with Aliza Sherman
If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.
To learn more about Aliza, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! and her website, www.mediaegg.com.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about the fundamental challenges women in business face even in today’s business and political climate. Looking at the challenges I’ve faced over the last 5-10 years - as well as interviewing and writing about female entrepreneurs for the last decade - I’ve come up with 5 major challenges that I believe are unique to women in business.
Now before you think I’m being sexist or reviving stereotypes, I want to reiterate again that I’ve been through these things in recent years and am thinking I may not be alone. Also, I believe that talking about these issues - whether you agree with them or not - is healthy and useful.
This isn’t about attacking anyone. It is about bringing taboo topics to the forefront, to face them head on.
So with that preface, here are some challenges I believe women in business STILL face.
1. Societal Perceptions
Women are still perceived as less than men in business. We are still seen as less savvy, less able to handle power, less capable, less everything. We are paid less for the same work. Even very successful business women are often looked at with a degree of condescension or disdain. Forthright and assertive businesswomen are considered “bitchy” as a way to diminish their intelligence and abilities. Society fears women in power.
Advice: Keep telling the positive stories of successful women in business. Call your local media to task for not profiling top businesswomen often enough, and provide them with contacts for women business owners to interview (starting with YOU!) The more people see powerful businesswomen as mainstream, it starts to become more acceptable, a non-issue.
2. Self Esteem Issues
I have found that many successful and even powerful women still suffer from self esteem issues. They simply don’t feel good enough. In fact, their drive in business is often an overcompensation for a feeling of inadequacy. Whether their esteem has been affected by societal influences or family influences (such as an overly critical parent), women in business often keep striving for more and more in order to get the approval or kudos they desperately seek. Gaining confidence in one’s abilities - and building a solid foundation of positive self esteem - can be a long term process.
Advice: If you suffer from poor self esteem, talk it over with trusted friends, colleagues, even family members. But if that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to turn to a professional such as a business coach or even a therapist.
Women are emotional by nature and by nurture. We’re wired that way, and we’re expected to be emotional. And often, in business, our emotions get the best of us. Whether it is crying when we’re trying to fire someone or flying off the handle inappropriately, any show of emotion - no matter how natural - is seen as a flaw. We are also emotional about our businesses. Many women refer to their companies as their “babies.” Rarely do men do this. Because we are so wrapped up in our businesses emotionally, we have a very hard time separating ourselves from our companies which can be a detriment when we are negotiating or when asked to define or fulfill an exit strategy.
Advice: If you are an emotional person, be true to yourself and don’t let others dictate what is “acceptable” in business. But if your emotions are negative and not easily controlled or inappropriate in business settings, you need to work on that. If you can’t overcome it, talk it over with others or seek professional guidance. And when it comes to your company, keep reminding yourself that it is a BUSINESS and NOT your baby.
4. Success Envy
Women tend to envy other women and then proceed to try to undermine them whenever possible. Many women see the pie of potential clients and business success as a small one and try to eliminate the competition in backstabbing ways. Rather than realizing that as each of us succeeds, we create more opportunity and a bigger pie for everyone, these women want the piece of the pie that someone else has and will do nearly anything to get it. We often badmouth one another. We insult or gossip about successful women far more than we say how much we admire them. Rather than reaching out to help other women - or consciously doing business with other women - we fail to see the value of supporting one another in the way that men do. The flip side of this behavior is being the brunt of other women’s envy and being undermined in subtle or not-so-subtle ways that can make doing business with other women hell.
Advice: If you find that you are envious of other women in business in non-productive ways, talk it out with trusted friends or colleagues or seek professional advice or help. If you are the brunt of other women’s envy, always take the high road. Don’t engage in mud-slinging or backstabbing behavior. If things get really bad, talk it out with others, including a professional who can help you deal with the situation in a healthy manner.
5. Barbie Syndrome
Even though Mattel has discontinued the Barbie that said “Math class is tough,” many women still either claim to be “bad with numbers” even when they aren’t or won’t admit it when they are but are hesitant to bring money-savvy people onto their team to make up for their deficit. After interviewing many venture capitalists - both male and female - over the years, I have heard time and time again that the number one area women in business show the greatest weakness is in either understanding or knowing the details of the financials of their companies.
Advice: If you are good with numbers, flaunt it. If you don’t want to focus on the numbers or are not so good with them, hire someone who is and let go so they can do their job.
All of the above are things that I’ve dealt with over the years. And yes, I have followed my own advice.
Do any of the challenges above resonate with you? What did you do about them? What are some other major challenges that you’ve faced in business that you think are unique to women?
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