This article is part of a series co written by the authors of ‘Female Entrepreneurs: The Secrets of Their Success’ interviewing 52 founders. This post brings together some insights on challenges faced by these female entrepreneurs and the natural advantages they leveraged to grow their business.
By Ruth Saunders, Founder, On Point & John Smythe, Co founder Engage for change
Whether true or false, it has long been said that women can multitask in a way that men can only wish for.
That hypothesis tested positive in our 52 interviews – with most of our female entrepreneurs running a start-up, raising a family and managing pro bono work as well.
Ours is a qualitative validation that women can successfully manage multiple roles at any one time – although we are reasonably sure that many men will also resonate with these traits.
Part-time and flexible working was a hot topic for many of our female entrepreneurs, with many leaving corporate environments to create a working life that works both professionally and personally.
Many of our female entrepreneurs went on to employ other women – creating competitive advantage by leveraging a highly talented workforce who are keen to work but feel disenfranchised by the less flexible corporate world.
Isn’t it time that corporations embraced more of these highly talented, highly productive people, by making their working environments more flexible?
Many of our interviewees talked about creating a working environment where people are encouraged to work ‘collaboratively, collegially and courteously’.
‘A leader who tries to control everything and take all the decisions will soon be alone or left with the flotsam and jetsam who can’t find alternative employment’.
To achieve this, they took people with them by keeping their egos in check – sharing power, valuing their employees and encouraging people to speak up.
Juggling multiple roles may be a blessing in disguise. Being the primary family carer requires female entrepreneurs to switch off from work at the end of each day to focus on their family – thus creating a healthier work-life balance.
That said, society needs to do more to encourage everyone, including men, to have a good work-life balance, as well as help women juggle multiple roles when working in less flexible corporate working environments.
Many of our female entrepreneurs commented on business still being a male-dominated world. As Caroline Criado Perez asserts in her book ‘Invisible Women’, one that has been subconsciously designed by men for men and has been slow to embrace more feminine characteristics.
Women are at a disadvantage, as they have to learn and play by male values and rules – with industry being slow and reluctant to make the workplace work for all genders.
Unless the corporate world addresses this male cultural bias, they will continue to lose out on one of the country’s largest talent pools.
Lack of funding
The comparative numbers between male- and female-led start-ups is stark.
91% of venture capital money continues to fund businesses founded solely by men, with only 1% invested in businesses founded solely by women.
The reason is that most investors are men. Research shows that there is a lack of senior females on U.K. investment teams (13% of the total), with almost half of investment teams (48%) having no women at all.
The result is male investors treating female entrepreneurs more sceptically when pitching and preferring to invest in more male-orientated business ideas that resonate with them.
Being a woman pitching for money in those arenas takes courage and patience. Many successful, more female-orientated ideas are being left to fall by the wayside.
The growth of female VC investors who are more likely to understand and invest in ideas created by females is a huge step forward.
But clearly there is still much to do.
Many of our interviewees talked about the natural disadvantage women face when selling, pitching and networking.
Women often lack the commercial training needed to pitch successfully. They can also lack time in the evenings to network, or even lack the network itself when they’ve taken time out of the commercial world to bring up a family.
Whilst men continue to delegate the lion’s share of the housework and family care to their female partner, out of hours networking will remain tricky for women.
Supportive partners and access to commercial training will undoubtedly help, but, like the funding issue, there is still a long way to go.
Many of our interviewees talked about the female tendency not to talk about or celebrate their success – in contrast to their male counterparts.
They are concerned that they might not be an attractive female leader if they behave in a celebratory way and in turn come over to others as self-satisfied or boastful.
Reshma Saujani’s book ‘Brave Not Perfect’ asserts that women are brought up differently to men by being encouraged to be ‘perfect rather than brave’. She exhorts women to fear less, fail more and live bolder.
There are a number of natural advantages that women have over men when starting a business, that female entrepreneurs should play to:
There are also a number of natural disadvantages that women face versus men when starting a business, that female entrepreneurs should be mindful of:
Ruth Saunders uses her 30 years of experience as a strategy consultant and marketer to FMCG’s to help clients be ‘On Point’. She is the author of “Marketing in the Boardroom: Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Board.”
Connect with Ruth on linkedin
John specialises in engaging employees in developing business strategy and organisational change at “Engage for Change” and authored ‘The Velvet Revolution at work’, ‘The CEO: The Chief Engagement Officer’ and ‘Corporate Reputation – Managing the New Strategic Asset’.
Connect with John on linkedin