Women are starting new businesses in record numbers, and they are facing unique challenges caused by social expectations placed upon women.
Here are eight challenges unique to female entrepreneurs, and how to handle them.
1. Fewer Role Models
Role models are critical for personal and professional development. Entrepreneurs look to those that have gone before them for guidance on how to build a successful brand, how to manage a company, and how to lead. When people look for role models, they usually look for someone similar to them that they are comfortable talking with.
This means that men often look for male role models, and women often look for female role models. Women need to be creative in finding mentors by looking outside of their specific industry, establishing remote mentoring relationships conducted remotely.
2. Building and Using Professional Networks
Another critical component to a professional woman’s success is her network. In business, who you know is just as important as what you know, and getting the right introductions early in your career can be the difference between success and failure.
Women face a few obstacles in the networking, not the least of which is having fewer mentors available to introduce them to decision makers in their industry. Women need to ask colleagues and mentors for introductions they want and talk with everyone about what they are doing. You never know what may lead you to your next funding source.
3. Not Enough Self-Promotion
Women are taught from a young age to be modest and quiet, and so when it comes time to promote themselves in the business world, many are at a loss as to how to do it. Women may fear that by talking themselves up, they will appear too aggressive or bossy. In order to avoid those pitfalls, don’t adopt a persona, just be yourself.
You don’t have to aggrandize your accomplishments, just start by talking about your work and your ideas in simple terms. Their quality will speak for itself, and you will slowly get more comfortable talking about yourself.
4. Impostor Syndrome
Tied in with the difficulties of networking is the fear of not being taken seriously by colleagues. Many women, especially high-achievers, contend with impostor syndrome. Sufferers are convinced that they are frauds and that they achieved their accomplishments by mistake somehow.
They fear being found out as a phony by those around them. They don’t believe they should be taken seriously. To combat impostor syndrome, try keeping a list of your accomplishments. Looking back on your list can assure you that the events really did happen, and you really do deserve all the success you have.
Fundraising requires mentors, a network, and lots of self-promotion, so it is not surprising that it is an area that many female entrepreneurs find challenging. Another aspect is that there are not a lot of female venture capitalists out there, and the tendency is for VCs to fund people like them, involved in similar business areas.
While not unique to women, perfectionism is a personality trait found more commonly in women and in men. Perfectionism can hold you back from success by paralyzing you. You don’t speak up in a conversation because you’re not completely sure what you’re about to say is correct.
It may be that you don’t suggest a new project idea unless you are sure it will succeed. You agonize over details and second-guess everything you do. Perfectionism and low self-confidence can hold women back in business in many ways, all simply because they hesitate to take the next step, whatever that next step may be.
7. Failure to Delegate
Female entrepreneurs often feel the need to do everything themselves. They want to make all the phone calls, talk to all of the employees every day, do all the research, and plan the menu for the holiday party. All the while they are still networking, fundraising, and taking care of other high-level tasks.
Women need to delegate. Executive coaches suggest that you delegate tasks that drain you of energy, or you just feel you aren’t that great at and someone on your staff can do better.
8. Balancing Work and Family
The concept of the “second shift” suggests that working women really work two shifts in a day, the one at work and then the one they do at home taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and family obligations. Female entrepreneurs, especially those with children, truly must be masters of organization and multi-tasking. It truly is difficult to have it all.
Your best bet is to prioritize ruthlessly. Choose a few things in each arena that are important to you, and either delegate the rest or just let them slide.
Women business leaders need to own their accomplishments, build their networks, and give themselves permission to prioritize and delegate. By focusing on these key areas, they can overcome the challenges that many female entrepreneurs face in order to build the business of their dreams.