re trying to get a startup going, and most men will also agree their social and home lives suffer when they’re in the early stages of entrepreneurship. But there’s a significant difference in how societal pressures expect women and men to maintain those aspects of their lives.
Working women all around the world still do the vast majority of housework and childcare. If you have a family, it can feel impossible to go to work when your kids are sick, or to tell your partner you aren’t ready for kids while you focus on growing a business. Saying no, in general, tends to be harder for women. Mothers raise their daughters to be people-pleasers, bending over backward to make other comfortable and taking on the extra work that requires. That can lead to twofold issues. First of all, you might find yourself making personal commitments you can’t keep, which can leave you struggling to balance your time.
Another problem is when you take on too much at work and neglect to delegate, or you aren’t sure how to put others in charge of things and let go. This issue isn’t unique to women, but it’s more difficult for them. There is no simple solution for this problem, but consider starting out by writing your priorities down. Visually laying things out can help us realize what we really want and need. Considering your long-term goals—a five- or even 10-year plan, perhaps—can also help.
Overcoming the “Female” Image
The fact that this is something women have to even think about, let alone try and overcome, is ridiculous. However, the idea of a female running her own business is, sadly, a concept that still doesn’t sit well with some people.
The female image is based not just on sex, but also on race. For example, black women often have to deal with the media representation of being the “angry black woman” at the office or elsewhere. Regardless of race, women often deal with complaints that any time they show emotion—especially anger—they’re being too irrational, emotional or sensitive.
It’s also common that skeevy people—mainly men—who begin business with a female leader may have an assumption that women don’t know as much about certain fields, such as finance, tech and business analysis.
This is rooted in the assumption that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are male-dominated and that women, naturally, aren’t going to be as competent at these types of tasks. As a result, if people with this misogynistic attitude work for a company that you are looking to contract or partner with, they may assume they can take advantage of you or dupe you because you’re a woman.
The only way to overcome all of these problems is just to establish yourself, hold your ground and cover all your bases. Make sure you know the logistics of protecting your business, financing your business and running it. You must believe—know—that you are fully competent and capable of deciding what’s best for your business. There will be cases where you just have to get firm to make things happen. Remain steady in your confidence.
Finding a Mentor
Finding someone who can relate to the unique issues a female entrepreneur faces usually means finding another woman who’s been in your position. That can be a difficult thing to do, since there aren’t as many of these role models for women as there are for men. In 2017, the percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies hit an all-time high of 32 percent. That’s progress, but the number itself is pretty sad, and it can make networking with someone who understands you and your industry incredibly challenging.
Luckily, we live in the age of the technological revolution—with the rise of the internet, we have more options to connect than ever before. You don’t have to physically meet someone to learn from them. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can follow their work, reach out to them about a common area of interest and start a conversation. A woman working in a traditionally male-dominated position will be able to help you address areas of your life that others around you may lack the scope to understand.
Women have power, and they can make some serious changes to the way we work. Even if you’re not looking to become a female entrepreneur, you can support woman-owned businesses to help show the world that the concept of female bosses is thriving and here to stay. And, if you’re looking to get into entrepreneurism, good for you! Take charge and let the world know you mean business—literally.
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