Last week, in honor of Global Women Entrepreneurship Day, I took part in a panel discussion celebrating female entrepreneurial success stories in the Copenhagen UN headquarters.
The five female panelists were all founders of great businesses, ranging from real estate to curing cancer (and of course my own online queue software), so I would say they are, without a doubt, successful people.
One question from the moderator, however, puzzled me - well not so much the question, but the answers from my fellow panelists. I had a chance to consider this, as I happened to be the last person to answer it.
This was her question:
"How do you define success?"
While my mind started spinning, wanting to summarize Queue-it's most prominent business metrics, I started hearing the other panelists framing their answers in a completely different way than what I had in mind. They talked about work/life balance, going to work smiling every day, being a great mother of happy children, and so on.
Needless to say, these are important aspects of life - much more important than whichever business you choose to be in, but I am not sure how these answers fit into a discussion about entrepreneurial success.
It occurred to me that women tend to hesitate to talk about their business successes, meaning the results, which they have generated while conducting actual business, whenever the discussion takes place in a mostly-female forum?
I just don't get it. Maybe you do?
When my turn came, I actually felt that I had to summon quite a bit of courage to face the (mostly female) audience and claim my somewhat more hardcore successes.
In case you wonder, these are the results I chose to bring forward:
- To me, our business successes include
- Building a truly unique product, which brings fairness to internet users globally
- Being able to create interesting jobs, and realizing that a lot of really cool people want to work for us
- Having almost 1 billion end-users pass through our solution so far
Reflecting on what happened, I started wondering if the answers had been the same in a more diverse context, i.e. if it had been a mixed male/female panel and crowd. Nobody knows the answer to that of course, however, based on my experience from similar, but male-dominated, events, my guess is that those exact same women would have been more likely to bring business results forward. Again, the female entrepreneurs in the panel were all very successful business women with high-growth companies - that doesn't just happen by defining success as being a fantastic mother and a smiling boss.
Another thing I have been thinking about since the discussion is what my own answer would have been, had I not had the time to reflect, being the last panelist to answer. Honestly, I have to say that I am just not sure. It is entirely possible that my own reflex answer would also have been along the same lines of work/life balance, motherhood, etc.
I think that we, as women, need to consider the impact that the typical "soft" answers that we tend to resort to, when dealing with female-oriented forums, have on our surroundings very carefully. Talking to other women about business results and success stories does not make us bad mothers or less feminine in other aspects of life.