I have a little fluffy dog, make jewellery, love fashion and shoes. I even, wait for the shock, wear make up and have been known (on occasion) to sing along to Tailor Swift! When I'm not apparently competing for the 'most stereotypically modern woman' award, I run a medium-sized business. This means I'm responsible for employees and therefore people's livelihoods. I have to make decisions, some of which are harsh and challenging. I hold people to account, have to negotiate and manage a sizable budget... and I don't take prisoners. These contradictions seem to be difficult for many to comprehend. But I'm not alone, many of us exist, we are just waiting for the slow and rusty cogs of society to catch-up with us. But I, for one, am getting impatient!
I have read lots of articles on whether or not women make better business owners, most of which conclude with, yes, but the playing field is not equal - agreed! However, this is not my particular gripe. I don't feel that being a woman/ or not being a woman is an entrepreneurial advantage in its own right. What the issue is I think is that many 'would be' successful female entrepreneurs never make it into fruition due to outdated and frankly, unacceptable societal norms that make us feel to be successful in business would be an alien concept not worth approaching, unless we want to become some caricature of a Thatcher-eqs 'lady of steel'. Women who are successful are seen as 'ruthless', 'uncaring' or 'cold'. Sometimes, we even buy into this unconsciously and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should reject these stereotypes. Those of us that do pursue a career in business or enterprise are somehow expected to give up our hearts for it.
Allow me to explain a little...
If a man runs a business he is generally seen as successful, ambitious, reputable, strong, powerful and a target of admiration for all. He will never get called 'bossy' for telling people what to do. In contrast, if a woman runs a business it is usually seen as a problem. What's wrong with her? Can she not have kids? Did someone give her the money to fund this little project? Is she just selling shoes on eBay? These are crude examples but they illustrate the point. Women who do make it through the glass ceiling are then often punished for it when they get there, either by judgment, skepticism and/or patronisation - 'didn't she do well' style. I'm twenty-six years old and if one more person tells me "I bet your parents are proud of you" I'm going to reply "Well, I've not just won an egg and spoon race on sports day".
In the past, behind every successful man was a strong woman. But we no longer seem to be accepting that position and are 'skipping the middle man as it were' (excuse the pun!). This shift from zero female business owners to a growing army of us is a great start and the figures on women's contribution to the economy are impressive. But statistics mean little if societies attitude doesn't change in line with them.
I feel extremely proud to be a female entrepreneur but dread that moment when meeting someone new in a social situation and they ask what I do. I am faced with a dilemma, do I say I run a business, in which case they think I sell handbags to my friends, or do I say I make jewellery, which they will think is great and what a woman should be doing. It feels a little like I am selling myself, and the amazing women that work with me, a little short. The thing is, when I do say I run a business people either don't believe it's a sizeable one anyway or become very put off. Particularly men, but that's a whole other article.
So here is my plea, a humble huffpost, may not be enough but it's a start. What we need more of:
- Genuine confidence in women as business owners.
- An expectation that many women will become entrepreneurs, as there has always been for men.
- Support, role models and recognition
- Changes in the corporate landscape to allow more women in 'powerful positions' to help erode the cultural norms that build barriers in all fields.
- And finally, in my opinion, for people to grow up and get over it! Women business owners are here to stay, you are either with us or against us - choose your side wisely.
One day it would be amazing to not have 'female entrepreneurs' or 'women in business' or any of these terms but just people - doing what they are passionate about. This will only arrive when equality does. Until then, I will be working hard to encourage other women into business and help build an empire of us to take over the world - via the medium of Tailor Swift, of course.