As of 2014, women working full time in the United States typically earned just 79 percent of what men earned. Topping that off, just 14 percent of top executive positions were filled by women. While the gender gap has narrowed, we still have a long way to go. Without getting into why this is still the case in the 21st Century, and how this inequality should be fixed, I’d like to talk about how it could perhaps be short-circuited.
Feeling trapped in a job where you know you have fewer opportunities, and are being paid less than the men around you, isn’t just frustrating, it’s toxic. Not only are you receiving less pay, this state of affairs can crush your sense of self worth, even if you’re doing a job you otherwise enjoy.
There is nothing wrong with choosing to stand your ground, fight the good fight and demand equal pay for equal work in your occupation. But for women interested in exploring the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur, there is a lot to like. As a mother of four, pursuing a career as an entrepreneur gave me the flexibility raise my kids without compromise, and financial freedom to live life on my terms.
So how can we inspire more women to consider entrepreneurship? First things first, sell them on the benefits:
Do what you love
Hard work is a lot easier to embrace when you’re doing something you believe in. In fact, it can almost feel like you’re not working at all if you love the job you’re doing. Some people will look at the hours an entrepreneur puts into their business and wonder how they manage. Put simply, they probably wouldn’t work so hard if they didn’t love what they do.
Likewise, if you follow your passion, you are more likely to develop the level of expertise that will help you on the path to building a successful business.
There’s a lot to be said for being your own boss. Sure, during the early years of starting a business, you won’t have much free time. Vacations are nearly impossible, free time is rare, and it seems like every waking hour is spent on the care and feeding of your enterprise.
But at the same time, you are the one calling all of the shots. You are the one who gets to decide what skills you must develop to make it thrive. You get to decide when and how to grow your company. And once you’re through the early stages of growth and you’ve built a team you can trust, you can start to enjoy the kind of freedom and flexibility most working people will never experience.
Building a company from the ground up is an incredibly satisfying experience. According to a 2013 report by the Global Entrepreneur Monitor, women entrepreneurs are some of the happiest people in the world. Still this path isn’t an easy one, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but being able to take pride in creating value for your customers, jobs for your community, and profits for yourself, all while doing something you love isn’t something most people working 9-5 typically get to feel.
Of all the reasons people chose the path of entrepreneur, money is probably the number one. You’ll work harder than you typically would as someone else’s employee, but you’ll also get to keep more of the profit from your labor. Nobody else is deciding what your worth, and if your work is somehow not as valuable due to your sex. Depending on your idea, execution, luck, and timing, the sky’s the limit.
Touting benefits is a great start, but not enough
Educating women on the benefits of entrepreneurship is essential, but with a little more effort, we can build on the momentum we’ve seen over the past few years. According to the National Women’s Business Council, the number of women-owned businesses jumped from 7.8 million in 2007 to 9.9 million by 2012. The total percentage of women-owned businesses is now approximately 36% of all independently owned businesses, generating $1.6 Trillion in receipts. 36% is great, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The question is, how do we get there?
Encourage risk taking
One of the barriers women face in starting a business is confidence, or lack thereof. Getting over the initial fear of failure is a huge issue for anyone setting out to start a business. You can know your market inside and out, but if your fear of failure is too great, you won’t take the chances necessary to start a business. In a very practical way, it’s this overly cautious approach that sometimes keeps women from pursuing funding for their endeavors.
Encouraging young women and girls to accept that failure is not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn, is a great place to start. Identifying women role models in business, and telling their stories would also go a long way towards demystifying the path to launching successful companies.
Women don’t need to act like men
Women aren’t men, so there’s no reason they should try to act like them. Without getting into all of the usual stereotypes for how men and women manage differently, it’s safe to say that women should feel comfortable developing their own management style. If a woman entrepreneur is more likely to motivate employees to be creative and develop their skills, that’s great. She should work according to her strengths, rather than try to act like somebody else.
Having access to mentors who can provide guidance along the way is essential for budding entrepreneurs. We need to build a culture for supporting women setting out on this path to help them quickly learn the ropes for managing a business. Not only will this help boost their confidence, it will dramatically speed up their learning curve.
Build a better funding model
A recent study that looked at venture-capital funding over a period of 3 years between 2011 – 2013 found that only 2.7% of companies that received VC funding had women CEO’s. This might have something to do with lower number of women making decisions at VC firms, but this could be starting to change now that we are seeing the rise of women-run VC funds.
The entrepreneurial life isn’t for the faint of heart, which is why it’s been so exciting to see how many women have embraced this challenge over the past decade. I think with a little help, we can encourage this trend to continue well into the future. Not only will this help more women become independent producers who drive the economy, it will help demonstrate that wherever they might work, women deserve to earn as much as their male counterparts.