Women entrepreneurs face unique obstacles, from a lack of networking opportunities and mentors to the challenge of balancing work and family.
During a ceremony at the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards that took place in May 2019, 21 women took the stage to be honored as finalists in the competition among female founders. The women set a prime example of why female entrepreneurs are choosing community over competition.
Across the world, the number of startups run by women still falls well behind the number of male-led startups. For that reason, most women entrepreneurs tend to be incredibly supportive of one another, though stereotypes of "catty," competitive women persist. Healthy competition between businesses is natural and can push everyone to achieve more. But female entrepreneurs know that there is room for everyone at the table.
Female founders know all too well the unique hurdles businesswomen face, such as a lack of networking opportunities and mentors, the challenge of balancing work and family, fears of failure, and limited access to capital. In the United States, companies founded by women only received 2.7% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups last year. But women are working to shift these stats, with women-led funds and incubators on the rise.
Creating a community that can help you connect with these resources, grow your business, introduce you to new people and concepts, and even challenge ideas is essential – especially if you are not starting with a huge network.
How women benefit from building a community
Entrepreneurship can make dreams a reality, but the journey can be a nightmare at times. Even with a team, founders often struggle with feeling isolated as the leader, facing one challenge after another, and never quite knowing whether they will make it.
And entrepreneurs often second-guess themselves and don't have anyone to bounce around ideas with, leading to missed opportunities. But when you know you have a supportive community to lean on, you feel empowered to take more, smarter risks.
When you go to networking events, don’t be afraid to ask for business cards or LinkedIn info, and reach out to people if you have a question or idea. Don't worry if it feels awkward; build on initial connections to turn a casual friend into a trusted colleague.
Be sure to support others as well. Be an active part of other women's social media networks by liking, commenting on and sharing posts. According to research by Facebook, the Organisation for Co-operation and Development and the World Bank, social media is more significant for women-owned small businesses than those owned by men, with 81% of female entrepreneurs saying it helps their businesses.
Here are four amazing things that happen when women entrepreneurs prioritize community, and how female entrepreneurs can take full advantage of them.
You do not have to learn everything on your own.
When you launch your own business, you have to do every job – from accounting to production – and do it well. Most entrepreneurs don't have the full spectrum of expertise in jobs they must perform to grow a business. Fight the temptation to figure out everything on your own. There are plenty of women out there who have the skills you need, and they're willing and eager to help other women succeed.
Find networking events geared toward female entrepreneurs, and explore platforms such as Female Foundry, which provides training and resources to women entrepreneurs. This topic is near and dear to me, which is why I launched the Enthuse Foundation to support the growth of women-owned businesses.
Get the inside scoop on your industry.
When you're part of a group that's sharing about a specific industry or consumer group, you get access to insider information. Industry-oriented networking for women is a growing trend, and tapping into these networks of established professionals can open hard-to-access doors.
Although memberships might be pricey, it's worth the investment for access to high-level individuals and the industry insights they can offer. The Female Founders Alliance is one such organization that offers an accelerator bootcamp for programmers in addition to strong social media engagement and regular events.
Find or serve as a mentor.
Helping others is tremendously rewarding. Being a part of a larger community allows women to learn from those who have gone before them and give back to those coming up behind them. Yet, nearly two-thirds of women who were surveyed in a Development Dimensions International study said they've never had a mentor. The same survey discovered that 54% of women said they have been asked to mentor other women only a few times throughout their careers, and 20% said they have never been asked.
Many women-oriented coworking spaces allow entrepreneurs to engage with others and develop reciprocal mentoring relationships while simultaneously building their businesses. In fact, it was a coworking space that helped bring two entrepreneurs together in New York. Nicole Gibbons and Eunice Byun met at a networking event and realized they worked near each other, just at separate locations of the same coworking space.
They became fast friends and now seek out each other's advice. Their companies were at the same stage when they met, so they share advice on everything, including investors, vendors and where to find a great acupuncturist.
If you're in a rural area or can't afford a co-working membership, there's no need to miss out. A number of mentoring apps and resources allow women to connect when it's convenient for both parties and offer custom mentoring relationships. You can find long-term mentoring, project-based mentoring or mentoring in a specific business function, such as public relations or finance.
You can party together.
Every win matters, and someone who has faced similar challenges will be as excited as you about your achievements. And it's a lot more fun celebrating a milestone at happy hour with a friend or two.
Anne Welsh McNulty did not get any kind of friendly welcome when she first got a job in the corporate world. A woman who outranked her gave her the brush-off. And failing to reach out to other women on her level at her firm meant she didn't realize they were suffering from the same poor treatment as she was. Vowing to change things, she started hosting women-only lunches for colleagues and implemented an open-door policy with new women in her firm. These actions improved communications and reduced anxiety as women discussed problems and solutions.
If getting together in person is difficult with your schedule or others' schedules, embrace social media to share successes, wisdom, and questions. There are a growing number of groups on LinkedIn and Facebook for women entrepreneurs, and even reading a "Congratulations!" from people who get it can be powerful encouragement.
When you see another woman celebrating, be sure to join in. Every advancement a woman has as a founder is a win for all. Rebecca Minkoff, creator of the Female Founder Collective, is setting a great example of this by partnering with Yelp to highlight when a business is owned by a woman.
Women face unique challenges as entrepreneurs, but when a community of women comes together to support one another, we can feel more confident, capable and empowered to meet business challenges head-on.