Female Entrepreneurship – Vive la Différence!
Without doubt many of these female entrepreneurs have had to fight harder battles than their male counterparts to overcome the usual social and cultural stereotypes and prejudices to get their businesses started. Even now, in many cultures, debates over the “do’s and don’ts” of working mothers are still a minefield – and yet despite all the odds the figures confirm that women entrepreneurs succeed and do it extremely well.
Equality legislation, changes in social attitudes and better business opportunities for women have certainly contributed a far more positive and encouraging backdrop in the UK for female entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, successful women have been building their own enterprises for a great many years and, in the process, proving every male chauvinist wrong.
Elizabeth Arden was already exporting her cosmetics brand internationally before World War I and her Red Door beauty salons flourished in Depression-era America, bringing in $4 million per year at its height.
But even that assumption is being turned on its head with more and more women successfully branching out into traditionally male-dominated operations.
India’s bio-tech entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw founded biotech firm Biocon in 1978 when she was 25. Taiwanese entrepreneur Cher Wang co-founded smartphone giant HTC. Wu Yajun, a former journalist turned real-estate tycoon, co-founder of Longfor Property, and is now reportedly worth $4.1 billion. Dawn Gibbins MBE is the British entrepreneur who co-founded Flowcrete, a commercial and industrial flooring company in the 80’s, overseeing its worldwide growth before its sale in 2008.
Other British female entrepreneurs of note are also an inspiration. The list includes the likes of:
- Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho CBE (aka Martha), co-founder of Lastminute.com
- Deborah Meaden, whose considerable success in leisure and retail sectors led to her starring role in Dragons’ Den
- Hilary Devey CBE and Kelly Hoppen MBE, also Dragons’ Den stars with phenomenal entrepreneurial achievements in logistics and design respectively
- Carrie Longton and Justine Roberts of Mumsnet
- Investment manager Nicola Horlick
- Travel industry guru Rita Sharma
- Karren Brady, star of TV show The Apprentice and first lady of British football, and
- Denise Coates founder and CEO of Bet365.
- Confidence. Many commentators believe that there is a tendency for women to under-estimate their own abilities and be less confident. This is no bad thing as complacency, in my opinion, is the enemy of success. Rightly or wrongly, it frequently results in women working harder than their male counterpart, and being even more determined and focused on achievement. Men are sometimes too confident in their abilities and what they perceive to be the ‘right way’ of doing things. Consequently they don’t necessarily take note of and act upon good advice. And we all know that plenty of men are terribly bad at listening.
- Reality-Check. In my experience of advising both men and women in starting up a business, the women with whom I’ve worked are exceptionally down-to-earth in their approach. For example they seem to produce more workable, better thought through business plans. Indeed there have been many times, when working with their male counterparts, that I’ve felt the need to nail their feet to the floor of reality!
- Identity. For a man, his public identity is based upon his career and achievements, so a business failure is seen as a disaster – there’s nothing worse than a deflated, despondent alpha male.Even in the so-called enlightened 21st century, much of society still judges women by their looks or ability to be a mother/home-maker. No one really cares what Barack Obama or David Cameron look like or wear – they just want them to get on and govern the US or UK in the best way possible. But Hillary Clinton’s hair-style, make-up and fashion-sense were analysed ad infinitum, distracting from the serious message of her statements and missions when she was US Secretary of State.However, that flawed undervaluing of women and their acumen means that they tend to be more determined in their business ventures, more rational and less emotionally proud or exposed than men.