Women entrepreneurs face distinct challenges in growing and building their businesses that their male peers rarely encounter. Due at least in part to these challenges, only 17% of startups have a female founder, and companies with female founders comprise less than 5% of VC deals.
When women fully embrace their leadership potential, they find themselves in powerful positions to build companies the build a real impact in the world. We spoke to three experts about how female founders can cultivate leadership skills that will drive them to success. Here’s what they had to say.
Build Your Business Around What You Really Want
Because models for business success have historically reflected the male point of view, it’s critical for women to chart their own versions of what success might mean to them. For some, this might mean developing paradigms that reflect a commitment to work-life balance or other aspects of their lives.
“I would also challenge women to be willing to fall completely in love with the thing that they’re up to,” says Westman. “When you can actually be 100% in, for upward movement or wherever it is that you think you’re going, it creates so much possibility for things to actually work out for you.”
Leadership coach Laura Westman wants female founders to commit to going all in with their businesses.
Stop Trying To Do Everything
“As women, we do too much ourselves,” says Jennifer Brown, podcast host and founder of Jennifer Brown Consulting, which works with executive teams to build more inclusive workplaces. “You don’t need to do it all.”
Brown notes that in the corporate world, a disproportionate number of responsibilities fall to women. But females who run their own companies are in prime positions to change that. “The whole goal of running a business is to identify the tasks that can be done by different people at different levels,” she says.
Sometimes, it will be expensive — she notes that she has always tried to hire people with more experience than her in their fields, which often comes with a price — but that choice allows her to focus on building her bigger vision for the company.
“My team needs me to do what I do best,” she says. For her, this means building thought leadership to support her vision for her company, facilitating discussions about inclusiveness at an executive level.
Jennifer Brown, Founder of Jennifer Brown Consulting, reminds female founders that they don't have to try to do everything by themselves.
Listen To Your Team
“Ask for your team’s input or opinions more than you think you should,” says Westman. “Get their creative expertise. It builds trust and creates you as part of the same team.”
But, at the end of the day, it’s still important for founders to follow their instincts.
“Even if you ultimately go in a different direction, they will know how valued they are, and you will have full confidence in what you chose, knowing many options,” says Westman.
Embrace Your Brilliance
While people of all backgrounds will likely experience impostor syndrome at some point, the topic seems to surface much more frequently when it comes to women’s perceptions of their own success.
For Sachs, one of the most important aspects of being a leader is being true to yourself.
“You’re going to get distracted from your main goal if you’re sitting there trying to fix all the things you think are wrong. Remember who you are and the brilliance you bring to whatever it is you’re starting or doing.”
Management coach Christine Sachs encourages female founders to embrace their brilliance by focusing on being true to themselves.
Find A Community
For some women, it's a challenge to find sustainable, supportive communities to support them on their journies.
"We don't have a lot of role models of companies who have hit certain revenue goals,' says Brown, noting that only 2% of women-owned companies hit 1 million in revenue.
While Facebook groups and Meetup make it easy for female founders to connect to one another, it's essential for women leaders to raise the bar and become active participants in these communities.
Tapping in to a community can also help female founders gain access to much-needed capital. Networks can provide recognition among groups like Gold Seeds and Pipeline Angels, which focus on providing capital for women and non-gender binary fefmme entrepreneurs.