As a long-time owner of several marketing and communication businesses I’ve been around long enough to see major changes in the way women (and men) view work. My formative years were influenced by Helen Reddy lyrics “I am woman, hear me roar… In numbers too big to ignore…” and television jingles telling me “…I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan…” The novel idea that women can do anything a man can do including business was firmly implanted in my young brain. Women of the 70’s began to balance work and home with “Super Mom” set up as the ideal. It was a stressful goal. I was a serial entrepreneur long before entrepreneur was an everyday word and watched many of my friends struggle with not only that work/home balance but they faced the reluctance of the male dominated workplace to allow women to succeed let alone help them get ahead.
But enter the work force we did. Yet, why don’t the numbers reflect that women in business do as well as a man almost 40 years after women began to roar?
The Gender Gap in Business is Narrowing
Recent statistics continue to show that business / entrepreneurship is still a man’s domain even though women are making progress as they increase their presence in the boardroom and on Main Street. During this economic downturn the trend continues at an accelerated positive pace yet the numbers are still far from parity. Currently, businesses owned by women account for more than 23 million jobs; this sounds good, except when you do the math: these account for a mere three-trillion dollars of the US economy. Sadly, that is only about four-percent of the economy. The number of women business owners is continuing to increase. It is predicted that by 2018 women business owners / entrepreneurs will be responsible for about one-third of the new jobs created.
1 We’ve come a long way and we need to do more.
Women are already better educated then men
Women now make up 58 percent of those enrolled in two- and four-year colleges and are, over all, the majority in graduate schools and professional schools. Women also make up the majority of those who continue to seek educational opportunities during their career.
So, what is GOING ON?
As the statistics show, business is still largely a male-dominated playing field. There continues to be a long-held male “traditional” way of doing business. In order to level the playing field we have to understand how males “play the game” before we can successfully play their game, change the rules, or choose a different game.
Women Do Business Differently — Thank Goodness
Now, stay with me, I’m not saying we have to do business like a man. The majority of women do business differently. Women in the workplace bring their own brand of creativity, an innovative approach to every problem, and insights that add a dimension that enhance a business’ mission. Women leaders’ can add fresh perspectives to growth. The female leader is a good listener, her management style is more receptive to input and life-long learning. Women are committed to creating opportunities for others. Women understand quid-pro-quo and relationship management. Women tend to be more cooperative and are good at decoding others intentions. Women know how to play well with others and watch their back at the same time. Women are attuned to the emotional well-being of people – in other words women are good at nurturing business relationships. We are compassionate and powerful leaders.
Why Do We Do Business Differently?
First and foremost, misunderstanding how males “play the game” begins not because there is something missing, ignorant or wrong with us; it is in the way / culture we were raised. Most of us, regardless of our generation, have been raised to be a “nice girl.” Let me explain. Men receive three basic perceptions.
* To be strong with men and gentle with women
* To be a good provider
* To play to win
In contrast, from birth, girls are supposed to be sugar and spice and everything nice. We “nice” girls are taught:
* To be of service and place others above our own interests
* Don’t attract too much attention except for our physical beauty – image over substance
* Know our place and constraints and to not be too direct or discomfort males
* To be careful, dainty, refined, subservient and companionable
* To not be ambitious or aggressive and hide our talents to keep the peace
* To not be too strong or too courageous
* And a favorite, to ignore male rules and dominance and not play their games by using our “feminine wiles” games to get what we want….
You might be laughing right now, after reading the list. Maybe you saw yourself in some of those. We know that’s “nice” girl behavior and that it doesn’t work as a grown woman. Yet, why do we continue to buy into some of these as grown women? As I reflected on that question, a few explanations came:
We use what has worked for us in the past. We’ve been trained to live our lives by what others expect from us. We choose behaviors that are “acceptable and therefore easier,” instead of living consciously and consistent with mature, independent thought and behavior. It’s just easier not to rock the boat. When others attempt to derail you don’t give into it. Others want the status quo so they don’t have to change.
When we do go into business we typically go from what we had been doing in corporate or what we are passionate about to being self-employed / independent contractor professionals or service providers. Stats show women rarely run employer-based businesses beyond an assistant or two. Look for ways you can approach your work or business from a fresh viewpoint. Develop a plan for how you’re going to build a business and life strategic plan.
Our natural tendency to be a caretaker spreads us too thin. Women consciously or unconsciously choose a caretaker role. Both at work and at home, women often feel more responsible for everyone else’s well-being before their own. Men do not, other than to be a good provider. Manage people’s expectations. Delegate. Avoid the tendency to start doing right away. You don’t have to do it all, give some of the work away. Save your time for the decisions only you can make.
We play it safe and cautious. Research shows that women and men entrepreneurs have very different motivations for starting a business. When we do run employer-based businesses, we choose retail by a wide margin, often as another outlet for our social life. Research shows that women and men entrepreneurs have very different motivations for starting a business. Men have early intentions to grow quickly and be as big as possible so they can be the "boss." Women tend to start businesses to express a passion, to be personally challenged and to integrate meaningful work into a balanced family life. Avoid seeking affirmation about your choices. Don’t let your fears hold you back from looking for new opportunities.
We have a strong social network and a weak business network. Women don’t know how to start or run a business based on rapid-growth. We often do not have the business experience and / or network to translate a start-up into big business, so we play it safe with what we know. Men have learned through sports and competitive activity to seek out advice from coaches or mentors. Competitive childhood sports teach us the rules of hierarchy, risk/reward, teamwork, etc. I was in high school at the beginning of Title IX, so I didn’t have access to competitive sports like the guys did and I didn’t understand the “pack” mentality and the value of close personal business networks. These are not social networks as women often have; male networks exist primarily for mutual business advancement and deal making. Seek out fellow women in business and become a mentor or get a coach or mentor when needed. Work to build alliances with others.
Women have a vital and growing role to play in the business world.
As women choose the parts of the male approach that will help them succeed they are gaining greater access to coaches and mentors. Yet, ironically, most of our mentors currently tend to be male. A note of caution — there is a glass-wall to be aware of, no matter how well intentioned, there can be sexual tension. Not that every man and woman act on it, but it opens up both parties to gossip, innuendo, etc so stay alert and professional.
Women Command a Competitive Advantage
As women, it is natural to want to distance ourselves from the male oriented rules of the game; those rules are not how we operate. In order to hold an advantage, be yourself, but never lose sight of how the other half plays. If there is something you don’t understand check with a favorite male, the one who is achieving what you want to achieve.
I’m always amazed at what I learn when I ask – “Hey, what’s ‘that’ about?” Remember how we needed to learn the scales before we could learn the songs before we could break loose and improvise? Once we understand the “male game” we can begin to improvise. We can communicate with males in their language while turning the game rules to include our values and contribution. We are compassionate and determined leaders and are needed today more than ever in the workplace and on Main Street.
What are some of the “rules” you work with? How have you changed the rules or made an end run and made your own kind of touchdown? Share your ideas and experiences and let’s enjoy the adventure together as we continue to explore the game of business and life here - together. Here’s to success! I look forward to continuing to share with you here at SelfGrowth.com’s Women In Business section.
1. Women in Business By The Numbers
According to the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics women make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. adult population and approx. 46 percent of the civilian workforce.
For females working within a career or corporate path, the numbers are sadly revealing that the gender gap continues to exist. While women make up over 51 percent of management, professional and related occupations, only 14 percent of Fortune 500 executive officers are women. And only 7 percent of women are Fortune 500 top earners and a mere 2.6 percent of the Fortune 500 have female CEOs we can see that progress crawls as we move toward stronger leadership positions.
The numbers are equally revealing in the entrepreneurial and small business sectors. The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity (KIEA) revealed that women account for 40 percent of those starting a business. When the 40 percent is examined more closely, approx. 29 percent of the privately held businesses are completely women owned and approx.12 percent are equal partners with a man/men.
When broken down into real numbers more than 8 million businesses are owned by women accounting for more than 23 million jobs. This sounds good, except when you do the math: these 8 million businesses account for 3 trillion dollars of the US economy. Sadly, that is only about 4 percent of the economy. When we look at growth by revenue, the gap is wider. In the latest Kauffman Firm Survey, surveying businesses three years from their startup dates, the data found “19.8 percent of the women’s firms reported annual revenues of more than $100,000 versus nearly 33 percent of the men’s firms. The average revenue of men’s firms was almost twice that of women’s, nearly $120,000 versus about $60,000.”
Sharon Sayler, MBA, is a Communications Success Strategist. Sharon trains professionals on how to become stronger, more influential communicators and leaders. Her latest book What Your Body Says (and how to master the message) is available wherever books are sold and get an autographed copy at www.WhatYourBodySays.com.