Most of us owe a debt of gratitude to the institution of motherhood. If you’re one of the female entrepreneurs chasing your business dreams, even if your mom probably didn’t provide your seed round of funding, she did invest in your brand in the very early stages.
Your mom may have been the first women in her family to go to college or the first to have a job outside the home, and she did it while facing the institutional gender bias that brought about the terms “glass ceiling” and “pay gap.”
The tech boom has provided today’s female entrepreneurs with more opportunities than our moms had to start a business, but systemic gender bias still exists making it difficult for Millennial women to gain access to capital or get taken seriously in a conference room.
This Mother’s Day think about your role in moving the issue of gender equality forward. Here are some of the top challenges female entrepreneurs face while bootstrapping their dreams—and ways you can overcome them.
1. Networking with other entrepreneurs
Whether it’s building a client list or looking for a referral, business connections can to make or break any startup endeavor. You may have alumni connections, but those can go stale shortly after graduation. Building a solid professional network is a challenge that is frequently easier for men than women.
Men often use sports as a way to network, heading to the golf course or basketball court to make casual business contacts. There’s also what we all know as the “boy’s club,” which is less an invitation-only locale than an informal promise to look out for one’s peers. Because women are late to the entrepreneurial scene, it’s harder for them to find those established networks of female role models willing to mentor them up the ladder.
If you’re struggling to find a professional network, why not start one of your own? You can start by organizing other female entrepreneurs in your field on a social media platform, then find a way to meet in person. Drinks, brunches, and yoga classes tend to encourage female participation, but maybe you have a group of golfers, hikers, or scotch enthusiasts in your circle. Get them together and talk shop.
Is it a lot of extra work? Yes, but if you establish yourself as a leader in your field, you’ll become a hub of information. Others in your industry will then approach you as the go-to person when a contact is looking to refer business.
2. Funding for female entrepreneurs
The biggest hurdle for any entrepreneur is probably finding the money to finance their big idea. The trials of women starting businesses have been well-documented over the past few years, and studies have shown that hesitation to lend to female entrepreneurs is not unusual.
A U.S. Senate committee on small business and entrepreneurship recently found that women, who own almost 30 percent of all small businesses, received only 4.4 percent of small business loans.
“In the 21st Century, women entrepreneurs still face a glass ceiling,” the authors wrote in the report. “While women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of businesses, and many succeed, women must overcome barriers their male competitors do not face.”
Remember that network of entrepreneurs from the last tip? They just might be your best resource to help you find the money. Don’t forget to mine information from professional advisors, acquaintances who sit on advisory boards, or even family members who have access to equity.
3. Personal branding
Putting yourself out there on social media can lead to criticism and may publicize any failures. Social media is also particularly harsh on women in all fields, inviting online trolls to harass you as you build a following.
Still, go online anyway. Like it or not, many clients and investors will judge you based on your social media presence, and a successful business depends on a strong social media brand. Learn to ignore the comments section.
4. Fear of failure
Huge successes are often borne of major failure, but the pressure for women to always put their best foot forward is intense. Whether it’s the expectation to succeed in a field where women are underrepresented or simply the fear of telling your family you’re leaving a well-paying gig to found a startup—an endeavor that has a 90 percent failure rate.
Similar to the decision of which college to attend or when to have kids, there’s no right answer to the question of when or whether to become an entrepreneur. It depends on your appetite for risk-taking.
5. Industry mentors
Women have a much harder time finding mentorships in the business world. Chalk it up to an existing shortage of women in leadership positions or the tendency for older men to gravitate toward younger versions of themselves, neglecting to include young women in their inner circle of mentees.
Take initiative. Your ideal mentor may not even know he or she wants to be a mentor, so ask and remember that sometimes “no” means “not right now”. Find the right balance of persistence to encourage your ideal mentor to take you on. If you win one over, be prepared to work hard to impress.