When one thinks ‘entrepreneur’, the first image to pop up is usually of a man. It’s not just because of the low numbers of women entrepreneurs, but also reflects the image propagated by popular culture and media. To be an entrepreneur, it’s assumed that one needs to be aggressive, assertive and have an appetite for risks – qualities usually ascribed to men or as masculine. Female founders are often advised that they’ll have to adopt the same qualities as their male counterparts to make it in the ‘cut-throat’ world of business. This narrative continues to suggest that it takes a man to be successful, even when you’re a woman. Instead, the discourse must switch to looking at the qualities women bring to the table to build businesses of value.
Her way of doing business
In addition to the usual challenges of starting a business, women also experience gender-based barriers. A study of women entrepreneurs by the Bank of America and Babson College looked at how they overcame challenges to grow their business beyond the startup phase. It found that the women developed novel strategies to navigate their obstacles. They explored various alternate sources of capital, built for the long-term and developed a sustainable and talented workforce, among others. All entrepreneurs must have an eye for opportunities, create value and drive growth, but women can make their own path to achieving these goals. With more odds against them, it perhaps drives them to work harder and be more determined to achieve success.
A method to risk-taking
The most common assumption against women being fit for business is that they don’t have an appetite for risk, and that to be successful in business one must take risks. Grant Thornton aptly dissolved such notions when they surveyed 5,500 male and female business leaders. The study found that men and women rank risk fairly similarly. The only difference is in the way they react to risk. Men are more likely to react to risk quickly in a bid to appear decisive and that they’re taking action. Meanwhile, women are more detail-oriented and prefer considering the full picture before making a decision. Women entrepreneurs also factor in the expertise of their team members and keep a steady eye on competitor activity.
Ambition for long-term growth
The other argument against women entrepreneurs is that they aren’t ambitious about growing their businesses beyond a point. However, a report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs and Barclays found that women are as interested in growing their business as men. In addition, they showed a greater range of growth ambitions – from domestic and international growth to new products and price points. Like risk, the only difference is in how they view growth. While men are after fast growth and a quick exit, women strive for steady and sustainable growth trajectories. Due to their long-term attitude towards growth, few women entrepreneurs are willing to risk their employees for the sake of growth. Since they believe in sustainable profits, women may also find value in leveraging different types of opportunities.
Leading with emotional intelligence
Compassionate leadership and soft skills training for management have become buzzwords in the post-COVID world. But in 2016, a Korn Ferry research had declared that women are better at using certain soft skills that are crucial for effective leadership and superior business performance. While women scored significantly higher in self-awareness and empathy, the other key areas where they outperformed men include coaching and mentoring, inspirational leadership, conflict management and adaptability. These competencies are useful to build motivated teams that want to stay with the organisation for the long term. After all, it’s the people that bring the growth and profits to a business. Whether it’s employees, stakeholders or customers, a big part of the entrepreneur’s job is to get people to believe in their vision and want to continue associating with them.
Both men and women have their way of doing business. Their varied lived experiences and values are bound to reflect in their entrepreneurship style. They will have unique perspectives on the same situation, solve the same problem differently and choose to leverage different opportunities. Innovation thrives when diverse ideas converge in an open and non-judgmental space. We will see this in the types of businesses too when the numbers of female founders increase. It is known that giving this half of the population a boost in business will lead to tremendous economic growth and job creation. It will also inspire young girls to become financially independent, develop an entrepreneurial mindset and believe that they too can run a business someday.
(views expressed are personal)