Do you often feel that there aren’t enough role models to help you see what you can be? If you answered yes to this question, I’m guessing you may be an entrepreneur and most likely a woman in entrepreneurship.
Calling All Role Models
Women consistently state that lack of female role models is a core barrier for deciding to launch a business or grow a business. As a matter of fact, it is one of the top reasons holding women back, according to the Kauffman Foundation. This makes perfect sense, since the number of women with high-growth businesses is still small. We are like looking for a needle in a haystack. If you have no one to look to how can you learn to lead?
Not only do we need more role models, but we need them to maximize their value by sharing experiences fully, not just the shiny successes. Successes are realized from the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. You know, the whole truth.
I’d like to share that I had a mentor with talents like Oprah Winfrey, and that without this role model I never would have built a successful company. But I can’t, because that didn’t happen. The reality is that I never found the needle in the haystack. To this day I do not have a female role model that has been instrumental in showing me the way – accept for idolizing Oprah from afar.
Choosing Entrepreneurship Means Riding into the Wild West Ladies
We are early in the evolution of women in entrepreneurship. We have reached parity in college education and hold over 40% of management positions in the U.S. However, women comprise only 27% of MBA students, and although women now own 35% of U.S. businesses, most have revenue of less than $50,000 and do not have employees. We are early in the evolution of business ownership for women, and progress will be aided by women like me who raise their voice and help others see what they can be. Progress will also be impacted by your ability to embrace that you are as talented as the next entrepreneur and that there is power in being your own hero.
When I co-founded a company in the mid-1990s, there was a ground swell of women entering entrepreneurship. By 1997, 44% of new entrepreneurs were women, compared to 36% today. I had a lot of female camaraderie. However, these were my cohorts not my mentors. As the business scaled past the $1M mark, then $5M, then $10M, not only was I missing role models but I didn’t have many cohorts either. The Wild West, truly.
I was OK with the loneliness, because years earlier I decided that I didn’t have to be in a position of weakness without a role model. If I would recognize and embrace the confidence and wisdom that is derived from being your own hero, I could fill the gap and emerge stronger for this insight. This is not about ego or feeling superior. It is about recognizing that you most likely will achieve progress a little more slowly at times without a role model to show you the way, and that you may have to work harder than the next ‘guy’ to achieve the same progress. But when you have this recognition and dig in to do the extra work, your confidence, skills and depth of experience often surpass those that did not have to emerge from a deficit. It isn’t always easy, but success is absolutely a by-product of being your own hero. And it is empowering.
Choose to See the Role Models You Do Have
We all have role models that have helped craft our skills and talents. They may not look just like you and may not have traveled the same path, but their impact should be used to its fullest. My dad left corporate America after a 15 year career to purchase a small business and then to grow a startup. He was very traditional and did not encourage his daughters into business ownership. Nonetheless, I am the child of a small business owner, and I take advantage of the memories, conversations and culture that were a part of my daily life. I had a female teacher in high school that treated each student equally, which was not always common in the early 1980s. I was under her influence for only one year, but I draw from the liberating feelings of this experience even today. My husband and business partner, Bill, is my most valuable role model. Yes he is a man but his vision and encouragement are gender neutral, and that’s really all that is needed. You have role models in your past and in your life today that have provided what you need. See this and use it.
Be Your Own Hero
Being a woman in entrepreneurship means being your own hero to start and grow a business that maximizes success. Silence your inner critic by focusing on the rock star skills you possess that got you to where you are today and that will take you where you want to go. Realize you are not alone. We are all figuring it out as we go. Embrace the power of being your own hero, build businesses of growth and scale, and help women behind us in the evolution to see what they can be!