Each year, more and more women set out on the journey to become successful founders and CEOs of their own companies. While these business-savvy ladies are inspirational to women with dreams of launching a startup, entrepreneurship remains a traditionally male-dominated territory, and there are still some significant obstacles that many female business owners have to face. Here are five of the biggest challenges of women entrepreneurs today, and how to overcome them.
1. Women entrepreneurs think they need to act like men.
Most female business owners who have attended networking events can relate to this scenario: You walk into a crowded seminar and can count the number of women there on one hand. When women entrepreneurs have to talk business with primarily male executives, it can be intimidating.
“When you own a business, you’re constantly negotiating deals with many different people,” said Hilary Genga, founder and CEO of women’s swimwear company, Trunkettes. “Many times, with female owners, men think they can be dishonest or give her a bad deal because she’s a woman — something they probably want to compensate and protect themselves, women often feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically “male” attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive and sometimes overly harsh. But Genga believes this is the wrong approach to take.
“Be yourself, and have confidence in who you are,” she advised. “Don’t try to be a man. You made it to where you are through hard work and perseverance, but most importantly, you’re there. Don’t conform yourself to a man’s idea of what a leader should look like.”
2. Emotions and nurturing skills can affect their business.
Though trying to act like a man doesn’t guarantee success for a female entrepreneur, allowing her “feminine” qualities to stand in the way of getting things done isn’t necessarily recommended, either. By nature, women are more emotional and nurturing, which can sometimes be a hindrance to running a business.
“For men, a business is mostly about the bottom line, but for women, it’s more than that,” said Delia Passi, CEO of WomenCertified, home of the Women’s Choice Award. “We get emotionally connected, and that can hold us back from making the tough decisions. Male board members and investors get frustrated when we’re not as quick to fire or make dramatic business changes that could impact employees’ families.”
Passi noted that women also tend to be very relationship-based in business, placing a high premium on building up relationships that they hope will naturally lead to a sale. Connections are highly important to success, and nurturing strong professional relationships can go a long way. However, Passi reminded female entrepreneurs to also be direct and stay focused on their business goals.
3. Women often lack the support of other female business leaders.
Long before she founded online women’s eyewear boutique Rivet and Sway, CEO Sarah Bryar worked with undergraduate female engineering students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These “trailblazers,” as Bryar described them, felt insecure about being in the minority as women who excelled in math and science, and longed for more camaraderie and support from female peers in their field.
“The main challenge for female entrepreneurs is just like the challenge for female engineering students: There just aren’t enough of us,” Bryar told BusinessNewsDaily. “There aren’t enough women to be role models, act as sounding boards, do deals with — in short, to create normalcy for women in leadership positions.”
Despite the quickly growing number of female executives and business owners, finding fellow women entrepreneurs to connect with isn’t always easy. Women-focused networking events like American Express OPEN’s CEO BootCamp are good places to start, as well as online forums and groups specifically created for women in business.
“Opportunities to lead do exist for women,” Bryar said. “We just need to continue to support and promote women in the limelight to encourage others to come along for the ride.”
4. Many women have to balance raising a family with running their business.
Work-life balance is often a goal of entrepreneurs across the board, but mothers who start businesses have to simultaneously run their families and their companies.
“Being a mother while running a business is very challenging,” Genga said. “There are ways to balance your time, but the perception is that you could be more effective running your business if you didn’t have to deal with kids.”
Genga has learned to not take shortcomings on either front too seriously, and to not beat herself up over the little things, like missing a class trip with her children. “Momtrepreneurs” have dual responsibilities to their business and to their family, and finding ways to devote time to both is key to truly achieving that elusive work-life balance.
5. Women entrepreneurs are afraid of failure.
According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, the fear of failure is the top concern of women who launch startups. Failure is a very real possibility in any business venture, but Passi believes it shouldn’t be viewed as negative.
“You need to have massive failure to have massive success,” she told BusinessNewsDaily. “You may need 100 “no’s” to get one “yes,” but that one “yes” will make you more successful tomorrow than you were today.”
Bryar offered similar advice for female entrepreneurs, encouraging them to work through the moments of self-doubt that every business owner faces.
“Work hard at ignoring that inner voice that may discourage taking action, speaking up or getting outside your comfort zone,” she said. “It’s something I struggle with myself, but I know fundamentally that I wouldn’t be a CEO today if I hadn’t taken chances to assert myself.”
By Nicole Fallon