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3 Ways the Mentorship Relationship Improves Career Success For Both Mentor and Mentee

3 Ways the Mentorship Relationship Improves Career Success For Both Mentor and Mentee

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Whether in a small or large business, mentor and mentee roles provide mutual benefits for guidance and support that can foster promising career opportunities. One need look no further than some of today’s most impactful leaders to gauge the impact of a great mentor — Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had Warren Buffett.

Harvard Business Review survey found that 84 percent of CEOs with formal mentor relationships were able to avoid costly mistakes and become efficient in their roles more quickly. Further, 71 percent of CEOs surveyed also found that their mentors helped improve their performance.

Mentees also bestow powerful benefits upon their mentors, too. Research from Boston University supports the notion that mentoring enhances business executives’ leadership and management skills while increasing their knowledge and insights.

Business leaders and mentees who foster two-way partnerships can positively contribute to each other’s professional development and their company’s overall success. In terms of career growth, here are a few benefits which the mentor/mentee connection provides:

1. Learn How to Collaborate and Network Better

Establishing external business networks can afford both the mentor and mentee more collaborative support and new opportunities, ultimately helping to bolster your bottom line.

Famous pop artist Andy Warhol, for example, helped his mentee, Jean-Michel Basquiat gain connections to other neo-expressionist artists and patrons, ultimately leading him to global recognition. In return, Basquiat gave Warhol new and diverse artists to collaborate with while evolving his vision and talents into new areas.

Within organizations, beneficial mentorship relationships can create strong collaboration skills between various departments which allow for cohesive management, cross-department communication and employee productivity. As a mentor, take the time to educate, share ideas and ask for input on projects from your charges. When mentees feel valued and supported, they’ll be happier to be a part of the team, and more productive as well. Mentors may also find that the ideas and feedback mentees contribute fosters insightful, trusting workflows that help emerging entrepreneurs advance their business ideas.

Executives who exhibit consistent mentoring and coaching behaviors can help create highly collaborative teams that work more efficiently and engage in a more positive workplace atmosphere. The motivation to connect with team members and increase expertise can also extend to building professional networks. A successful mentor/mentee relationship not only includes engaged, flexible and authentic partnerships, but it also helps the mentee expand upon their communication skills so they can make professional network connections to which they might not otherwise have access.

2. Gain Insight into Diverse Perspectives

Adaptability and self-awareness are crucial for anyone’s professional development. While mentees can use a mentorship relationship to learn how to develop their professional skills and the necessary mindsets to execute everyday business decisions, mentors also stand to benefit by reskilling themselves to stay relevant in the changing digital economy.

As both the mentor and mentee expose themselves to different mindsets, diverse perspectives help them create and innovate. As Forbes mentions, experienced advice helps the mentee’s career blossom. Likewise, inexperienced entrepreneurs can benefit by utilizing their board of advisors to provide examples and solutions during their company’s growth stages.

Harvard University study also demonstrates that a mentor/mentee relationship helps both parties diversify their thought patterns and practices: a mentor experiences new perspectives from future members of the profession, while the mentee can absorb insights in defining business strategies and outcomes in their field.

Through open communication, both can understand major issues surrounding a leadership and an employee mindset. Besides, learning new perspectives provides you with the insight to maintain your company’s competitive edge and relevance, especially for smaller companies needing to cater to market demands and niche consumers.

3. Enhance Interpersonal Leadership Traits

Oprah’s mentor, the famous author/poet Maya Angelou, demonstrated how important humanistic qualities are to the role of a leader. Angelou taught Oprah that professional relationships depend not on who a person says they are, but how they act toward you and others.

Of course, professional relationships are incredibly nuanced, and it often takes years of experience to identify the right response to a difficult and unprecedented situation. The mentorship relationship serves that role, guiding mentees toward an effective response, whether it’s an assertive justification when finalizing a business deal or a meditative gesture when dealing with a stressful client.

For mentors, the value in guiding interpersonal effectiveness comes down to the development of their own leadership skills.

UPenn researchers found that the digital age has created new leadership styles ranging from the commander — a leader who gives orders and tells others how to accomplish it — to the collaborator role — a leader who works hand-in-hand with customers and employees. Mentors should comprise both these styles so they can act as the inspiration and an equal for their employees and mentees.

Through the steady practice — and teaching — of key interpersonal skills, mentors stand to benefit by confirming which leadership skills resonate best as they guide their mentees. This is no small feat — it could mean becoming more transparent with employees, fostering inclusive decision-making or incorporating employee feedback into managerial roles.

Oprah recalls that Angelou said, “Your legacy is every life you’ve touched..it’s every person you’ve harmed or helped.” Indeed, a helpful, two-way value exchange is essential for building a healthy mentor/mentee relationship. With consistent effort, this symbiotic association acts as a catalyst that expands learning, work ethic, leadership and, ultimately, your company’s bottom line.

Anniversary Of H.R. 5050: Not So Ancient History For Female Business Owners

Anniversary Of H.R. 5050: Not So Ancient History For Female Business Owners

It is hard to believe that women were not able to obtain business loans without a male co-signer  just 30 years ago. Up until 1988, an independent woman who wanted to start a business was denied a loan even when her finances indicated that she was qualified.

Therefore, the 30-year anniversary of the H.R. 5050: Women’s Business Ownership Act (WBOA) of 1988 is a historic and significant date. Introduced by John LaFalce, a former New York congressman, the act aimed to bolster female business owners by guarding against discriminatory lending practices. The purpose of this act was to recognize the enormous future potential of female business owners and entrepreneurs as well as women’s existing contributions to the economy.

The four tenets of H.R. 5050 included provisions that extended women rights that should have been established from the beginning: 1) Extending the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to include business credit, 2) Launching a “demonstration project” that resulted in the establishment of women’s business centers across the country, 3) Establishing the National Women’s Business Council 4) Directing the Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its quinquennial business census.

In 2018, it is sometimes hard to imagine that the principles of H.R. 5050 were needed at all. “Women business owners today are often shocked to hear about the challenges that their predecessors faced only 25 years ago,” says Virginia Littlejohn, a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). It was the NAWBO leadership team that helped the House Small Business Committee organize hearings on H.R. 5050.

Littlejohn refers to a female witness at the time, who didn’t have a husband or father to co-sign her business loan, communicating, “[She] had to ask her 17-year-old son to co-sign for her—when he couldn’t even vote,” she said.

During the hearings, many stories came to light of open discrimination by which women were asked to put significantly more money down, and required to have guarantees and co-signers that men were not required to have. But with H.R. 5050 things started to change.

“This landmark piece of legislation ushered in a transformation in women’s enterprise development by addressing key barriers that had been impeding entrepreneurism and business growth by women,” said Billie Dragoo, former Chair of NAWBO. “As a result of this legislation, women entrepreneurs were provided with long overdue access to capital, education and technical assistance offered in a woman’s voice, access to federal policy making circles, and the undercounting of the number and economic contributions of women-owned businesses were finally addressed.”

Before 1988, women’s contributions to the economy were downplayed, and unaccounted for. A big part of this invisibility had to do with inaccurate census-taking regarding women-owned business. The concluding report of the H.R. 5050 hearings, which were the most extensive ever held by Congress on women-owned businesses, was called the “New Economic Realities: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs”

Fast forward 30 years and the following statistics, though not as strong as we’d like, are still rosy. As of January 2017, there were an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States that employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue. During the 20 years from 1997–2017, the number of women-owned businesses has grown 114 percent compared to the overall national growth rate of 44 percent for all businesses.

The future is indeed female.

While Wright’s 1988 predictions have not yet come true, things are definitely looking up for female entrepreneurs. It is important for younger generations of women in business to be aware that prohibitive lending discrimination is not ancient history. Women must not forget that 30 years ago, they would probably not have had access to the capital and support necessary to start a business. Women must continue to fight for equality, but H.R. 5050–and the activists who spearheaded it–certainly helped and continue to help tip the scales.

Will Female-Led ‘Zebras’ Counter Tech’s Unicorn Obsession?

Will Female-Led ‘Zebras’ Counter Tech’s Unicorn Obsession?

This post was originally featured on Business.com

“Unicorns” have been prominent in the tech world, but a new type of startup called “zebras” could soon be taking their place — and many of them are female-led.

Unicorns have been a huge trend in and out of the tech world in the last few years. While silver hair and rainbow eyelashes characterized a nostalgia-inspired beauty trend, the “unicorn” label more prominently describes disruptive startup companies valued at $1 billion or more.

Yet the age of unicorns could soon see its dusk. As bloggers voted “Baba Yaga” the next unicorn in beauty, the “zebra” emerged as a practical-yet-fantastical unicorn alternative in the tech world. Following a year in which “feminism” was the reigning term and female silence-breakers graced the cover of Time, it should be no surprise that women are leading the charge in this transition.

Why zebras? Unlike a mythical shiny-horned horse, zebras are real. As companies, “zebras” are also grounded in reality: Their goal is solve meaningful problems while repairing existing social systems. As the Medium article proposing this concept aptly describes, zebras fix what unicorns breakwithout sacrificing profitability.

VCs have long been attracted to unicorns, which in part explains the gender gap in VC funding. Women tend to create more practical businesses that are less risky and more socially conscious, traits that characterize the zebra concept. As cause marketing grows, VCs may find these investments more worthwhile than unicorns, which at times come with more problems than they are worth.

The unicorn problem

To understand the problem with unicorns it’s important to understand where unicorns came from, what’s exciting about them, and what can make them problematic.

The term is still new, coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee to describe how rare they are. But unicorns aren’t so rare anymore: as of March 2017 there were 223 unicorns, Uber, Pinterest, and Airbnb among the largest. The quantity of unicorns has led many to worry about a unicorn bubble, which would result in dead unicorns upon bursting.

Some unicorns, like Groupon, have imploded. Others have skyrocketed to success but in doing so have done damage, all while hoarding huge profits by remaining private. Facebook has arguably contributed to social good, but was also a vehicle for vicious fake news propaganda. Uber, for its part, has weathered a shocking number of scandals over the last few years.

As CEOs Mara Zepeda and Jennifer Brandel wrote for Quartz, the problem with our obsession with unicorns is that “it rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity.”

Focusing exclusively on unicorns is not helpful in a world with numerous pressing problems in finance and beyond. Is it so radical to support businesses that “repair, cultivate, and connect” instead of chasing companies bent on disruption? In a capitalist society that knows no different, it may be a hard to make the shift, but worthwhile to attempt nonetheless.

The rise of the zebra

Along with Brandel and Zepeda, female founders Astrid Scholz and Aniyia Williams first proposed an alternative style of investing that focuses less on unicorns in their “Sex and Startups” article in 2016. In it, they suggest the future could hold “another style of investing, one that recognizes founders with long-term, wide-ranging visions” which focuses “not only on how much money is raised, and on investor returns, but also on how we generate value for users, elevate communities, and build a more equitable and inclusive system.”

The overwhelming resonance and response to this sentiment led these women to form The Zebra Project, publish more literature on the topic, and form a conference called DazzleConfor founders that identify with the zebra ethos.

While these women may have put a name to the idea, it’s worth noting that there are startups out there that may be zebras without knowing it. Entrepreneur’s Handbook cites Basecamp, Zapier, and Mailchimp as startups that “fit into the current market instead of blowing it apart and seek long-term survival through sustainable, responsible growth.” (These examples, it’s worth noting, all have male founders.)

Investors need to change their tune, though, for zebras to get the funding they need to make an impact, and become a model rising entrepreneurs will seek to emulate.

Will zebras bring change?

The Zebra Movement, as kicked off by Brandel, Zepeda, Scholz, and Williams, is building momentum. But is it enough to change an investing culture that prioritizes quick growth, big return, and a churn and burn style of making money?

It may take more dead or corrupt unicorns before we see a dramatic change, but trends toward socially conscious investing, diversity initiatives, and out-of-the-box VC strategy are lights in the tunnel ahead for entrepreneurs, and women especially. Consumers are increasingly drawn to impact-driven, minority-run businesses, so investors would be wise to follow what sells.

Who knows? It may be that losing a few horns to gain some stripes is the best decision this zoo of a world could hope to make.

Women-Owned Business Trends Paint an Exciting New Picture of Female Entrepreneurship

Women-Owned Business Trends Paint an Exciting New Picture of Female Entrepreneurship

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

A recent report by SCORE, The Megaphone of Main Street: Women’s Entrepreneurship, assesses the landscape of women-owned small businesses. Its insights show an exciting picture of female entrepreneurship — one that is evolving in some new and unexpected ways.

As a female entrepreneur who launched her first business when it was still unusual for women to do so, I am always delighted to witness how far my gender has come — even while acknowledging progress yet to be made.

Here are a few of the findings that stood out most from the SCORE report, and what I think they mean for female small business owners and entrepreneurship more generally.

1. Women are launching more startups in healthcare and education

According to the report, women are more likely than men to start businesses in both healthcare and education, two industries in which excellence is vital to societal health. Says the report, “Only 5% of men are likely to start a business in either the healthcare or education fields, while 10% of women are likely to start a business in healthcare and 9% are inclined to start a business in education.”

Healthcare and education are in need of improvement in America in the private and public sector, and I make it a point to support charities and foundation that seek to help. The fact that women are inclined to start businesses in these fields bodes well for some of the neediest among us — young people, the hurt, and the sick.

2. More women started businesses than men

One finding I found surprising was that, in 2017, more women than men started businesses. While the degree to which they are exceeding men in this area is slight, it is still indicative of the passion for entrepreneurship that has been ignited lately in women and girls.

Specifically, SCORE found that 47% of the women surveyed started a business in 2017 while only 44% of men reported doing so. While they do not speculate on the reason for this discrepancy, I think we can credit it in part to a business climate that is more friendly to female entrepreneurs than ever before.

3. Women-owned businesses are comparable to men’s in most ways

Sure, more women than men started businesses, and the industries they started businesses in differed as well. You might think that there would be other discrepancies in factors like success rate and funding, but SCORE did not find that was the case.

Female entrepreneurs were about as successful as their male counterparts when it came to revenue expectations, longevity, hiring, and overall reported success. This last point was a bit surprising to me because of the well-documented confidence gap between men and women, not to mention the pay gap, which you would think would leave women less satisfied. It may be that the combination of these issues makes for differing versions of what success looks like, reported at a roughly equal rate.

4. Mentorship makes a difference

SCORE’s report validates the benefits of mentorship they regularly espouse in their effort to connect like-minded businesspeople. As it turns out, having a professional mentor will tip the odds of success in your favor by a surprising amount.

Entrepreneurs with mentors were, in fact, five times more likely to successfully start a business. Gender, though, did not influence mentorship success by much. To get granular, women with female mentors do seem to feel more respected, listened to, and given more time relevant advice than those with male mentors — though only by a few small percentage points.

It’s clear that any mentor is an advantage for any prospective business owner, and most likely it comes down to the individual more than gender when identifying a good match.

SCORE’s report makes clear that women across America are stepping up and succeeding, but (as it should be!) they are not doing it alone.

How to Balance Your Business and Your Foundation

How to Balance Your Business and Your Foundation

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Small business owners who find success in their industry often look for ways to give back. One way entrepreneurs tend to do so is through the establishment of foundations, which like businesses, take work to maintain and make effective.

At what point does it make sense to start a foundation, and will you be able to balance the responsibilities of your business and charitable endeavors? These are questions worth asking as you explore ways to amplify the good you can while keeping your foot in the private sector.

As business and finance specialist Gwen Moran wrote for Entrepreneur.com, “foundation founders must get up to speed on laws and regulations, oversee operations, attract donors, and review programs for possible funding” among other responsibilities. This can be a lot for anyone to juggle along with the regular challenges of business ownership, but done right, it can be a rewarding and fruitful vehicle for charitable contribution.

Co-founding and maintaining The Charatan / Holm Family Foundation has been incredibly worthwhile; I recommend anyone with a deep interest in philanthropy to at least consider this path. For those that do, here are four tips for balancing your business and your foundation:

Align your foundation with your passion

There is no way getting around it: a foundation, as a separate and complex entity, will require significant time and effort on your part. As you may know, balance is easier when you are passionate about the items on your plate, which is how wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers are able to prioritize family and work despite the challenges. It’s the same for hobbyists — somehow, they always find the time to do what they love along with what brings home the bacon.

With a foundation that ignites passion within you, and is in line with causes you care deeply about, the commitment necessary will feel less like a dreadful chore than a joyful choice.

Do your research and seek council when necessary

Your new foundation must be registered appropriately and governed by bylaws that dictate how it will be run. An experienced attorney may be worth consulting in order to navigate these complexities, especially when you are first getting started. Whether you seek legal counsel or not, it’s a good idea to make time beforehand to familiarize yourself with nonprofit laws and create an operating manual so that you aren’t caught off guard — a mistake that could end up jeopardizing your business, too, by eating up too much of your time.

In other words, diligent preparation is your friend. Foundations have their own sets of rules every founder must abide by and create, as well as criteria for funding recipients, none of which can be followed or created in ignorance.

Assemble a board you can trust

Most foundations rely on a board of trustees whom together help set direction and strategy for the foundation, make grants, and oversee charitable investments, among other responsibilities. Many founders choose insiders including family members to sit on their foundation’s board, which in and of itself is not a bad idea, so long as there is some diversity of thought and a strong sense of neutrality and ethics.

Critically, your board members should be reliable and responsible so that the foundation will always be in good hands. Pick people who will actively advocate for your mission and attend meetings and committees without hesitation. Their help will allow you to allocate the proper weight to this significant endeavor.

Focus on sustainability

Lastly, a good foundation needs fundraising to be sustainable unless you have an independent source of wealth to keep it afloat. This means creating a plan that will continue to raise funds in order to keep supporting the causes and charities your foundation is devoted to helping.

Your focus need not be on making the biggest splash in the nonprofit world; another worthwhile mission is making consistent contributions that will improve the longevity of your impact. With a sustainable model for fundraising in motion, your foundation will run smoothly, allowing you to focus on business, charity, and everything else in your life unburdened by the stress of uncertainty.

How to Instill and Encourage Entrepreneurship in Young Women

How to Instill and Encourage Entrepreneurship in Young Women

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Women entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the business world, and you only need to read the news to realize it. According to CNBC, “The stars have aligned to help trigger the trend as robust ecosystems churn out enterprising females equipped with inspiration, know-how and funding.”

The future for female entrepreneurship is indeed a promising one.

I can’t help but think that the inspiration and know-how in this robust ecosystem is often handed down from someone who has mentored and encouraged women to take the leap towards starting a new business. It’s unfortunate (but true) that there are many young women who have the entrepreneurial spirit and don’t realize it.

Here’s how you can encourage and mentor talented women in your company.

Be a proactive mentor

Waiting around isn’t something entrepreneurs do well. We invent, we create–we are constantly moving. This should translate into your mentorship style. Don’t wait for young women who need direction to come to you. More than likely, you have already spotted women in your company who have the spirit and drive but just need a little nudge.

Remember, even entrepreneurs who have the ingredients to be burgeoning businesswomen may not yet have the confidence to approach you. Take the lead. Your example will show them that eventually, they can lead too.

Much is spoken about how mentees should seek out their mentors, but the flip side is also true. After all, it’s a give and take relationship and the mentor stands to learn as well.

Give constructive feedback

I ask myself three questions before I give potentially unpleasant feedback to a mentee: Is it necessary? Is it concise? Is it kind? Yes, kind. There is nothing that says giving constructive feedback has to be harsh or unforgiving. No one’s perfect–not even you.

However, for female entrepreneurs to make it, they have to develop a thick skin. So, if your employee has some areas that could be strengthened, let them know. But don’t forget to point out areas where they are strong too.

Open up about your past struggles

The greatest thing we can offer young women entrepreneurs is our honesty. Our past challenges are a part of who we are as much as our successes, something all beginners will need to understand. Through openly talking about the struggles you have faced and may still face, you demonstrate what all entrepreneurs have in common–we’re human.

What was a barrier? And most importantly, how did you overcome it? The latter is a crucial lesson for new (and seasoned) entrepreneurs.

Create a safe space

Though women businesses are on the rise, there are still still hardships many of us face. But what do female entrepreneurs do best? We create a place for ourselves that didn’t exist before. If you can, create a space within your company where you connect with your mentees.

And if you can’t have a mentorship group within your company, direct your female entrepreneurs to resources–like SCORE–that offer events, workshops, and advancement and development education for women looking to start a venture.

Keep expanding your skills

Whether this means further expanding your management skills or keeping up with the current news and breakthroughs within your industry, you must be a lifelong learner in order to be a lifelong teacher. Thinking you know everything is like hitting a different kind of glass ceiling–a self-imposed one. There is always an opportunity to go further and learn more.

Whether it’s taking refresher management courses, connecting with other entrepreneurs at speaking events and seminars, or talking to your own mentor, keep the passion you had when you were starting out. Soak up knowledge so you always have something valuable to pass on.

Most importantly, be yourself. Your relationships with the women you take under your wing are special, as they should be. Your experience as a female entrepreneur is what makes you uniquely qualified to be their mentor. There is always another someone else, but only one you.

4 Goal-Setting Strategies For Small Business Owners

4 Goal-Setting Strategies For Small Business Owners

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Entrepreneurs are set apart from the rest of the population for one key reason: they have achieved the goal of owning their own business. Founding a company is one objective, and a sincere congratulations if you’ve gotten that far — you should be proud of your initiative and success. But most know the work does not stop there. There’s no such thing as cruise control once your business is rolling, so you will only need to get better at setting and reaching goals.

If there’s anything I’m obsessive about, this may be it. I set goals every day and consistently advocate that others do the same.

Here are a few pieces of advice that entrepreneurs and small business owners can take in order to set goals more effectively, follow through, and ultimately develop themselves and their businesses.

1. Dreams fuel destination: align your goals with with passions

Since I was very young, I had a dream: to be my own boss. A little later, when I had a firmer grasp on my professional needs I also decided that I wanted to own real estate. Of course neither of these goals were easy to achieve on their own, but my passion for financial independence was what eventually drove me to make them possible.

A goal without passion is like a paper plane without velocity. No matter how well-designed or aerodynamic, passion is the most effective motivator you’ll come across, and the one that will get you moving. More so than money. And far more than fear, despite misconceptions.

So align your goals with the dreams and desires that give you life. Not all of it will be fun, but if the foundation you laid your plans on brings you joy, what could be onerous will be infused with at least some excitement.

2. To-do lists are your friend: make them and stick to them

Professional goals obviously differ from personal goals in many meaningful ways. But the idea, here, is that goals need to be detailed and well-recorded if you want to have a real chance at achieving them. That’s why I love creating lists and striking items off one by one. By diligently tracking everything I want to achieve, my chances of actually taking care of each thing in a timely manner increase. I’m not going to pretend I never had the idea to begin with if it’s a fully-formed plan in written form.

3. Think micro and macro: goal-set annually, weekly, and daily

For businesses, the big picture is just as important as the day-to-day, if not more so. It’s important that entrepreneurs think macro and micro when setting goals for their companies and meeting them. One without the other is just not good enough.

I already mentioned that I like to goal-set every day by writing lists. That’s the micro: I list daily goals in order to prioritize the items on my plate and keep a strong record of what I’m up to. I also set weekly goals, which while still micro, allows for the completion of larger tasks as opposed to everyday busywork.

On the macro end of the spectrum are annual and quarterly goals. For your business, this type of goal-setting is essential because it ensures you are doing everything you can to grow. Know where you want to be at certain milestones and create a roadmap to get there.

4. You’re not alone: equip your team to achieve goals too

Last but not least, no small business owner is an island. There are certain tasks that are yours alone, certainly, but you will need the help of your team to turn larger-scale objectives into realities. And don’t expect this to happen on its own: as a leader, you will be expected to set goals for employees and equip them with the resources they need to meet them. These resources may include time, skills, and budget, all of which you must consider and allot realistically.

Transparency and motivation are key here as well. If you’re clear about your vision and your passion and are able to create incentives to motivate your employees to move the needle, you’ll be in a good position to reach goals large and small.

3 Ways AI Can Give Female Small Business Owners a Competitive Edge

3 Ways AI Can Give Female Small Business Owners a Competitive Edge

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Female small business owners are thriving. According to a recent SCORE report, more women than men opened small businesses in 2017, notably in important sectors like education and health.

All entrepreneurs face an uphill climb — starting a business is no easy feat, whatever your gender, and scaling toward long term success is even harder. That said, it’s a steeper hike for women, who still have 50% fewer fundingoptions and earn less too.

Artificial intelligence may have started out in big corporations like Microsoft and Google, but it’s quickly become a tool that can help businesses of all sizes thrive. For women, a technological edge, fueled by machine learning and similar artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, can help even the playing field in a few key ways.

1. Wo-Mentorship & Funding

Last year I wrote for VentureBeat about an AI platform called Alice that connects women with mentors and funding opportunities. In the piece, I argue that AI alone is not enough to bridge the gender gap — but it is certainly a step in the right direction, especially in this case.

Mentorship is incredibly important for new business owners. That SCORE report I mentioned earlier confirms as much: “Working with a mentor for five or more hours greatly increases an entrepreneur’s likelihood of business success,” it says.

It can be more difficult for women to find mentorship opportunities. One reason? There is a gender imbalance among executives and upper-level leadership, and some men feel uncomfortable taking on young female mentees. Indeed, women with female mentors report the most satisfaction, albeit by a fraction. If AI can help match young female entrepreneurs with like-minded mentors, whatever their gender, they will be equipped to launch their companies and succeed.

2. Inclusive, Harassment-Free Workplaces

Artificial intelligence is also playing a part in purging workplaces of discrimination and harassment. While companies with women at the helm may be less likely to have cultures where harassment goes unchecked, it’s never a guarantee.

If AI can help female entrepreneurs create enviable and inclusive cultures where everyone feels welcome and safe, they will attract more talent and earn a positive reputation quickly.

How would it work? Software with natural language processing capabilities could scan communications or (or even “listen” like Amazon’s Alexa”) to flag harassment as it occurs. Canadian startup Botler.ai does just that with software that acts as legal council for those on the receiving end. Rather than reporting transgressions automatically (a bad idea in case of false positives), the ideal AI would be more of a support system that validates victims’ experience and gives them options on how to deal with them.

As for inclusivity, AI has been shown to remove human bias from the hiring process, allowing for a more diverse range of candidates and workers.

3. Cutting-Edge Tech & Efficiency

The best way to get ahead is to quite literally be better than the competition. If there are elements keeping female-owned business from some of the things men-owned businesses enjoy, like ample funding and high salaries, they can make up for it (and perhaps attract more investors) by being on the forefront of innovation and efficiency.

AI is great for this, no matter your gender. From intelligent CRMs to AI customer service solutions and smart marketing campaigns, machine learning and automation can be a great boon to productivity across the board. In addition, cooperative robotics and other intelligent tools can help employees refine the vital human component of any business (i.e. emotional intelligence) by automating more granular and time-consuming tasks.

With the right AI, your company could optimize both human and technical components in the workplace, all while boasting cutting-edge tech and efficient output. Whatever your gender, that’s an advantage, and while it’s not a competition, such opportunities will help women achieve the excellence they have long pushed for.

For the Best Return, Upgrade Employee Experience at Your Company

For the Best Return, Upgrade Employee Experience at Your Company

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Taking care of your employees will get you the most return, and that means paying them well, providing benefits, and cultivating a culture they can thrive in.

With that in mind, I think it’s fair to say that if you have an unhappy employee, it can infect every aspect of your business — including revenue. When we talk about a return on investment (ROI), it’s important to include attitudes towards staff, because if you’re not mentoring and investing in your workforce your business may suffer.

Ensuring the happiness of your employees may directly correspond to the health of your business, and making your people happy may not require as much from your pocketbook as you may think. Though you should certainly try and pay your employees a competitive salary, for them it isn’t always about money.

Many people join a company because they believe in its mission. This is proving to be increasingly true, especially for millennials. The best way to give your employees the purpose they crave is to make sure that your business has a strong mission statement.

The best companies succeed not because they’re just out to make a profit. They succeed because they are driven to do better, as well as provide a unique service that is valuable to their customers.

Having a purpose isn’t the only thing personnel (and you) need in a work environment. Your employees need to be happy to be productive. And guess what? Happiness makes them healthier. It benefits an employer to strive towards making their employees happy because low morale can result in more requests for sick time. In fact, in the U.S., sick leave costs businesses $160 billion a year.

Maybe because of this, many smart companies have adopted wellness initiatives as a means to keep their employees’ minds and bodies happy and healthy. Not only does incorporating wellness into the workplace show that you care about the well-being of your workforce, it can pay back dividends in the decrease in sick time.

Even if you’re a smaller company or startup that can’t afford meditation spaces like Google, a little goes a long way. For example, offer incentives like coupons for massages, yoga classes or gym memberships to your best-performing employees. Implementing work-from-home days or summer Fridays (a mostly New York City phenomenon) are also good ways to reward good work — -and keep morale up.

Another debilitating consequence of not keeping up employees’ morale is that you may lose talented people. And one of the main reasons employees quit? Bad managers. Often, employees love the work but not the boss.

In my experience, ineffective managers generally fall into one of these three categories: the micromanager, the absentee manager, and the passive manager. The first hovers, criticizes, and over-delegates minute tasks; the second is so laissez-faire, they’re practically absent; and the third would rather avoid confrontation (or communication) at all costs. None of these do themselves, their employees, or their company much good. As a small business owner, it’s your responsibility to hire and train good managers, and adopt the most effective management strategies yourself as well.

To be fair, it’s not easy to know what makes a good manager, but one thing I think works is to ask yourself if you are. The answer I find most authentic to this question is ‘I don’t know’. That leaves room for a manager to grow and learn — a good sign that he or she is open to pivoting their management strategies based on each case, each employee.

After all, leadership isn’t one-size-fits-all; it should be an organic process that takes consistent dialogue between two or more parties. In a way, being a good boss is akin to being a good sounding board rather than a bullhorn.

There is also nothing that says you can’t take a management course, seminar, or some sound advice from a former boss who has mentored you in the past. Not all great managers are born. But all great managers have learned — whether inherently or by experience — to inspire and make decisions based on empathy and knowledge.

Ultimately, going above and beyond for your employees doesn’t just mean paying them better and providing great benefits, though you should try your best to give them both those things. It involves a combination of being humble enough to listen, and building your company around your workforce, rather than the other way around.

How Savvy Entrepreneurs Make Every Minute Productive

How Savvy Entrepreneurs Make Every Minute Productive

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

Maybe you’ve been there: It’s Monday morning but in your head, it’s still Sunday night. Caffeine only somewhat shakes your groggy mindset, and when 5pm rolls around, you’ve only done half the work you set out to — which as a business owner is no good at all.

As an entrepreneur, I live by the philosophy that every minute of every hour of every day counts, and must be productive if you want to be successful. Think about it: in 24 hours, we average about the same hours of sleep as the hours we put into work. You better believe your brain is making the most of your resting hours — clearing waste, reenergizing cells, and reinforcing memories. The trick, then, is to make the most of our waking hours too, especially while we’re at work.

Here are four proven ways to make every minute count and ensure you enjoy a more productive work day.

1. The power of lists

I believe wholeheartedly that lists are the key to productivity. But for a list to abet productivity, it can’t just be done in the moment. I spend time setting goals for my day either after waking or before going to sleep so that I can start my day already knowing what I have to accomplish. I also set weekly and annual goals.

I’m not the only one with a penchant for list-making, either. Says Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran, “the productiveness of any meeting depends on the advance thought given the agenda, and you should never leave a meeting without writing a follow-up list.”

The basic truth is that organization, preparedness, and note-taking will amplify yours and your team’s abilities to get things done in a timely manner.

2. Get up early and make the most of your evenings

It’s not a rumor that successful people wake up early — it’s a trend. I myself wake up at 5 AM each day so that I can make the most of the hours to come. Others including Apple CEO Tim Cook, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama, ‘Shark Tank’ investor Kevin O’Leary and a number of other leaders wake up before dawn as well, some as early as 3:30 AM.

In addition to my early start I like to think of my evening as a separate part of the day to look forward to, and will often make plans to fill that space. This way I am not only working toward my listed goals each day, but I also have a non work-related chunk of time to look forward to later. It’s a habit I’ve found to help drive productive even further.

3. Be active — physically, mentally, and emotionally

Waking up early provides a great window of time to get active before your work day starts; I typically do so for an hour every morning. According to Brookings, this is good for productivity: “a regular exercise routine can make you happier, smarter, and more energetic.” It gives you energy throughout the work day, yes, but also throughout your entire life by increasing mental acuity in the long term.

Being active can mean so much more than a trot on the elliptical. During your work day, taking walks and frequent breaks can get your blood flowing and ideas circulating.

Taking the time to flex your mental and emotional muscles is also important, I’ve found. It makes sense, then, that avid readers report higher levels of productivity as do those with fulfilling family lives.

4. Minimize distractions

In the 21st century workplace we are all at the whim of frequent distractions — from the internet, our phones, and any other disturbances that take attention away from the tasks at hand. This can be a hard nut to crack, especially because more and more people have been diagnosed with learning disabilities that may hinder output, CEOs included.

There are actions we can all take to minimize distractions and be more productive, though, starting with limiting our phone and social media time during work hours. For those in busy workspaces, noise-cancelling headphones can drown out the noise. For those working from home, a designated space away from cats, kids, and chores should make for more productive hours.

5. Don’t put the tough things off

It’s my personal philosophy to do what I can, today, without making exceptions for things I might be dreading or find difficult. The fact of the matter is, a minor or major catastrophe could happen at any time, and procrastination will only make matters worse.

This is difficult, I know. That’s why I recommend doing what you hate first — it’s like getting a monkey off your back. Let’s say you have to fire someone. Nobody likes firing people, but waiting until 5pm to do so is a supremely bad idea; it will weigh on you all day and interfere with your other tasks. Do it bright and early and the rest of your day will be far more productive.

Whatever side of the bed you woke up on, you’ll want to have made every minute matter when 5pm rolls around, not to mention go to bed feeling satisfied with your accomplishments. If some of those minutes are spent moving, planning, or otherwise strategizing for a more efficient workflow, that definitely counts as progress.