In Women’s Month, let us celebrate our special strengths as women entrepreneurs, and
work to conquer our challenges.
Every year in August we celebrate women and acknowledge the importance of the contribution they make within our society. Although this contribution is recognised, it remains concerning how greatly marginalised women are in the business environment. I often ask myself; how is it that after so many years of efforts to integrate women into the business environment, we still only have 34% of women-owned businesses in South Africa? (according to a survey conducted by Facebook in partnership with the World Bank and OECD).
Women entrepreneurs bring enormous value to the business environment and that can benefit society as a whole. However, we still face challenges, and we are not always taken seriously, particularly in industries that are male-dominated.
So, why do so many women battle to gain ground and grow?
• Businesses are built on having strong networks. Particulary when women enter a male-dominated industry, they generally find that the men in that industry have formed strong relationships and networks. It is hard to break into those already established networks, especially when one is new to the market, and this may hamper the progress of their business.
• I also believe one of biggest problems is us – women ourselves – because of our preconditioning when we start businesses. We automatically place barriers and limitations on ourselves by making assumptions that it will be difficult for us to grow within those industries. When we do this, it holds us back from operating at our full potential.
These are just some of the aspects that women have to deal with when operating in industries that are male-dominated. However, there are also characteristics that truly sets us apart, and these traits need to embraced for us to show up authentically and to operate in our areas of excellence.
Strengths of women entrepreneurs
Having worked with many women throughout my career as an entrepreneur development consultant and business mentor, I have noticed very similar traits that most women entrepreneurs possess. There are many aspects in business that they do differently from their male counterparts:
Firstly, the nurturing nature of women plays a big role in how they do business. This results in them caring about more than just financial growth and profitability. The majority wants to grow their businesses beyond themselves, and see others grow alongside them. This could be their staff members, suppliers or even other small businesses around them. Through this nurturing nature, we can achieve greater impact on society as a whole.
Secondly, the unique ability to multitask is a trait that many women possess. We see many successful women being able to juggle building their business, raising children, building a family and still playing an active part in their communities. This makes women exceptional entrepreneurs, because they are able to manage the responsibilities of all their roles.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen many women having to work from home, looking after their families, home-schooling even – whilst still hustling to keep their businesses afloat during this difficult period. I myself had a funny encounter recently; my 3 year old son was hanging on my back while I was frantically trying to complete a report; my husband walked in the room and couldn’t understand how I could continue working unbothered whilst my son was on my back. I turned to him and said ‘’we as women find it very easy to multitask’’.
Thirdly, women are extremely resilient. Despite the prejudice, barriers and challenges faced in their business and sometimes personal environment, there is still a desire to grow, learn and help others around them to do the same. This resilience is not necessarily unique to women only; however, it is a trait that keeps many women going despite the inherent challenges of being a woman in business.
Weaknesses women entrepreneurs need to overcome
Our positive traits are also sometimes accompanied by weaknesses that are not helpful to the growth of women in business. There are similar characteristics that hold back many women from achieving their full potential in business.
Firstly, is the imposter syndrome; this is defined by the Harvard Business Review, 2008 as the collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. It is thoughts and feelings of doubt in one’s capability and being afraid that others will question and doubt your capabilities. This is prominent in the many women entrepreneurs that I’ve met and worked with. If you are struggling with this, I suggest you practice the following: Learn to separate facts and your feeling. Feelings can be highly deceiving and if you had to act on what you are feeling, you will struggle to achieve your goals. Start by reviewing your thoughts and what you are doubting about yourself, ask yourself whether it is indeed a fact, or whether it is a feeling generated by your fear. For instance, you get a call from a potential client that you have been wanting to meet for months. They finally tell you they are ready to meet with you and are interested in your product.
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you will start doubting yourself, feel like perhaps the potential client has made a mistake and that you are not deserving of that business. In this case, start by asking yourself if it is factual that you are not deserving of the business. Once you have answered yourself, move to another thought until you eliminate all self-doubting thoughts. Through this exercise you will realise that the majority of your thoughts are not factual and that indeed you are capable.
Secondly, women entrepreneurs tend to be extremely modest even in situations that do not require it. It is important to be comfortable with sharing your achievements, your strengths and openly talk about what makes you great at what you do. This will enhance the possibility of gaining presence within your market.
Thirdly, I see a lot of confident women struggle to display this confidence when they are in certain environments in business. At times, women hold back from sharing their views and insights in spaces where they feel dominated. We must learn to be confident in ourselves, what we know and what we bring to the table without doubting our abilities. This can be achieved if we stop comparing ourselves with our fellow male entrepreneurs and we focus on our unique strengths, traits, and overall contributions. Being confident is not about having everything figured out or even knowing everything about the business you are in; it’s about focusing on your unique contribution and being confident in that.
“We must learn to be confident in ourselves, what we know and what we bring to the table, without doubting our abilities.”
For us to overcome challenges, we should take into consideration the following:
• Women need to harness their femininity and appreciate the uniqueness they bring to the business world. In some cases, women try to act like men in order to make their presence felt and stand their ground. This is not necessary; the most effective way of claiming one’s presence is by ensuring you are yourself by finding ways of making your presence felt in your own unique way that is in line with your character.
• Do not spend your time trying to prove yourself, rather spend time doing what you are good at well, and building your businesses’ competitive advantage. That way your work can speak for itself.
• Focus on you, your business and ensuring that your clients see the value you can deliver to them, instead of focusing on the realities of your industry.
• Do not always refer to yourself negatively as a women entrepreneur, because you are setting parameters and implying that you have limitations. Your gender does not dictate what your business can achieve, and it certainly does not contribute to the value that you can create for your clients and the service you can provide.
• Find successful entrepreneurs in your industry who are willing to share advice and offer guidance, that way they can also help navigate some of the challenges and you can learn from the mistakes they might have made in the past.
• You need to have the confidence and the courage to navigate any challenges that could potentially come your way. Always be open to learning.
Women entrepreneurs possess extraordinary traits that not only contribute to their success in business, but extends to the nurturing of others around them. It is therefore crucial that as women in business, we appreciate our unique contribution by fully embracing who we are. The month of August should be used for us to reflect on how far we have come, celebrate each other and to look forward to making an even bigger difference in the world of business.