Although the workforce has long been run as a “man’s world” both historically and presently, the business field is still mainly male dominated, which means women often have to work doubly hard to climb the ladder of success and prove themselves against their male counterparts. However, statistically women entrepreneurs are blazing through the business world and making a name for both female founders and women everywhere to showcase women’s intelligence, drive and strong leadership.
The statistics speak for themselves in showing how female founders are rapidly growing. Women-owned businesses are growing at a steady rate of 5%, of which 12.3 million businesses are in the United States. Over 1,200 female founded businesses are started daily in the U.S. generating over 1.9 trillion in revenue. The statistics show that women in minority groups are also multiplying in number as founders and owners. In 2019, 89% of startups were led by women of color, and the number of Hispanic women in business has grown dramatically in the last 10 years with a 172% growth rate.
These statistics are incredible wins for women all over the world who feared there would never be respect for female leaders in the business world, however, equality in the workplace is still a dream of the future with women only earning 84% of men’s salaries in 2020.
One important aspect of being a woman in a male-dominated field is to not reduce yourself down in your mind due to being a woman. Don’t let yourself see yourself as successful only “for a woman.” Don’t let the limits of a male-run business world stop you from pushing boundaries and achieving your greatest capabilities.
Lynn Good, the CEO of Duke Energy spoke out about being one of the only women in leadership in the workforce.
“I’ve had plenty of mentors, but not many women [mentors]. So I’m generationally probably on the early part of the ascent of women into leadership roles…I actually had someone say to me, ‘Lynn, you’re going to have very good days, and you’re going to have very bad days. But it’s rare that things are as good as they look, and it’s rare that things are as bad as they seem.’ So, having perspective, and challenging perspective, is important to making good decisions,” said Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy.
Sophia Amoruso, former CEO and Founder of Nasty Gal, author and spokesperson for female leadership spoke up about how to prepare for future success. She famously coined the term #girlboss to refer to women go getters in business.
“Each time you make a good decision or do something nice or take care of yourself; each time you show up to work and work hard and do your best at everything you can do, you’re planting seeds for a life that you can only hope will grow beyond your wildest dreams. Take care of the little things—even the little things that you hate—and treat them as promises to your own future…As hard as it is, stop caring so much about what other people think. Find a way to hear what you want. Recognize what is your dream. And then put everything you have into that: your work, the relationships you surround yourself with, the food you put in your body. Everything you have control over in your world should feed that dream and make you feel like a #GIRLBOSS!” said Sophia Amoruso, former CEO of Nasty Gal.
Although women face gender biases and stereotyping all the time in daily life, especially in business, a key consideration for women in business to remember is to lean into their strengths, regardless of whether they align with biases about women.
Just as Lynn Good said, “Always play to your strengths, whether your strengths are gender-based or just natural aptitude,” this Founder of Revela offers similar advice.
“Focus on your strengths as a woman. In the media and popular and historical portrayals associated with women, they are known as nurturing, insightful, good at communication and fostering relationships. Lean into your unique strengths as a woman, whether they align with these traditional perspectives or not and use the biases about women to your advantage. But don’t limit yourself to being soft and gentle — you are still a powerful leader and you deserve to take up space in a male dominated industry,” says Cindy Le, Co-Founder and COO of Revela Inc.
Standing your ground and refusing to allow yourself to be demeaned or walked over by others in the workforce is an essential place to start. Historically, women have been reduced at work by their male counterparts and asked to complete tasks far below their position and capability. Unfortunately, this pattern is far too common still and needs to be eradicated through deeper respect towards women by the men making such demands. Women are not responsible for bringing about this enlightenment. One thing you can do, however, as the world continues to slowly progress towards equality, is never reduce yourself to fit in.
“I cannot express to you how often the women I know are belittled by men in their work circles; I have experienced it too often to recount myself. It is the unfortunate reality we live in and it needs to change. What we can do in the meantime to help bring about quicker change is to refuse to ever bow to demeaning demands and statements. Just because you are a woman some people out there will think less of you or automatically devalue what you bring to the table. Know your worth and never accept anyone’s rationale that you deserve less. Together we can bring about change but it takes every woman refusing to sell herself short along the way,” says Lisa Odenweller, CEO and Founder of Kroma.
One area where women either feel more pressured in the workplace is to take large risks that their male co-workers might not feel the push to do. Women feel more pressure than men to take risks at work in order to receive recognition for their effort.
“Don’t be afraid to take risks with your company,” says Judy Nural, President and Founder of MicrodermaMitt. “Although women leaders are often both more hesitant to take risks at work due to the criticism that will be placed upon them as ‘women leaders’ and more likely to take risks anyways; I think this tendency to push the boundaries has been created by the male dominated workforce that forces women to step outside of the box in order to receive the same recognition and respect as men. Regardless, do not be afraid to take big steps, risky as they may be, because no great company got to where they are by staying put.”
However, if the taken risks do not succeed, women sometimes face harsher consequences for the “failure” and are accused of being reckless. What you need to keep in mind is that everything you have done is for the good of the company, and taking risks sometimes does not lead to the results you desire, however, always keeping your business in one place won’t lead to greater growth.
“Remember that failure does not exist because every trial was an opportunity and even when you didn’t achieve the desired results, you still learned and grew,” says Courtney Buhler, CEO & Founder LashPRO Academy. “The same is true in business. You have to take big risks in order to prevent your company from being stagnant; sometimes they pay off, and sometimes they lead to a change in direction and new understanding. At the least, you can check it off your list as something you tried. Some people might try to make you doubt yourself and your decision making when you don’t succeed right away, but don’t ever let them make you feel bad. Be proud that you took a risk.”
It can be difficult for women in leadership because they have eyes on them at all times. Sometimes this creates the feeling of a lot of pressure to succeed and always present a type of front. However, the CEO of TextSanity views the spotlight as a positive role.
“People are always watching women in leadership which can really amp up the pressure. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is a lot of weight on women feeling the need to live up to a certain standard at work. While this pressure is the sad truth, on the other hand, I view the spotlight as a platform to inspire other women who dream of also being in leadership. Know that you are always watched as a successful woman in business, but it is not all critical eyes. You are also a vision of what a powerful woman can achieve. I recommend you step into this role and allow yourself to be an inspiration by always striving to do the best you can for those who will come after you,” says Carrie Derocher, CMO of TextSanity.
Life always comes with difficult chapters, and when you are a person who has a spotlight on you, chances are your rough chapters are going to become more public than you would like. Carry yourself in a way that makes you proud of yourself even in your hardest moments at work.
“The way people handle hardships says a lot more about them than how they handle success. There will be times when you feel like you’re on top of the world at work, and be sure that people will be watching. But during the times when it seems like everything is falling apart or nothing is working as it should, these are when it is important to represent yourself as enduring,” says Rachel Jones, Head of PR of Hope Health.
Being a leader means holding a position of power and making big decisions for the good of the company. There are more aspects to leadership than this, however, and the qualities that make a leader a strong one actually have more humble origins. Being a leader is about how you lead others, so a strong ability to care for those under your leadership will take you far.
“If you are a leader, think about what you are chosen to lead. Yes, there is usually a “what”–like a company, a department in the company, or a particular project–but even more than the “what” is the “who.” In every aspect of what you are chosen to lead are the people that make up that department or business. Strong leaders are good at leading people, which looks like having empathy, patience, understanding and humility. Just remember, you are only as good of a leader as the people following your lead would testify, so strive to always support the people. Be looking for ways you can serve them,” says Kelli Lane, Chief Marketing Officer of Genexa.
As you strive to lead the people through servantship, also focus on motivating them towards the greater mission at hand. Because leaders are also the people who delegate tasks to their employees, they need to be the ones to explain the importance of each person’s role to inspire the utmost productivity.
“Focus on motivating your team members to fully step into their roles, no matter how seemingly small their task may be. Every person plays an important role in a company’s success, and the leaders are the ones whose job it is to inspire excellence and hard work,” says Sarah Pirrie, Brand Director of Healist Naturals.
The Founder of Nesas Hemp recommends that women leaders surrounding themselves with other like minded people is an important aspect to their feeling like they have a support system.
“My best tip for female founders is to surround yourself with other strong female leaders. As a female founder, you are already a minority in a typically male-dominated industry. Therefore, consider seeking out strong female candidates for executive positions. This will provide a safer space for communication and collaboration, ensure that your ideas and thoughts are being heard, and create a workplace culture that is both accepting and tolerant,” says Inesa Ponomariovaite, Founder of Nesa’s Hemp.
Don’t allow any negativity or criticism to affect your confidence. Knowing that you have clear goals and are doing your best to take your company further should inspire you to believe in your hard work.
“Continuously learn, and remove negative social feedback loops. Remember, you can’t control everything, especially people’s opinions. Where there is unfortunate bias, you as a leader are suffering regular detriment to your confidence and self-image. Removing this from your circle is not only important to your own success, but to your health. Take this with a constant and continuous desire to learn, and you will be able to move forward with a growth mindset that leads to success,” says Karina Karassev, Founder and COO of Stori.
And of course, you should always surround yourself with quality resources and support tools to keep you grounded. The Founder of Holiday St. recommends a few in particular to help you on your journey.
“Being a female founder can be challenging. Luckily, there are several resources available to us these days such as Amber Grant, Astia and Plum Alley for funding. These organizations support female founders and entrepreneurs by helping them to secure valuable resources. The best tip I have for female founders is to not be afraid of making mistakes,” says Heidi Streeter, Founder of Holiday St.
Whether you are a woman in a leadership position or someone who looks up to those who are and is motivated to follow in their footsteps, these tips and resources from successful women in leadership should inspire your business endeavors. Female founders are still considered somewhat groundbreaking in 2021, but the more that women are not afraid to step into the business world, soon the concept of women in leadership will be ordinary, but the women who make it possible everyday will still be extraordinary.