Of the ten women featured in Forbes magazine’s list of America’s richest self-made women, only one is not an entrepreneur or founder of a company.
Think about that. With all that’s stacked against female entrepreneurs, it’s still the best path to becoming a multi-billionaire.
But, drill down into the details and we learn that only two of the women, Oprah Gail Winfrey, Founder and Chairman of Harpo, Inc. and Judy Faulkner, Founder and CEO of Epic, did it on their own.
The rest, from Marian Ilitch ($5.1 billion) of Little Caesars to Diane Hendricks ($4.9 billion) who chairs ABC Supply and Johnelle Hunt (2.4 billion), J.B. Hunt Transport Services, are all co-founders who partnered with their husbands.
This fact isn’t surprising if we look at statistic number one: less than half of start up companies that successfully raised more than $10 million have solo founders.
History explains the husband-wife partnership model of success in the Forbes article. Until quite recently (if you consider the 70s recent) there were laws in place the actively disallowed women from truly launching large, successful, companies. For instance, in many states women couldn’t secure a line of credit unless their husband would co-sign. There were barriers to education (forget the Columbia School of Business; Columbia didn’t accept women until 1971) and employment, and pregnancy was a fireable offense. So, if you wanted to be in business? Partner with your husband.
Fortunately, we no longer have to deal with those particular legal barriers. But the take-away is still true: it’s better to have a partner if you truly want to raise the money to launch a successful business.
Unfortunately, statistic number two shows, clearly, that it’s still better to partner with a man. In 2016, 5,839 male-founded companies got venture capital (VC) funding, compared to just 359 female-founded companies. But, companies with both male and female founders fared slightly better with 1,067 receiving funding. Women who partner with men, therefore, are almost three-times more likely to receive VC funds.
Our third statistic is really interesting. Women are more likely to secure VC funds in one of the least funded areas: consumer goods and recreation.
In 2016, startups with female founders in the consumer goods and recreation industry represented more than 28 percent of the business that were funded. Yet, consumer products and services generally have less than 4 percent of the venture capital “market.”
Those billionaires on the Forbes list actively demonstrate that there is money to be made in this underfunded industry. Take Lynda Resnick ($2 billion) who, along with her husband, Stewart, own thousands of acres of citrus fruit, pistachio, almond and pomegranate orchards. They founded the Wonderful Company in 1979 and now have brands including POM Wonderful, Figi Water and mandarin Halos.
A more current success story is Carolyn Rafaelian, the founder of popular bangle brand Alex and Ani. She’s now America’s richest jeweler.
Often, it seems, successful women started out trying to come up with better products to use themselves. Spanx, Vera Bradley and IT Cosmetics, all started that way.
That said, women are definitely making inroads in other industries. Eren Ozmen, co-founder of aerospace and defense contractor Sierra Nevada, had sales rise 15% in 2016 and its Dream Chaser spacecraft has secured a partnership with the United Nations and a contract with NASA.
Then, there’s the fact that women-owned businesses are outperforming the overall business market in terms of growth. According to The 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, there are now nearly 11.3 million woman-owned businesses in the U.S., employing nearly 9 million people and generating over $1.6 trillion in revenue.
“Representing a 45% increase between 2007 and 2016, compared to a 9% increase among all businesses, women are going into business and doing it very successfully.” (Forbes.)
Stats and facts don’t tell the whole story, naturally.
Partnering with a man won’t change the fact that women-founded business are still, statistically, less likely to secure VC. As I’ve written about before, there’s no magic bullet.
We also need to gain access to more than “seed money”; women still self-fund their startups more than 60 percent of the time.
A huge part of overcoming these barriers is linked to the ideas we have (believe in them!), our perceptions of ourselves (we can do it!), and our ability to form business plans and relationships.
So, a final, positive, statistic. With women heading up at least 36 percent of businesses in the country (as of 2012) we now have mentors, guides, leaders and role models that will help their sisters-in-innovation do great things.
As a woman and lifelong entrepreneur, it’s heartening to hear the statistics that, between 2007 and 2015, the number of businesses owned by women in the U.S. increased by 68 percent.
No such statistics are easily available for the developing world, yet reports from organizations like the United Nations repeatedly point to the need for more women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs if poverty is going to be eradicated at the global level.
As with other career paths, female entrepreneurs in the U.S. face significantly more challenges than their male counterparts. They often start with less capital, it’s harder to secure loans, and profit margins can be significantly lower.
But the difficulties here pale in comparison to those faced by women in developing nations. Social and cultural norms that exclude women and girls from school and work-outside-the-home are a huge barrier, as are basic infrastructure issues like access to clean water.
So, while we have still have our own significant hurdles, I firmly believe that helping female entrepreneurs in developing countries will truly make the world a better place for all.
It starts with education. Basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic are mandatory if girls are going to be able to do anything more than the most menial of labor. In order have the vision and access to business resources necessary to start a business, advanced (secondary) education is a must.
Yet, according to Unicef, an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were not in school in 2013.
While not all of us have the skills and ability to leap on an airplane and build schools for girls like Katie Meyer did in Liberia, there are a variety of large and small nonprofits that need financial support.
The Malala Fund, founded Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, provides resources for girls in multiple developing nations to receive 12 full years of education, in a safe environment.
Smaller organizations, like Rafiki Africa, concentrate on one village or city hoping to change the lives of the entire community.
But, beyond basic education, women need practical help: money, supplies, and business training.
One of the simplest ways to help a woman become self-sufficient is to support an organization that provides “starter kits,” that is, all the supplies a woman needs to do the work she’s chosen.
By supplies, I mean everything from the goat, to the goat feed, to training in caring for a goat, to networking women with other women so they can engage and mutually support and grow their efforts. One woman, working with other women, can go from having a single goat to becoming part of a collective that produces goat cheese to sell at markets.
Heifer International has focused on agriculture and sustainable farming initiatives for over 70 years. Recognizing the “beyond one goat” need, they also have a Women’s Empowerment campaign that provides training and assistance (including bill paying classes!) to women.
Again, there are also country-specific options. My foundation supports WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) which helps women in Israel in a variety of ways. There’s legal assistance, leadership training and even day care, which allows women to focus on their business knowing their children are in a safe place.
Another organization, Women for Women International, works specifically in war-torn countries. They have programs that that equip women with life, vocational and business skills. They even connect women with supportive financial institutions.
Finally, there are ways to give direct financial support that can either be seed money, or emergency need money. Microloans are a popular financial device and have been semi-effective in helping women start businesses.
But they are even more effective, according to this article on NPR, at meeting emergency needs—like a new roof.
If you want to expand beyond donating to, or volunteering for, nonprofits, you don’t have to look farther than your local mall or online for ways to mindfully purchase everything from cosmetics to jewelry from socially conscious companies.
Teen Vogue recently highlighted the jewelry line Órama, “whose proceeds micro-finance entrepreneurial projects by women in marginalized communities.”
Ten Thousand Villages is committed to providing fair and sustainable income to its artisans, many of them women, in developing countries.
Another great way to potentially support female entrepreneurs around the world is to ask your local store owners where they source their goods and frequent those that purchase from international women’s collectives.
Once you apply an entrepreneurial, get-it-done attitude to supporting female entrepreneurs in developing countries, the options and opportunities are endless.
This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com
Most kids want to be a variety of things when they grew up. Think about it: for boys (and some girls), there’s the superhero phase, the astronaut phase and, of course, the cowboy phase.
But, as the Ed and Patsy Bruce song says: “Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” To which I agree, with the addendum, why not let them grow up to be entrepreneurs instead?
Cowboy dreams fizzle quickly, and when adult kids take on new quests, it can be difficult for parents to be a source of inspiration. We’re all more insecure at 22 than at 12 when everything still seems possible. But 22 is the time to be brave. It’s the time, if the situation calls, to follow entrepreneurial instincts instead of burying them.
Your child is a responsible adult now, so there’s no sugarcoating the tough road ahead. But that doesn’t mean you can’t guide them and foster a spirit of entrepreneurship in this critical stage of life.
As an entrepreneur myself, I know that creativity is a big part of building a thriving business. I’m proud to say my son has become a real estate entrepreneur in his own right, much like I did as a young woman in the 80s. For those with adult children still looking for direction, here’s how to encourage their entrepreneurial pursuits with both realism and support.
Tell them you’ll love them, even if they fail.
The proverb, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again” was popularized in the mid-1800s by W.E. Hickson, but its truth has been proven over and over again by countless entrepreneurs.
According to this fun infographic from Entrepreneur James Dyson created 5126 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before he had a model that really did the job. He is now worth $4.2 billion.
The same applies to your children as they grow into young adults. Taking risks means failing sometimes, but without failure (or the possibility of it), the reward won’t be nearly as satisfying. According to Bloomberg, a shocking 8 in 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within their first 18 months. If your graduate wants to start their own business, they should know the odds are against them, and be prepared to go the extra mile to beat them.
It’s your job to let them know that their failure will not disappoint you, though you do expect them to handle the consequences like an adult.
Encourage visionary thinking.
Visionary thinkers innovate, but it’s hard to visualize when a bulk of your time is spent playing video games, drinking, or sleeping. Post-college, it’s natural for young adults to get lethargic. They did work hard in school for 16+ years, after all.
You can’t force your child to be productive and try new things when they are adult — so don’t try to. Having deep conversations with them, often, but not too often, can encourage them to get out there and experience things before launching a business endeavor. Pique their curiosity about the world, different cultures, age groups, talents, and possibilities. With luck, they will take this into consideration when starting a business, and embrace the multifaceted perspective needed to be truly visionary.
Don’t shoot down “out of the box” ideas.
There is rarely only one, right, way to solve a problem and there is no such thing as a problem-free life. Certainly not in the real world of either having a job or building a business.
A lot has been said about the need for critical thinking in the workplace. But, as pointed out in this article from U.S. News and World Report, critical thinking “is only one component of this higher order skill: the creation of new solutions. It is far easier to be the art critic than the artist.”
New solutions require the ability to think about a problem differently, approach it from a new angle. For some problems, ignoring the box entirely is required! Help your child be the artist, not the art critic, by stepping out of their comfort zone in their approach to new endeavors and ideas. Parents and older generations are notorious for shutting down impractical or untraditional ideas; we should resist this urge if we want the next generation of leaders to create lasting impact.
This isn’t the same as allowing (or worse, enabling) a permanent “starving artist” lifestyle… Which leads us to:
Emphasize the importance of financial responsibility.
Forbes has an excellent article about which lessons to teach at what age. But, the basic notion that money is to earned, saved and spent, invested or donated can permeate almost any conversation.
This is a lesson, I’ll admit, that best starts at a young age. Your child still wants to be a cowboy? Okay, how much does it cost to own a horse? ($2,500 annually, on average, according to the American Quarter Horse Association.) How can that money be earned? How long will it take to save up to buy the horse and stable it for a year?
But the reality is that many young people graduate college without a sense of financial literacy; in fact, financial literacy in America is low across the board. When education ends, financial responsibility begins, so it’s imperative that this knowledge is imparted as soon as possible. Starting a company, or building a prototype, takes money as well as time, energy and the desire to do it in the first place! Have this conversation about money early on so they’ll know what it can do when handled properly.
Ultimately, young adults need to know they can follow their passions and still be smart about it.
Forbes magazine cites a Deloitte University Press study that found “up to 87.7 percent of America’s workforce is not able to contribute to their full potential because they don’t have passion for their work.”
Parents often instinctively urge their adult children to play it safe, ignoring their passions in favor of realistic goals, an understandable (if flawed) attitude to have in times of uncertainty. But know that entrepreneurial success is not impossible, so don’t shoot down the notion: build it up by asking the right questions. For a chance at success, they will need to have a plan — and a plan B. What sort of education is needed? What resources are available? Who can help, either through mentoring or emotional support?
As a daughter of Jewish immigrants, I wasn’t afforded the most substantial resources as a young adult, but I’m happy that my hard work has allowed me to be a support system and role model especially as my son entered the workforce. Allowing your children the professional and parental guidance they seek is incredibly rewarding, so long as they can stand on their own two feet at the end of the day.
This post was originally featured on CFO.com
We know the facts: women are still being paid less for doing the same job(although not as much less) and the number of female CEOs is on the rise (even if they’re still dwarfed by the number of men). It’s a catch-22: we’re stuck in our ways even though there’s been a significant amount of progress.
When I founded Bach Realty more than 30 years ago, it was an assuredly less progressive time. The perception of women in the workplace today is dramatically, improved. Still, there is much ground yet to cover.
When women entrepreneurs look at the divide in venture capital funding between the genders, they might get frustrated — and rightfully so. The truth is that women simply aren’t getting VC funding to the same degree as men, and when it comes to building a business, funding is fundamental.
Is this a case of institutionalized sexism, or is it a complex combination of different factors? Looking at the numbers can give us a clearer idea of why this gap exists, and what female entrepreneurs can do about it.
Consider this: in the Bay Area, more than 200 startups reached “Series A Funding” of between $3 and $15 million in the past year. Of those, fewer than 1 in 12 had a female CEO at the helm.
We know that there are more male CEOs than female CEOs, so does this explain the discrepancy? Not even close. Despite the fact that women make up 38% of new business owners in the United States, only about 4% get any sort of VC funding. Given such data, it may seem like a cut-and-dried case of sexism.
But the situation isn’t quite that simple. While the sexism characterization carries some truth, the irony is that the opposite is also true: Many female entrepreneurs may lack confidence in VCs, preferring to build businesses on their own savings. When The Kauffman Foundation surveyed 350 female tech startup leaders, four in five said they used personal savings to fund their operations.
One possibility is that women, whether by nature or nurture, are more prone to self-reliance and realistic thinking. We’re often better at creating lean, efficient organizations that are productive with few resources. We build small organizations that show both resourcefulness and ingenuity, the ability to do a lot with a little. And the numbers show it:Organizations with more female leaders are more profitable than those with mostly male leaders.
In this light, one reason women may be less likely to seek out VC funding is that we are less likely to need or want it. In turn, we’re less likely to receive it.
More likely it comes down to the industries where women are able to get their feet in the door. Silicon Valley, where there are many science and tech startups, is male-dominated, as are the VC firms that fund them. For a woman, this environment can be stifling, as the recent viral Google Memomade clear. This reality can alienate female would-be rising stars and jeopardize the relationship between female founders and their financial backers.
There is evidence to support this hypothesis. Studies have shown that when a VC has female partners, as opposed to males only, the success gap between male-led and female-led startups that such VCs fund virtually vanishes. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that gender diversity matters on both ends if women are truly to be on equal footing.
Even worse, VCs can get turned off from the tight, efficient businesses women tend to create, and profitability alone, a focus of female leaders, doesn’t necessarily scream “growth” to investors. Additionally, just 6% of VCs are female, a disparity that creates a cultural divide between female founders and funding.
The Future of the Relationship
In the words of Jory des Jardins, cofounder of BlogHer, “VCs love founders whose aspirations are stratospheric,” according to the Forbes article linked to directly above. Female CEOs have been proven to be adept at creating and preserving something strong, but men appear more willing to take bold risks (and more likely to fail).
As women, we are conditioned to be less confident in our professional abilities. VCs favor confidence over competence, which men tend to exude with abandon.
So what’s the answer?
Women might consider taking a more growth-oriented (versus profit-oriented) mindset and taking more risks. Alternatively, they may want to find a VC firm willing to work with a company that’s focused on profits, or that has more women at the helm. Most importantly, promoting gender diversity should lead to gains for all.
I have a sneaky feeling that as women continue to push boundaries in Silicon Valley, finance, and the general business world, more gains will be made organically. If this is true, our answer has already been set in motion, and the VC gap is destined to grow smaller with each passing year.
How many years have you spent trying to meet somebody’s standard of success or even chasing society’s measure of success? If you’ve committed a good amount of your life working at a job you hate just to pay the bills, being in a relationship even though it’s unhealthy for you, or working hard to maintain an image of success, you may have compromised on your own happiness and satisfaction.
Being a woman can make this an even more difficult quandary. Some schools of thought say that being a wife and mother is the ultimate goal; others put down the domestic life, and still others urge women that they must have it all: the high-paying job, the family, the body, and the respect of the world all at once. And because women are often caretakers, those who put their goals first are too often derided as selfish. What’s a modern woman to do?
I had a gut instinct about what success meant to me early on—in my case, it was the financial independence of entrepreneurship. I was able to achieve this through a lot of hard work, but I would be lying if I said society’s expectations never got to me along the way. The truth is, it can take a while to extract our own goals from the rest of the world’s. If you’re not truly happy with your life and find yourself wondering what’s missing, some self-reflection will give you a chance to take a closer look at the choices you are making every day. This way, you can decide whether they are aligned with your definition of success, or somebody else’s.
Here are three ways to define success on your own terms.
Set Your Own Expectations
The amount of external forces at work telling women what’s right for them is mind-boggling. There are your family’s expectations, the media’s, your social circle, and that’s only scratching the surface. My ambitions as a young woman were unusual because there were very few, if any, female entrepreneurs I could have looked up to. I had to come up with my version of success from scratch.
Take some time to decide what is meaningful to you and only you. Not what’s popular, what’s trending, what your friends and family are talking about these days, or what you might have read in a magazine. Think about how you feel when you engage in certain activities over others. Think about the people you admire the most, the people that are living the life that you want to live ‘some day.’
Then, set your expectations and goals to create that type of life. Consider how you would spend your days, what you would be looking forward to and what you would simply say ‘no’ to. This is the first step in setting your own expectations, and doing so will help to define goals that truly mean something to you.
Humans are judgmental by nature, but being the first to judge—yourself and others—is nothing but shortsighted. When you judge you are projecting your own expectations of success onto someone else. If they haven’t met your ideal in some way, you are giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down without a full context. If you don’t want this done to you, examine how your own judgments may be harming others. Then, reel them back.
Women are often judgemental of one another, a fact that isn’t helped by all the competing narratives of what is the right and wrong life course for modern females. Consider that each person is responsible for defining their own path and may be working on how to achieve their goals, in whatever they may be, in their own way. Refrain from judging others and be kinder to yourself, too, instead of criticizing yourself for not meeting a certain standard.
Letting go of this need to judge will not only give you some peace of mind but will also give you some breathing room to accept yourself, and others, for what and who they are. Part of defining your own version of success is letting go of the need to have other people meet them. All women are different, and that’s something to be celebrated. At the end of the day, people who help each other will get a lot further than those who keep each other down.
Decide What You Want, and Don’t Give Up
Success, happiness, and ‘the good life’ are not all out there waiting to be experienced. You can have them all right now when you take the lead on keeping things in your life that help you grow and motivate you, and doing away with things that pull you down and cause stagnancy. But having it all probably doesn’t mean what you think it does: it doesn’t mean perfection, or pleasing everyone.
Decide, right now, what you want in your life right now. A better relationship? Make peace with your significant other and renew your commitment to each other. A better job? Start sending out resumes and mark your calendar for the day you are going to leave, no matter what. Less stress? Reorganize your schedule for the next few days so you can clock in some rest and relaxation.
Taking steps to change something, right here, right now, is one of the easiest ways to put yourself on the path to success on your terms. Don’t let anybody or anything convince you that your choices to change are wrong or inconvenient to them. When you are busy defining success on your terms, you’ll need to accept that there will be many changes ahead. You get to decide what you want in your life and you get to pursue it in your way. Then, you need to work really, really hard to get there, because success won’t be handed to you.
Living a life defined by somebody else’s standard of success can put you on the path to misery, depression, and complete disengagement with life. Be brave enough to define success on your own terms and live a life aligned with that perspective. Whether your goal is financial independence or a nuclear family, taking upward steps, even when it’s hard, will drive your ambition. Even if your exact dream isn’t realized, your life will be enriched by everything you accomplish on the way.
This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com
There’s a reason former Google engineer James Damore’s internal memo on gender diversity went viral. For one, it resonated with a lot of people — largely men in the tech industry — who have been rubbed the wrong way by diversity initiatives in increasingly progressive workplaces. And while some quietly agreed, others have vocally called the memo out for what it is: a one-sided attempt to undercut Google’s efforts to hire, motivate, and promote more women in its ranks.
Among the memo’s most egregious offenses was the implication that women are both less suitable and less inclined to become software engineers and leaders. Since I’m not a software engineer, I won’t speak to this argument (others have articulated the issue far better than I). But as a female entrepreneur, I feel it’s my duty to condemn the type of thinking that only further serves to alienate talented women in male-dominated fields.
It may be a promising time for female leaders, but frustrating misconceptions are never far behind. Here are several of Damore’s claims in regard to female leadership that I think should be reconsidered, or at least interpreted much differently.
Overstating biology, downplaying sexism
While Damore cites some legitimate science (with a too-heavy reliance on evolutionary biology) his conclusions fail to take into account known and proven research on sexism in the workforce. And while he admits that there may indeed be sexism at play, his attempts to conflate “biological” personality differences with differences in ability are dubious at best.
There is no shortage of women qualified to lead, yet the leadership gap is undeniable. Most Americans believe men and women are equally capable of leadership — which research supports, often edging in women’s favor. What women lack is opportunity, and according to Pew research, double standards and high expectations are cited far more often than any biological factors as obstacles to power.
That’s because biology simply isn’t a factor. While men and women have their differences, male and female brains are virtually indistinguishable, and even personality traits differ far more by individual than any group. On the other hand, we have concrete proof of the glass ceiling. That anyone would emphasize biology as a cause of the gender gap is quite strange.
On work-life balance and neuroticism
Damore has a point on work-life balance — it’s hard for anyone to lead if 100+ hours a week are a requirement, but I’m not so sure men are more suitable for this, or that they even desire it. In reality, most men want work-life balance too, and would stay home or work fewer hours if given the choice. That men feel less comfortable taking on traditionally female roles is a fault of society, not biology.
Then there’s the whole “women are neurotic” stereotype. According to the author, “Women, on average, have more: Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress [sic] jobs.”
This may be true on some levels, but again, the argument is fairly easy to poke holes in. What about the high-stress jobs in which women are overrepresented? Nursing, teaching, social work, and service jobs, which are majority-female, are also notoriously high-stress. When it comes to leadership, are we expected to buy into the notion that all CEOs necessarily are under more stress, or work harder than inner-city teachers or cancer ward nurses? Or that given the choice, women wouldn’t opt for the former?
On people-mindedness vs system-mindedness
Damore argues that women choose not to code because they prefer to focus on people, and men on things. This ignores a long history of women in computing, but is also baffling because even if this dichotomy were truer on average, it would lower women’s competence at coding — especially at Google, which draws from elite universities where women are represented more evenly in CS programs.
More importantly, being system-minded in no way lends itself better to leadership than being people-minded. In fact, if we were to buy this law of averages, women would be overrepresented in positions of power, since managing and communicating with people are essential leadership skills.
Further, hormones, which actually are biological, tell another story: too much testosterone leads to excessive risk-taking, and the ideal traits for leadership have been found embodied best by women over 55.
On discrimination and de-moralization
Lastly, even if some good science is used in Damore’s memo, his conclusions are, in a word, absurd. Even if women and men have different tendencies, choose different career paths, due to nature or nurture or anything else, that doesn’t mean that diversity and empathy should be de-emphasized in business, as the author claims. Given Damore’s contradictions, however, it’s hard to take his suggestions at face value — he’s quick to denounce the ideological echo chamber of Google, but in the same breath advocate for the preservation of a male-dominated echo chamber. What gives?
Providing opportunities for women does not amount to discrimination against men, plain and simple. Despite the author’s protests, such initiatives not only benefit businesses, but also prevent harmful groupthink so that products are developed to serve the entire population, not just half.
No one — none the least Google — is attempting to oust men to create an authoritarian version of equality, as Damore claims. This accusation accounts to fear-mongering, and while it’s sad to give the notion airtime, it’s also proof of a path toward progress.
After a lukewarm reception to its first season, Netflix decided to cancel GirlBoss, a series loosely based on NastyGal founder Sophia Amoruso’s book of the same name. To viewers who gave up after the first episode, the choice is hardly surprising. Amoruso, portrayed by Britt Robertson, was not just a deeply unlikable heroine–she embodied the “privileged, insufferable millennial” stereotype to a T, fabulous leather jacket notwithstanding.
Though GirlBoss is one of the entertainment industry’s more recent depictions of a female boss, it was not a very novel one. Sophia comes in a long tradition of supposedly empowered characters that have, somewhere in the writer’s room, succumbed to stereotypes of what it means to be a female leader. As a female entrepreneur, it’s difficult to see myself reflected in characters portrayed almost exclusively as villains or anti-heroes. And considering how important it is that young women can freely aspire to lead and for society to recognize talented women in all industries, it’s a missed opportunity for real, positive representation.
We all know that life mimics art and vice versa, so when it comes to entertainment, it’s important to portray diverse and nuanced characters in categories like this one. That’s not to say that all female bosses should be “likable,” per se—just that reverting to tired stereotypes is helpful to exactly no one, especially in 2017.
Sadly, leadership skews so far male today that any representation is disproportionate to reality. Just six percent of Fortune 500 companies are women, a number that improves only slightly when expanding to include all female executives. More troubling is the fact that female bosses are plagued by negative perceptions. A 2015 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found substantial evidence of implicit bias against female leaders, while research as recent as 2010 found a shocking 90 percent of MBA students preferred a male boss.
That can’t be helped much by the heartless female boss trope. One of the earlier examples of this emerged in the 1988 film Working Girl, in which Sigourney Weaver portrays a conniving boss named Katherine Parker who steals an idea from her receptionist, played by Melanie Griffith. Almost twenty years later, not much had changed: In the 2006 hit The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep plays the devious fashion editor Miranda Priestly, who has a similarly contentious relationship with her assistant, Andy (Anne Hathaway). While both characters are arguably iconic, they enforce the stereotype of cold, ruthless female leader, proving that two genders can play that game, but only one gets labeled a bitch.
The second stereotype is that of the sexy, unhinged female boss. Take the popular TV show The Office as an example. While the show’s cringe-worthy manager Michael Scott is ultimately humanized, his boss (and sometimes-lover) Jan is unstable, mean-spirited, and sexually aggressive. In the movie Horrible Bosses, Jennifer Aniston plays the deranged Dr. Julia Harris, who besides being a horrible boss is guilty of sexually harassing her subordinate.
More recently, the trope has evolved to inject concern for the female leader’s wellbeing into the plotline. This trope assumes that for a female boss to be successful, she must be making huge life-altering sacrifices, something you rarely see male bosses in film or TV grapple with. In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock plays a high-powered book editor who must pretend to be engaged to her assistant to avoid deportation. As it’s revealed that she has no love life to speak of, she “relaxes” considerably after falling in love. On a similar note, Anne Hathaway plays a young entrepreneur in The Internship whose marriage suffers due to her commitment to the job. Good thing her intern, played by Robert Deniro, is there to convince her of her self-worth.
It is true that family responsibilities continue to fall to women, making work-life balance a reality most must face. Even Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, juggles her job as head writer with her various social ineptitudes and love life. Needless to say, her boss Jack Donaghy does not have the same issue.
Still, the complexity of Liz Lemon is laudable, and part of this is likely a result of Tina Fey’s hands-on involvement as the show’s producer. The same can be said of The Mindy Project, in which Mindy Kaling both produces the show and plays the title character, a female gynecologist. Even then, the show revolves around Mindy’s attempts to balance the personal and professional.
It’s true that there are absolutely exceptions to these stereotypes. One is Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec. Leslie handles her responsibilities with aplomb, and then some, with the show rarely dwelling on her “sacrifices” and allowing her to be immensely likable and professionally demanding all at once. And sure, Leslie is not like most women. But most women could use role models like her.
In the end, the point is not that all female bosses have to be inspiring and heroic — just that the tropes are overdone and there are fewer excuses than ever to fall back on them, especially with the glass ceiling dissolving by the minute. When it comes to GirlBoss, Amoruso herself was less than thrilled by the caricature Netflix turned her into. But it didn’t have to be this way. We have all the resources to tell the stories of complex, empowered female leaders facing new and interesting issues. I have a feeling those are the depictions that will be the ones that have staying power.
This post was originally featured on VentureBeat
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Female entrepreneurs are required to work tirelessly to earn their well-deserved spot in the corner office and at the head of the table.
Yet statistics show that more often than not, hard work literally doesn’t pay when women are at the helm of a company. Only 3 percent of money from venture capitalists and 4 percent of commercial loans go to female entrepreneurs — even as the number of women-owned businesses continues to skyrocket. According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Reportfrom American Express OPEN, “Between 2007 and 2016, the number of women-owned firms increased by 45 percent, compared to just a 9 percent increase among all businesses.”
Still, the language venture capitalists use to describe female entrepreneurs is tinged with negativity — words and phrases like “high maintenance” and “cautious” are viewed as traits that could lead to disaster.
A new AI platform from The Circular Board in partnership with Dell and Pivotal claims to be the missing puzzle piece needed for women to finally receive their due. “Alice” connects women with mentors and potential funding partners, along with resources like financial planning advice and relevant event listings. The goal is to provide female entrepreneurs with everything they need to eliminate the gender gap and succeed in a workforce that is actively pushing back against them.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, when I was first navigating the workforce and establishing my footing in a male-dominated field, I didn’t have apps that taught me how to budget or sent me in the direction of the right networking events. But now that there are apps and platforms for almost anything, it’s important to remember that there are still a multitude of skills and strategies that can only be performed by you, the woman in charge.
So what are the old-school keys you need in order to open those doors?
1. Have a dream and stick to it
Technology can help you accomplish your dream, but it certainly can’t come up with your passion project and end goals for you. Mina Lux, CEO and founder of Meelo and a 2016 Stevie Award winner, described having a dream as the primary motivator behind her success as an immigrant and woman in tech. “‘Immigrants take the risk because of a dream,’” she said. “‘It’s the passion of making a better life and having that chance to actually carry it out. Does risk come into play? From time to time it does, but then we flip right back to that dream of having an opportunity unavailable elsewhere. That’s always been the root of my strength.’”
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Admitting to yourself and others that you can’t do something entirely on your own takes courage, but few people can honestly say that their success came with no outside help. For me, that came in the form of asking a friend for a loan in order to start my business. While online tutorials and multi-purpose platforms like Alice are useful for filling in knowledge gaps or leading you to the best resources, eventually, you’ll find yourself in need of another human — even if it’s just for moral support. “I have definitely not launched my business by myself,” said Michelle Garcia, owner of Heirloom Catering in Denver Colorado. “You’re always going to find yourself at a roadblock, whether it’s learning about a sales tax, developing a new website, or creating a new marketing plan. Always just ask for help. It’s so simple and it sounds so trite but it’s true.”
3. Learn to communicate
Being able to communicate effectively is always going to be a necessary skill, regardless of how advanced artificial intelligence becomes. While the methods of communication have evolved, the need to master professionalism, eloquence, and the ability to articulate your ideas in a manner that is compelling and convincing hasn’t changed. As female entrepreneurs, we’re already doubted, judged, and ignored more than our male counterparts, so it’s imperative that we take the time to refine our presentations, review our emails before sending, and learn how to be assertive and demand respect through the words we say and the way we say them.
4. Know your worth
While knowing your worth definitely includes demanding fair pay and not settling for the standard 80 percent of a man’s paycheck, it also means taking ownership of your work, staying confident in your ideas, and not giving in to the voices that say you’re not equipped to run your own business or create a new product. It would certainly be easier if technology could boost our self esteem and determination to pursue our path of choice, but this one is completely up to you.
As more women trailblaze into what were once considered traditionally male careers like business and leadership, more cities are becoming global hotspots for female entrepreneurs. But no two cities are created equally; some have an ideal environment that female business women may want to consider for optimal success and networking. One list that highlighted some of those cities is the Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index.
As a New York-based entrepreneur and woman, it certainly wasn’t easy building my own business. But I often wonder how much more difficult it could have been elsewhere. And as someone who has been there, I try to do what I can do advocate for young women looking for a foothold. One way to do so is by highlighting regions with politics and environments that help women succeed.
Here’s a close look at the 5 best cities for female entrepreneurs:
New York City:
I may be biased when it comes to New York, but just so you know that it’s more than an anecdote, the Big Apple and self-proclaimed “Capital of the World” is touted as the best city in the world for female entrepreneurs on Dell’s list. The city also ranked first in the Index’s top five entrepreneurial cities for culture, capital, talent, and market.
Thanks to the abundance of cultures, resources, and myriad of different businesses and organizations to work with, New York is definitely the place to be. City government has also made a point to support women-run businesses and ideas. New York’s Department of Small Business Services, for example, recently announced the launch of the Contract Financing Loan Fund, which gives minority and women-owned businesses to apply for low-interest financing loans of up to half a million dollars. Interest rates on the loan will be capped at 3%, which will give all kinds of women the opportunity to expand or embark on new projects.
When most people think of startups, their minds spring immediately to Silicon Valley—and not without reason! Like New York, the Bay Area on the West Coast also placed in the top five for capital, market, and talent. The overall area includes various cities like San Francisco, Napa, and Santa Clara. The area also includes Silicon Valley, which encompasses an area filled with all kinds of startups and widely successful technical companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, which make it ideal for getting new ideas off the ground.
Despite fears of how changes like Brexit will affect business in the future for the United Kingdom, London is still an international city and the largest metropolitan area throughout all of the United Kingdom. It’s also one of the most important financial areas in both Europe and the world.
It competes with cities in the United States in that 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have offices inside of London. That makes it easier to find funding and organizations to collaborate with for entrepreneurial purposes.
This Swedish city is a hotbed of nascent potential. It’s one of the richest regions in the European Union and also one of the fastest growing cities. It also ranks as number one on Dell’s Women Entrepreneurial Cities Index as the best city for tech.
Sweden is also listed among the top five in Forbes’ “The 10 Best Countries for Women” list from 2012. Other aspects of Stockholm that make it promising for curious female entrepreneurs looking outside of the United States? It’s home to various organizations, including the Professional Women’s Network, a federation of over 24 professional networks that promote gender equality. This makes the city, and country an ideal place for women who prefer a welcoming environment.
Though most of the best cities on the Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index are dominated by US- and Europe-based locations, Singapore is definitely a location to consider for the future of women in entrepreneurship. The Southeast Asian city ranks third on Dell’s best cities for tech and fifth in the top five cities for culture.
Recent developments made in the city include the country’s push to create a multi-million dollar fund to help innovative companies in an effort to boost future economic growth, according to Bloomberg. Several websites have also highlighted Singapore as an ideal location in Asia for women’s access to capital and equal rights. Moreover, it’s currently touted as the best places in Asia for women owned businesses to thrive.
This city seems to be ideal for anyone who constantly does business in Southeast Asia, or is considering overseas collaborations that don’t always include Europe or the United States.
It’s great to see so many cities global embracing and supporting female entrepreneurs. Just remember: success isn’t always a physical state as much as a state of mind. While cities like these will give you a boost, your own drive can make a world of difference, too.
Women have been leaning in since before the phrase was coined, and we’re finally seeing some real progress. Since I entered the workforce as a secretary in the 70s and forged a name for myself in the 80s, a lot has changed, and overall the trend is a positive one. Though battles remain for women far and wide, my own experience serves as a reminder of the hurdles we’ve collectively overcome.
Others have said it, but it bears repeating, that we are finally entering a golden age of female entrepreneurship. This new age will give the economy a boost and help increase employment opportunities for a diverse range of people—men included! If developments in the next thirty years are as significant as those in the past, our future is most certainly a bright one overflowing with female empowerment.
But don’t just take my word for it; listen to my story and those of other women who have been there. I think you’ll find that what we’ve experienced is illustrative of progress made, and progress still to come.
Growing up: Unprecedented goals
As the daughter of an immigrant butcher, monetary success did not always seem like a goal in the cards for me. I often say that the best thing my father did was be poor: he would get up at the crack of dawn and work 14-hour days, a demonstration of hard work and perseverance. Though my own hardships are nothing compared to those of my parents, who survived the Holocaust, I credit my all of my grit to them.
A drive to live my life on my own terms has dwelled within me since I was a child, when I desperately wanted to be respected, successful, and financially independent someday. For a man, this kind of ambition was all but assumed. For a woman, it was virtually unheard of.
How many little girls are told they can do anything they want by people who believe it? I like to think that in the 21st century, it’s most. Today, business skills are nurtured in children of both genders, through smart parenting as well as toys that promote entrepreneurship. Though progress is not always linear, young girls have better odds of success than ever before.
Growing up, there were no iconic female leaders I could model myself after or see myself in. I’m certain other girls my age didn’t realize entrepreneurship was an option available to them for this very reason. But this, too, has changed dramatically. Young women today can look to female leaders–both in the public and private sector–and emulate their successes.
Entering the workforce: Unchartered territory
After graduating high school in 1974, my real journey began. I landed a job as a secretary late that year at a real estate management firm for a small salary of $115 a week. This role was a learning opportunity and the first of many stepping stones, though it turned out I was better suited for management. I stepped into a role as property manager, and started Bach Realty Inc., an all-female real estate brokerage, after college. I became the first woman to own a commercial firm in New York City at the age of 23.
As a young professional woman I was definitely an outlier, and felt this fact keenly in an industry full of men. Today (as I’ve written about before) ambitious young women are no longer anomalies. Girls are no longer expected to stay at home, and though gender stereotypes still persist when it comes to career development, most women are prepared to enter the workforce after school.
Opting out of the workforce in today’s economy is rarely a realistic option. Career expectations are placed on both men and women, meaning there is more competition, but also greater equality. That doesn’t mean things are easy. When I started working I was following my dreams, while many of today’s young people are following the motions just to get by, and if they’re lucky, discover where they fit into a changing economy.
Entering the workforce can be a struggle for anyone, but today’s young female professionals, at the very least, benefit from having female peers and a culture that values their worth.
Launching a business: A test of strength
When I started at Bach, I borrowed 2k from a friend and made $100k in my first year. All of a sudden, I was off and running. A lot of hard work, persistence, and a little luck helped me achieve my goal of entrepreneurship and succeed beyond my wildest dreams.
But the 80s weren’t the easiest time for a woman to launch a successful business. As Sheryl Sandberg discussed in her 2013 book “Lean In,” ambition was (and often still is) viewed as a negative trait in women. As Sandberg describes, the trip to the top for a woman is more like a jungle gym riddled with obstacles than it is a ladder. I was determined not to be shaken by this. Instead, I made being the only woman a positive and used it to my advantage.
Just as I lacked female role models as a child, I didn’t have any women to emulate when I was building my business. Even better, there are support groups today specifically for women that provide invaluable resources and connections for female entrepreneurs.
Next steps: Crunching numbers, breaking barriers
The past 40-odd years have blessed us with more than just anecdotes like my own; now, we have the numbers to prove why it matters. Today’s women not only have example of successful female entrepreneurs, but the data to support their worth.
For example, research has shown that startups with female leadership outperform those with men at the helm by 63%. Studies also indicate that female leadership has an edge when it comes to overall effectiveness, emotional intelligence, communication, and teamwork.
In addition, the barriers to entry for female entrepreneurs have been significantly lowered. In the 70s and 80s, the entire world was a barrier. This is no longer true! Part of this change is thanks to technology, which has cut the costs of launching new initiatives, and the changing nature of work, which allows for more flexible solutions like freelancing. There are also more funding opportunities for women than ever before.
Still, implicit bias could linger for a very long time. This is evident in the fact that women still only comprise just 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, and are subjected to double standards in and out of the workplace. While this could take years to overcome, I have great faith in how progress is unfolding.
I look forward to a future filled to the brim with female success and representation, and if you want a robust economy, you should too. Let’s break that glass ceiling together and discover just how much we’re capable of achieving. Progress may not always be a straight line, but if the trajectory continues upwards, the sky’s the limit.