What Do Female Founders Need To Know To Thrive And Succeed? Here Are 5.

I was recently interviewed by Authority magazine for its series on Women Founders, as I’m the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants, and yes, I’m a woman. What I found so interesting about the interviewer’s questions was not only how they gave me the opportunity to talk about why I started my company 20 years ago, but also to share lessons learned, myths that need to be dispelled, and wisdoms I can offer other women founders who are trying to start a business. You can read the full interview here.

I’m an anthropologist who helps organizations do something people hate to do, namely, change.

In the article, I describe how I discovered anthropology in college. Of particular interest to me was how people change, whether immigrants moving into new cultures or new generations growing up in different times. I launched my business in 2002, and we have been growing the company for over two decades, helping organizations of all types “see, feel, and think” in new ways to adapt to fast-changing times.

What is currently holding women back from founding companies?

According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. Even though that number shows progress, clearly more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. We know that women face many challenges when forming their own companies, challenges that men often do not. While the obstacles can vary, here are five common ones that I believe are major roadblocks that hold women back:

  1. Access to Capital: Women often find it hard accessing the necessary funding to start and grow their businesses, due to gender bias among investors, limited access to venture capital, and a lack of collateral or assets to secure loans.
  2. Gender Bias, Racial Bias, and Stereotypes: These biases can negatively impact women’s ability to network, secure partnerships, and gain the trust of potential clients and investors. Women of color often call this pervasive bias a “brick wall,” not a glass ceiling.
  3. Work-Life Balance: Women are expected to managing childcare, elder care, and household responsibilities, sapping their time and energy which they could be putting into their businesses. I often speak about blending a life, not balancing it.
  4. Lack of Role Models and Mentorship: Women want to see someone else who has achieved what they are trying to create. They need women role models and mentors. Taking an idea and turning it into a business takes work. Doing it without knowing anyone else who has is that much harder.
  5. Networking Opportunities and the Skill to Build a Great Network: Women need more access to networks and opportunities that can help them grow their businesses. Male-dominated industries and business events often create an environment where women feel excluded or undervalued, making it harder to make crucial connections.

How can women overcome these obstacles?

There are definite steps women can take to overcome hurdles when starting and succeeding in business. In the article I offer these five strategies from my experience in the business world:

  1. Access to Capital: Seek grants, loans, and crowdfunding platforms that may be more accessible than traditional investors or venture capital. Consider angel investors who focus on supporting female-led startups. Network with women-focused investor groups. Finally, study emerging research identifying ways for women to present their ideas in ways that male investors find more compelling.
  2. Gender Bias and Stereotypes: Recognize the bias that is in the culture you are tackling. Rather than succumb to it, build a solid personal brand and highlight your expertise in your industry to help counteract it.
  3. Work-Life Balance: Be bold and delegate tasks and responsibilities in your business and personal life. Outsourcing or seeking help with childcare and household chores can free up your time.
  4. Lack of Role Models and Mentorship: Look for successful women entrepreneurs or leaders in your industry and contact them for mentorship or advice. Many successful women are willing to help and share their experiences.
  5. Networking Opportunities: Attend industry events and conferences, join professional organizations, and actively engage in networking opportunities to build connections. Create your network of women entrepreneurs in your field or area. Use social media platforms to connect with other professionals in your industry, share your expertise, and expand your network.

I loved this question: Why should more women become founders?

Here are my top three reasons:

  1. Empowerment and Independence: By founding their own companies, women can create their path, make decisions on their terms, and build businesses that align with their values and goals.
  2. Capitalize on Women’s Creativity and Innovation: Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions and the business world. Founding their own companies allows women to actively take their talent and their ideas and turn them into successful business ventures.
  3. Economic Impact: More than 12 million women-owned businesses now contribute to job creation, economic growth, and innovation. By founding their own companies, women can tap into their unique perspectives and experiences, create new markets, or better serve existing ones.

Dispelling myths about being a woman founder

Outdated and frankly, false, myths can perpetuate gender biases, limit opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and perpetuate barriers for women in business. I talked about six that need to be challenged and debunked:

  1. Myth: Women lack ambition and drive.

Reality: Research shows that women-led startups outperform their male counterparts, generating 63% more value and twice as much per dollar invested. The Rogue Women’s Fund also found that women-led startups are five times more likely to become billion-dollar companies than male-led businesses. (Time Magazine, March 20, 2023). Given the chance to grow a business, women can turn an idea into a successful innovation.

  1. Myth: Women are less innovative than men.

Reality: Not true. What defines “innovations?” Too often, it appears that men are more innovative because the standards are based on technological creation. On the other hand, women might not be as innovative in technological areas but are creative problem-solvers in others. Throughout human history, women founders have created groundbreaking products, services, and innovations.

  1. Myth: Women struggle with leadership and decision-making.

Reality: The research clearly states, “Female leadership tends to be more collaborative and relationship-oriented, while male leadership is more task-oriented and focused on making quick decisions. They tend to be more inclusive and democratic in their approach, while male leaders often focus on setting goals and achieving results.” Yes, women may lead differently but can engage with their staff, clients, and markets to push ideas forward and build better businesses.

  1. Myth: Women cannot balance work and family.

Reality: Many female founders successfully manage both career and family responsibilities, proving that it’s possible to have a fulfilling personal and professional life. “Cannot” is far too definitive. It is a challenge, but it can be done, and often is.

  1. Myth: Women only start small businesses.

Reality: Women founders are involved in ventures of all sizes, from small businesses to large corporations. Women have founded or co-founded some of the world’s most successful companies — think about Gloria Bohan, who founded Omega Travel and grew it into the largest woman-owned travel management company in the U.S.

  1. Myth: Women are less competitive than men in business.

Reality: A great deal of the research suggests that women are less competitive than men. On the other hand, research that added a variable to the challenge presented to women where they could share the results increased women’s competitiveness significantly. Women successfully compete in the full range of industries and markets, at all organizational levels, striving to excel and outperform others.

When asked what I think are the traits of successful founders, I had six:

  1. Resilience: Being able to bounce back from adversity and learn from mistakes is crucial.
  2. Vision and Creativity: Have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and the ability to think creatively to solve problems and identify opportunities.
  3. Persistence: Building a successful business can be a long and challenging journey. Persistence is key.
  4. Collaborative Leadership: Lead through communication, collaboration, and common goals. Command-and-control, rules-driven organizations rarely work for risk-takers and self-starters.
  5. Network Building: A solid network of mentors, advisors, and contacts can provide valuable support and resources. Choose your network carefully. Make sure each part has a role to play.
  6. Purpose, Passion, and Motivation: A strong passion for the business idea and the motivation to see it through can be a driving force.

And finally, here are my “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” 

  1. Just because you know what you are selling, don’t assume others will know how you can help them. Don’t tell them. Show them.
  2. Serendipity is my favorite strategy to expand our business. From the beginning, my marketing strategy was to “hang out.” You never know when someone will say something that sparks your ideas and success.
  3. Think fast, and act fast. My heart, eyes, and gut have been my best decision-makers. Overthinking something never got me to a good conclusion and often led me to no decision. Trust your feelings. Your eyes and your heart decide.
  4. Clients have a problem to solve. Listen carefully. Probe deeply. And let the client show you what their problem really is. Try not to jump to your conclusion with a solution that might not be even close to what is needed.
  5. Always have fun. Running a company of any size is a challenge. Smile often. Laugh as much as you can. Try not to take life too seriously, although it is serious to run a company.

The interviewer’s last question? “If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?”

My answer? That the world sees women and men as equals, showing women the respect they deserve and enabling them to collaborate with men, with equal pay, position, and power, to solve those problems that undermine peace and prosperity. Together, we can go farther, faster.