If the business world has historically been dominated by men, it has to be noted that women are starting their own businesses in ever larger numbers. In particular, the young generation of both genders values entrepreneurship enormously: young women want to make the jump in their numbers, but they have fewer successful businesswomen role models, and have additional challenges to overcome.
Daring to start a business
A great many women feel like they are being held to higher standards than men. They must do more to distinguish themselves, to prove themselves or to be taken seriously. These prejudices, whether they be real or perceived, can put a damper on some women’s enthusiasm to take their future into their own hands. And yet, women’s unique qualities can become invaluable assets in the business world: an original leadership style, a different perspective, a new approach, can allow women-led businesses to set themselves apart.
Making that big leap should not be scary, for many of the “handicaps” awaiting women entrepreneurs can be transformed into advantages.
Challenging society’s expectations
Quebec’s society has evolved a lot in the last decades, and should you set foot in a Young Chamber of Commerce, you will see that women are there in their masses. And yet, in big corporations, decision-making positions are more often occupied by men. As a woman, it can be unnerving to be forced to talk business or negotiate with a group made of men only.
In such situations, some women feel like the right attitude to stay ahead of the game is to imitate the stereotypes man-done business: aggressiveness, competition, and even a bit of toughness. However, because of our social conditioning, a woman giving in to this approach might be perceived as harsh and unpleasant; it’s unfair, but what works well for a man can be harmful to a woman.
One way to rise above those preconceived expectations is to find one’s own voice as a woman. One must trust in who she is and in her capacities. Men have their own idea of what a leader is supposed to look like, but nothing compels women to follow this model; women are currently building their own style in the business world.
This however does not mean that women should accept to be taken advantage of. Even without a desire to seem more aggressive than usual, a businesswoman should never fear to exhibit firmness or to express her disagreements. Man or woman, it is up to you alone to defend your project and to negotiate the best agreements for your company; if you don’t do it, who will?
Surrounding yourself properly
Whether you’re a man or a woman, surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial to achieving success in business. Young women may be tempted to launch a business venture in their numbers, however one has to acknowledge that they do not benefit from as many role models as men do within women of generation X or the Baby-Boomers. This can be problematic to those who wish to find a mentor who went through and overcame the challenges specific to businesswomen. The flip side of this is perhaps that such disadvantages foster an enhanced solidarity between businesswomen: mentors may be rarer, but they can also be even more precious, and provide deeper relationships. Similarly, if the gendered education received by girls leads to anti-confrontational attitudes, the trade-off would be that women are more collaborative and consensual: an approach that is more and more valued amongst the Quebec startup ecosystem.
Having natural predispositions for mutual support and teamwork is a huge advantage, and can be a solution to balance the challenges facing women. Building a sound team with members who complement one another, and fostering harmonious cooperation within the group, can give women an edge in their venture’s success.
Balancing entrepreneurship and family
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of women is the balancing of work and family. Even today, many women are in charge of taking care of the home and children. Launching a business can be a colossal endeavour, which can be even more stressful for the woman who is already burdened with a disproportionate part of the domestic chores.
And yet, these additional responsibilities can also be a source of inspiration. Even before they start a business, many women are forced to play the part of “CEO of the household”. Managing the family’s needs, organising and conciliating schedules, building a budget, negotiating with a spouse, planning the logistics of a trip with the children… all of this is very similar to running a small business! All these skills that women have no choice but to learn give them, although they may not realise it, the potential to be formidable businesswomen.
Of course, mothers making the jump into entrepreneurship face unique challenges. Although it is far from impossible to manage a business and a family at the same time, a persistent idea is that having children prevents women to be as efficient in their business as they would be without them, or that the kids will suffer from having had a time-constrained businesswomen for a mother. What is essential, in this double-loyalty to business and family, is not to worry too much about either. The business will not go bankrupt because your new marketing plan is completed late, and the children will not be mad at you if you do not have time to be an accompanying parent for a school excursion.
In fact, even if it demands more work than a 9-to-5 job, being in charge of your own business comes with an undeniable benefit for work-family balance: flexibility. If your business is going through a period of intense growth of difficulties, you may not be as available at home, but conversely, should a family emergency occur, you will have no permission to ask from anyone to take a day off and look after your loved ones.