As posted in the Gaston Gazette
We all know that having a robust population of female entrepreneurs is a good idea. As we’ve pointed out in other articles, women influence 85 percent of purchasing decisions and control more than 60 percent of personal wealth, so it’s wise to have women at the helm of businesses to offer insight and guidance.
What’s sometimes difficult to determine is how best to support these women and that kind of support is becoming increasingly critical to our economic health. According to a report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, there are more than 11 million women-owned businesses in the United States, which represents more than one third of all U.S. businesses, supports nearly 9 million jobs and produces nearly $1.7 trillion in annual revenue.
So what can you do to help support the female entrepreneurs around you? Here are a few suggestions:
- Increase their access to financing. One of the biggest challenges for female entrepreneurs is figuring out how to finance their business. In fact, according to small business lender Bond Street, even though women run 38 percent of businesses, they only receive about 16 percent of business loans. As Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, mentioned to Forbes recently, this is because 90 percent of seed and venture capital funds, which are critical to start-ups, are run by men, and in most cases, men are also still receiving most of that funding. While some funds target women specifically, all investment opportunities need to make themselves more receptive and accessible to female entrepreneurs. One way to accomplish that would be to advertise to women directly. Another way is to put more women into the position of administering those funds. If you’re someone in charge of investing in businesses or know someone who is, you can make these two points a priority.
- Amplify women’s voices. A 2014 study by George Washington University found that when men were speaking with women, they interrupted them 33 percent more often than when they were speaking with other men. For female entrepreneurs, this pattern of interruption can be particularly problematic, especially if the woman is in the middle of sharing a business idea, pitch or product promotion. When you see this behavior, address it. Also commit to amplifying the voices of the women around you and those with whom you regularly interact by seconding their good ideas and making sure they get credit for them. Finally, make sure that women are represented in important events in your field: be sure to ask thoughtful, intelligent women to serve on committees and panels. Then everyone can begin to see women for the leaders that they are.
- Help them fight imposter syndrome. Because women have a harder time finding funding for their projects and are often interrupted – among the other challenges they face in the workplace – women also often struggle with feeling like they don’t belong in the business world. According to Jessica Bennett, author of Feminist Fight Club, there are a number of ways to help women fight this “imposter syndrome” so that they feel more successful. Those suggestions range from teaming women together on projects so they can support one another to helping them over-prepare for events/presentations. However, what’s most important is helping women access strong support networks and communicating that you see them as capable.
- Support mentorship and social media connections. Want to really show the female entrepreneurs in your life that you have their backs? Then make sure they know each other. If a woman you admire and respect runs a successful business, make it a point to introduce her to another female business owner who is still up-and-coming or to a woman who is considering starting her own business. Help them connect on social media or introduce them to a group or organization that supports female entrepreneurs. Women can, of course, do some of this work on their own, but when you show them that their success matters to you, it goes a long way to prove to them the work they do is valuable to the entire community and to their industry.
- Make it a point to partner with more women. As we’ve illustrated, supporting female entrepreneurs is critical to their success. But “putting your money where your mouth is” is also important. When you have the opportunity, partner with a woman-owned business. This illustrates both that you believe firmly in their capability for success and that you will take active steps to ensure that success. And if you’re a man, this kind of public step is especially important. Women have a long history of partnering with and supporting one another. But when a man partners with a woman, he is actively taking down some of the gender barriers than inhibit female success by communicating to other men that women are just as strong, talented and committed as men are. This reinforces to everyone that, in addition to being powerful representations of what women are capable of achieving, women are an integral part of the entire business landscape.
There’s no question that female entrepreneurs are capable of achieving amazing things on their own. But these five tips show ways that we can all assist those women in breaking down some of the barriers that have long presented challenges for them in the business world. In the long run, that benefits everyone.