Tips from A Fellow Female Entrepreneur
Yesterday, September 22nd, was American Business Women’s Day. As women, we have made amazing strides! One third of the entrepreneurs in the world are women. But these numbers only tell part of the story. Gender norms continue to greatly affect the entrepreneurial landscape. Whether social expectations, lack of support, or difficulty achieving work-life balance, women continue to face major challenges when starting a business. But I remain optimistic! In celebration and solidarity, I would like to share some lessons learned during my own entrepreneurial journey with those just starting out:
1. Believe in the impact you can bring to the world, and then find a way to make it happen. Your first and perhaps most persistent barrier may be your own inner critic. A constructive approach for me was to list those doubts and fears, and address them directly.
2. Understand and believe in your intentions. You are challenging the social construct; expect judgment and interrogation. Explicit and implicit bias stemming from a variety of “isms” (likely ageism and sexism among them) are common. But filter through that noise and draw strength from within.
3. Cultivate a support network that believes in you and your mission. Give yourself the permission to be selective about who you surround yourself with. Choose those who enable and empower you while keeping you in check.
4. Build a team that aligns with your values. Create a culture of authenticity, support and cooperation, and insist that your team respect and uphold those values. If those core values are compromised, your foundation can falter.
5. Learn to recognize imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is common, and especially prevalent among women in leadership roles, including entrepreneurs. Remind yourself of what drives your work, and focus on the impact.
6. Seek constructive feedback. Identify a trusted network who can provide honest feedback – positive and negative, coaching and contacts.
7. Find mentors, and when you are established, mentor new talent. Surround yourself with other female entrepreneurs who understand the challenges and disparities you are facing. Let their experience guide you, and then return the favor for women who are just starting out.
8. Be true to yourself. Women face unspoken pressures to conform within a patriarchal ecosystem. Common, even glorified behaviors among men are criticized when exhibited by women. Rather than censoring your behavior and management style to avoid seeming too nice, too masculine or to avoid other gendered criticism, remember to always be true to yourself. We can always adjust and improve without changing who we are and what we believe at our core to accommodate someone else’s concept of leadership.
9. Emphasize your strengths. We all have strengths. Harnessing those strengths can make us better and more successful leaders; resist letting your nature be weaponized against you. For me, I have resisted any intimation to shy away from a nurturing professional environment for fear that it will be perceived as too “feminine.” Rather I consider it a strength that can be cultivated to build a healthy and inclusive company culture.
10. Accept your weaknesses. We are constantly bombarded with society’s demand for excellence. Starting a business can trigger that urge to pursue perfection. Of course perfection is an illusion. Entrepreneurship requires a certain level of honesty with oneself. Identifying your weaknesses with candor allows you to address them and more efficiently manage your enterprise; ignoring weaknesses virtually guarantees impediments and delays. They will come out eventually.
11. Ask for help. You can either go it alone, or you can go further as a team. Knowing when you need help and asking for it are just steps along the journey. Keep your focus on the work and its impact. I struggled a bit with understanding that help is not equal to ableism, but that we all sometimes need support to move forward. Don’t sacrifice your vision for your pride.
12. Different isn’t wrong. Lastly, please know that there isn’t one way to start and manage a business. How you go about it will be mainly influenced by your values and your “why.” Hence, the emphasis on knowing yourself in the above tips. You may seek and accept advice along the way, but your path will still be very much your own.
Being a female entrepreneur comes with its own trials and tribulations and being a woman with a disability adds an additional layer. There is no shortage of assumptions or opinions, but I use these hurdles as a driving force. To prove people wrong and challenge what has been accepted as the norm. Check out my Instagram (@sarasminkara) highlight to view some incredible #WomanOwnedBusinesses!