Klaudia of Enterprise Starter talks to women entrepreneurs about the changes and challenges of gender equality in the business world.

We all know the cliché about the world being a “man’s world” – is it the same for the entrepreneurial world? There is no denying that men seemed to dominate the business world for centuries until one day women started creating ripples.

So, where are we now? Is it still a “man’s world”?

Shubhangi:

I don’t believe so. Women are heading some of the most innovative businesses in the world. It’s only a man’s world if you let that belief hold you back. 

What advice would you give a woman wanting to start her own business?

If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. Your desire to succeed has to be greater than your fear of failure.

What was the best advice you got from another female entrepreneur?

Do easy things for a hard life and hard things for an easy life. Progress takes place outside the comfort zone.

Shubhangi Chandra has been an entrepreneur for sever years. She currently runs Promotion Game Plan, helping high-achieving professionals get promoted to   high-powered, high-paying, high-impact roles.

Shara:

Yes and No. By statistics, yes, there is a very small portion of business founders that are women and therefore still a minority. However, this is changing every year. Seeing Bumble’s CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd recently IPO as the youngest ever female founder and a 70% female board is a real inspiration and step in the right direction.

Any advice?

Be patient. You’ll work harder than you ever have before and be prepared to take a risk. Take advice, ask for help when you need and be kind to yourself. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

What was the best advice you got?

“Do what you do best and outsource the rest.” – I think this was Sara Blakley, founder of SPANX. It’s easier said than done in the very early stages but when you can, it’s the best thing Hettie (my co-founder) and I have ever done. 

Shara Toccia has run DOSE for “four years in total”. DOSE (Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin & Endorphins) is a multimedia wellness business specialising in feel-good content and experiences inspired by happy hormones.

Margaret, the legal profession for many years seemed to be the preserve of men? Do you agree? Have things changed?

Certainly men dominate higher level positions and there is still work to do there. Entrants to the profession are at least 50/50 men and women though so plenty of female talent in the ranks that should be nurtured and promoted. Lots of women deliberately step back from work to spend time raising children as the demands of both roles full time at the same time can be difficult. The introduction and acceptance by employers of more flexible patterns of working that looks like it will be here to stay post pandemic will do a lot to help women with responsibility at home. Overall things are much different and better for women now than when I started in practice in the mid 1980’s  Oh my, the stories I could tell you.

What advice would you give a woman starting an enterprise in a male-dominated industry?

If you observe a certain type of behaviour in your male colleagues don’t feel you need to emulate it to get on. Be yourself. You are your own greatest asset and being authentic will make you a good colleague. Also, speak up for yourself. Without showing off be sure to take credit where it is due. You need to get noticed to get on.

Have you ever encountered a situation where a client said:

   “I’d prefer it if a man represented me.”,

    Or  “I would rather a woman represented me.”?

No, never. Briffa is a specialist intellectual property law firm and we are helping people to deal with business issues so your lawyer’s gender is not likely to be relevant.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Apart from ‘be yourself’ my best advice would be to strive to captain a happy ship. A dedicated team that believes in the business mission will bring untold rewards. Concentrate on a great team to promote the great product or service you sell and it almost won’t feel like work.  

Any words of wisdom for startups?

I would encourage those who have an idea/product and want to try to build a business to have a go. Keep things small and avoid spending huge amounts of money to get up and running. Invest in things you need for the business as you earn income. Keep focused and don’t let minor setbacks put you off. Get a good Intellectual Property lawyer (ha ha but not a joke) that can guide you along the road. 

Margaret Briffa founder of Briffa Legal, specialist Intellectual Property lawyers helping businesses protect their value.

Justine, what has it been like to be a female entrepreneur? Is it still a man’s world?

In many ways, very much so. And because men still hold the majority of the financial power – overwhelming so in the venture capital world – investment decisions can often lean towards ideas from men that appeal to men. So male founders and entrepreneurs are disproportionately backed. I tried to raise money when we wanted to start Mumsnet – and failed, apart from one offer of funding on the condition of a young, childless man running it instead of me. I think things have changed somewhat but there’s still a structural bias that needs addressing. Aside from anything else it’s a missed opportunity to address 50% of the market by backing female-oriented startups. 

What advice would you give a woman wanting to start her own business?

First off: do your research, know your competition and nail your unique selling point.  Then make sure you listen to your audience – or your customers – and keep listening. Be aware of when and how the market changes and go for a shorter, more flexible six-month plan, rather than trying too hard to plan ahead – adaptability is vital.  It’s easy to become wedded to an idea, but you need to be able to pivot. There’s also support out there for women starting their own businesses, make sure you find it. And if you’re struggling to find work life balance as things get busier, work out what’s essential; let the rest slide.

What was the best advice you got from another female entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur you may be wanting to thrust yourself into the public sphere, which can be intimidating as a woman. At Mumsnet we’ve been targeted by men’s rights activists (from cyber attacks to a swatting attack coming to my door in the middle of the night). Don’t be distracted from your objective. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from a female business owner. She said before you do anything tell yourself, ‘F*** ‘em, I’m going to prove them wrong’.

Justine Roberts CEO and founder of  Mumsnet | The UK’s most popular website for parents. 

Justine Roberts (@Justine_Roberts) / Twitter

In the past there were not many female role models as business leaders, but things are surely changing. The number of UK female-founded start-ups has doubled over the last decade and is projected to see substantial growth in the coming years. There is still the remaining question: Is it now a level playing field?

My advice to women who want to start a business is make use of your intuition. When facing decisions: gather the data – BUT trust your gut! People drive success – data doesn’t.

On behalf of Enterprise Starter, I wish you success.

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