Did you know that only two per cent of female business owners exceed $1 million in revenue? As a business owner myself, when I found this out recently, I found it absolutely staggering.
What that means is that most female entrepreneurs toil away without the big gains. Never really progressing past side hustles, start-ups or lifestyle businesses. This really floored me. It made me sit back and wonder – why?
Of course there’s no one simple answer. There are a complex set of barriers keeping women from making that leap. I suspect that many of the things holding women back from growing their businesses are structural issues like the expectation placed on women to take on a greater responsibility for childcare and in the domestic sphere. Or the limited opportunities for men to take substantial paternity leave, work part-time or gain more workplace flexibility.
Then there are the many other more insidious factors that come together to create a glass ceiling like unconscious bias or the fact there are less women entrepreneurs and business owners to begin with, which means fewer role models for the next generation of women.
I’m not the person to solve these very complex issues. But what I can say is that it seems like things are starting to slowly change and I am hopeful that in a few years it will be easier for women facing these challenges.
For now, what I’m interested in is uncovering some of the things within our control that we can do to close this gap. What can female entrepreneurs and business owners do today to get us closer to our growth goals?
Chip away at perceptions
It’s well documented that female entrepreneurs are less likely to get their start-ups funded. A study undertaken in the UK found that male entrepreneurs are 86 per cent more likely to be VC funded and 59 per cent more likely to secure angel investment than female entrepreneurs.
There’s speculation around why this happens. One reason is that people tend to hire, partner with and choose to work with people like them – and most investors (for now) tend to be men. Unconscious bias plays a role in this. Some critics suggest the ‘boys club’ still exists.
The less obvious reason is that women may not be as comfortable selling ourselves, asking for money or backing ourselves. I’d argue that for many women, myself included, this is often the case. Women are socialised to be ‘nice’, men are socialised to be assertive. When women do behave assertively we are often seen as bossy and domineering. In fact women are seen to be dominating the conversation in a meeting even when we speak less, and we are more frequently interrupted than men.
Back when I first started my business, I was meeting with a prospective client to pitch for work. There was a lot at stake as I’d just gone out on my own and had zero revenue coming in. The cafe was busy. As I was in the middle of pitching to the male business owner, a male patron walking past made a quip about how much I was talking. It totally threw me off. And absolutely pissed me off. I just can’t imagine a scenario where a man is interrupted during what was obviously a business meeting to be told that he talks too much. Totally infuriating.
So, what’s the answer? Let’s talk more, way more. Let’s be more assertive. Let’s back ourselves and ask for what we want. All women should just start talking about how great we are. Seriously. And let’s never shut up about it until it becomes the norm.
Obviously, this alone isn’t going to solve all of our challenges, but it will start to chip away at and shift perceptions. And as the ‘me too’ movement has revealed, when women rally together to speak up, we can be powerful.
Ditch the imposter syndrome
I find the phrase imposter syndrome totally frustrating. It gives weight to the very normal feelings of self-doubt we all experience – both women and men – at one time or another. Why are we breathing life into a term which does nothing but hold us back?
I suspect that many women are letting an imposter syndrome “diagnosis” validate their decision to give into their fears and not take risks, when in fact what we need to do is the exact opposite.
If the voice in your head is consistently negative, it’s more often than not simply reflecting your fears and anxieties. You don’t need to pay attention to that voice. What I do, is acknowledge the feeling of doubt, put it to the side and carry on.
Once you stop caring what other people think, aside from those that really matter to you, then you are free to take the necessary risks needed to grow your business.
Get a mentor
One of my goals for this year is to get a female mentor. In more recent times I’ve had business coaches and attended business groups, but what I haven’t had is a female role model to emulate or ask for advice, which has been a huge oversight.
When I started my business I had noone to turn to for help. I wasn’t a part of any start-up communities or an accelerator, I didn’t have a business partner, a coach or a mentor. Noone I knew ran their own business. Honestly, I think it was just sheer will that made me successful given how inexperienced I was.
The good news is it doesn’t need to be this way. Seek out a mentor. They will be an invaluable source of advice and support. At the very least being in constant contact with someone who is successful will help you visualise yourself in their boots. You won’t ever exceed $1 million in revenue if you can’t imagine it.
Am I content with running a business that never exceeds $1 million in revenue? Hell no! I am motivated to do everything I can to get there. I hope that these ideas will help in part, but I know that this is only a very small piece of the puzzle.
What do you think needs to happen for female business owners to exceed $1 million in revenue? I’d love your thoughts. Let’s make this statistic a part of our past, not our future.
About the author
Heather Marano is the Founder and Director of Specialist SME marketing consultancy, Green Door Co, based in Sydney, Australia. Over the last decade she has worked with over 60 small and medium sized businesses on their PR and marketing programs. She even picked up a B&T 30 Under 30 award in the PR & Marketing category in 2015. Dedicated to supporting SMEs who are often excluded from marketing opportunities due to cost, Heather has recently launched a DIY PR course called PR 4 SMEs.