by E.B. Johnson
There are more female entrepreneurs than ever and our numbers are growing every year. With this rise in women-led entrepreneurship, there has also been a rise in female-only workspaces, and it’s becoming more and more clear why these are critical to the success of female business leaders everywhere.
When it comes to business, women-only workspaces are a relatively new concept, but their benefits are countless. Serving as an antidote to male-dominated boardrooms, these types of spaces create the opportunity for women to be a part of a community and collaborate with others in a safe and relatable way. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur, but being a female business leader is a unique challenge on its own. Women-only workspaces can help us combat these challenges and create companies that match our vision.
Female entrepreneurship is a difficult road.
Though female-led companies have increased by more than 55% since 2008, women-run businesses still attract only 2% of all venture funding in the U.S. and the U.K. It’s incredibly hard — as a female business owner — to fully realize your visions; but it’s also a lonely road that can be hard to navigate without appropriate support.
As a female business leader, securing access to funding is only one of the regular hardships you are likely to encounter. Women who start businesses also experience a number of other unique challenges, which include defying social expectations, balancing work and family life, and finding a support network that shares their understandings and goals.
Female entrepreneurs also struggle to be taken seriously, finding themselves in male-dominated industries that don’t take the time to acknowledge their point of view, hard work or accomplishments. This — in turn — can feed our fear of failure, and even cause us to struggle with owning our own accomplishments; a critical part of any business owner’s journey.
In 2017, TechCrunch released a study that contained some surprising revelations. Primarily, it revealed that — though women-led companies are on the rise — they still comprise only 17% of major startups. While this can show us many things, it proves one majorly overlooked aspect of female entrepreneurship: it’s a lonely road.
There is a direct correlation between entrepreneurial loneliness and burnout, making these factors dangerous to the budding business person. As an entrepreneur, you have to pour every bit of yourself into your business, and this can cause a real isolating split in women who (many of which) also have the needs of home to contend with. Starting a business is a hard road, but it’s a lonely one too — and that’s where female-only workspaces come in.
The female-only workspace.
As the number of female founders continues to rise, so too has the idea of women-only workspaces. In these areas, solopreneurs and businesswomen can come together to share resources, sense of community and support — aiding one another through common knowledge, skills or general all-around understanding and compassion. These spaces — first used in the US and Sweden — have a number of other surprising benefits, though, each of which is critical to the blossoming female entrepreneur.
Establishing a support network
Many women find women-only workspaces as a great means to establish the support networks they need to succeed. In these spaces, they can be more open and share more of their experiences, and they might feel more visible or more able to reach out for help when it's needed. Women-only workspaces allow women to focus and disconnect in a way that they can’t at home or in the midst of gender-distracted office space.
Though we might have a considerable amount of freedom compared to our foremothers, it can still be hard to get an entirely male-dominated office. Female-focused workspaces allow women to drop the intimidation factor and feel more relaxed, something which may actually aid in their productivity and performance overall. This is also an invaluable asset for our transgendered sisters within the community, who also experience incredible hardship and discrimination in and out of the standard business workplace or setting.
Getting that “yes”
Contrary to what many might claim, female-only workspaces aren’t about exclusion; they’re about inclusion and giving businesswomen that permission to thrive that they so desperately need. Women struggle to find spaces which are entirely their own, yet research shows that they perform better when that’s the case. One such study showed that — when attending a same-sex school — 75% of young women graduated with superior grades, versus just 55% in mixed-gender schools.
The best tips for the female entrepreneur.
Though women-only workspaces are still on the rise, they remain a distant dream for many female entrepreneurs across the U.S. and Europe. Though women-only workspaces are a great boon, they’re not the only way you can keep yourself plugged in and happy while you engage on your business journey. There are a number of ways to get yourself plugged in and thriving as a femme-preneur in the modern business world.
1. Find or create an entrepreneurial community
You don’t have to find a female-only workspace in order to branch out and establish the support system that you need to thrive. Entrepreneurial communities are important — no matter what your gender — because they inherently come with a sharing of knowledge, ideas, skills and feedback that can make the critical difference between your business’s longevity and success. While a women-only workspace might feel like the safer option, it’s not the only option; so don’t be afraid to get out there and feel things out.
Likewise, if you can’t find an entrepreneurial group that you’re comfortable in: make one. Just as we start our businesses in order to fulfill a need we or those around us have, we sometimes have to start our own community and support projects in order to get the support and feedback that twe need.
You can start as small as creating a Slack channel, or you can organize a meeting in your local coffee house. There’s no right or wrong way to go about finding the feedback you need; the only wrong choice is not reaching out for support at all. Be clear about what you hope to achieve and don’t start something just because you want to bend people toward your own concept. Address whatever you think is lacking in your network and find people that are willing to come together to fix that need, creating an entrepreneurial community and support system that you can rely on.
2. Get an accountability partner
A good support and feedback network is one thing, but an accountability partner is another thing entirely. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely road, and even those of us with solid networking support find ourselves struggling with that loneliness. The real trick to overcoming the isolation of female entrepreneurship is finding someone who can really be there for you in those tough moments.
Accountability partners can help us achieve our goals by cheering us on, holding us responsible and providing us with the motivation we need to thrive. When we win, it’s easier to celebrate with an accountability partner, and when we lose — it’s much easier to stomach when we have someone standing there with us. An A.P. is also great for brainstorming and fleshing out new ideas. Best of all they challenge you when it counts, increasing your growth and opportunity.
You can get an A.P. in a number of different ways. Business coaches are a great option for those with the finances to hire one, but they can also be friends, partners or even co-workers that have the same vision, values and goals as you do. Whoever they are, they should be someone you trust and someone who challenges you without condemning you. The relationship you share doesn’t have to be a formal one, but it should be one with regular meetings and a mutual understanding of what’s needed and the direction being taken.
3. Break up your work
When we’re trying to get a business off the ground, we can become totally absorbed in our work and to-do lists, to a point that we become shut off from the world around us. This is when the true loneliness sets in, but we can combat it with a few simple activities every day, that help to break things up and give us the chance to mentally and emotionally unwind.
Break up your work with little activities that allow you to breathe. You can take a walk, sit outside in the sunshine. It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you give your mind and your emotions a break and allow them to loosen off for a while. At the same time, you can focus on the positive things that are happening in your life or your business, and consider your wins that are making everything worthwhile.
Another great way to break up the isolated workflow of the day-to-day startup is to try out a shared workspace. While a female-only workspace may not be available in your city or town, there might be a number of other shared or co-worked spaces that will allow you to meet with and collaborate with others (or, at the very least, just feel like you’re not so alone). You might also find that such a space even comes with awesome amenities such as childcare, gym or cafe; all boons to the busy professional woman.
4. Start making impressions that count
Many women struggle to make authoritative first impressions, something that can create an early stumbling block for any founder. When you’re trying to represent your business and present it as a strong and powerful establishment, you have to project that same aura from your personality. After all, you’re the captain of the ship. Your business can only go in the direction you guide it.
Making a good first impression isn’t a master science. It’s simply a skill that takes time and effort to master (just like any other skill). If you’re meeting someone new, prepare ahead of time and find out who will be attending the meeting or event. Arrive a few minutes early and make sure to do your homework. Dress nice, give them a firm handshake and don’t be afraid to make eye contact and ask questions.
These are all simple things that help us to connect effectively. By giving the other party a sense of confidence, respect, warmth and congeniality — you can do a lot of the work for yourself and your business. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so get it right the first time. Practice, practice, practice. You’ll be owning the room before you know it.
5. Deal with the unsolicited advice
There is, perhaps, no one that receives more unsolicited advice than the professional woman. Everyone — especially men — will feel entitled to talk down to you, dismiss you, and criticize and correct you for every decision you make. You have to learn to rise above the unsolicited advice and do what’s right for you and for your growing company.
While some unsolicited advice might be beneficial for use, that’s not always the case. Often, unsolicited advice to female entrepreneurs comes from a party that is seeking to feel more powerful or superior over us. When this is the case, it’s important to be graceful, but firm, and react in a way that makes it clear you have boundaries (which this action is currently violating).
Let the other party know that you’ve heard what they’ve said and that you’ve taken it on board. You can also let them know that you appreciate where they’re coming from (even if you don’t) while setting limitations around yourself and the advice they’re giving. Try phrases like, “Thanks for the idea. I’ve got my own plan in place for dealing with this type of thing, but I’ll definitely take notes.” or “Great. I’ll have a think on it and let you know if I need any help in the future!”
6. Overcome your self-doubt
As women, we’re not exactly led to believe that we too are ordained to be masters of the business world. This inherent self-doubt permeates our lives and manifests itself through hesitation and missed opportunity, two of the biggest reasons that femme-preneurs fail or fizzle out. If we want to become truly successful female entrepreneurs, we have to overcome our self-doubt and we have to do it fast.
Self-doubt is one of the biggest challenges faced by the femme-preneur. Whether that self-doubt comes from experience or general societal bias, that insecurity can seriously undermine our strengths and make it impossible to succeed in any real and meaningful way. While women-only communities can go far to help us combat this insecurity, it can only be truly overcome by our own internal work.
Dig deep and try to find the real root of your insecurities. Address them, and address to any fears that are attached to these insecurities, including fear of failure. Only when you know why you doubt yourself can you work to reverse that self-doubt by focusing on the opposing strengths. Everyone has barriers to success, but the only person that truly holds us back is ourselves. You have to believe in your ability in order to have that ability.
7. Drop the unrealistic expectations
As women, we often hold ourselves to impossible standards that make it impossible for us to ever achieve any true success. So many women expect themselves to be the perfect wife, mother or career woman at all times. They refuse to delegate and take the whole world onto their shoulders out of some sort of misdirected sense of responsibility. It’s overwhelming. And it’s also one of the reasons women struggle so much in the fast-paced world of startups and business.
It’s impossible to be all things to all people at all times. Though you might be a mother, a wife, a co-worker and a CEO — you’re also a human being with all the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that entails. One of those vulnerabilities is mortality, and our need to rest, relax and recharge our batteries. Though we’d like to take it all on (and just get it done ourselves) our bodies and our brains cannot tolerate that type of overload forever. The secret is overcoming your unrealistic expectations and allowing yourself to be human and make mistakes.
Rather than focusing on what you’ve got to get done, try focusing on what you actually managed to accomplish. Rather than basing your success on an endless and unmeetable list of “things to get done” start focusing on the wins you do manage, and the mountains you do manage to climb each day. When you take time to focus on what you actually managed to accomplish, it makes you realize that it is these tasks that are the true measure of your success. Let go of the guilt of not-doing-enough, and celebrate what you do and do well.
Putting it all together…
Being a female entrepreneur is anything but easy. While starting any business or company is no small feat, being a woman in charge comes with a unique set of challenges and difficulties. While female-only workspaces are helping us to slowly overcome these difficulties, it is us to ourselves to truly tap into the things we need to thrive as female entrepreneurs. Thankfully, by focusing on a few simple techniques we can overcome the loneliness and the hardship to create companies that thrive.
Loneliness is a major roadblock with it comes to the femme-preneur. If you want to overcome this challenge, find or create the business networking group you need for feedback and resources. Likewise, an accountability partner is a great way to beat the loneliness and stay motivated and on the path. You also have to learn how to break up your work, however, and how to set boundaries and limitations that allow you to deal with unsolicited advice and the overcoming of your own self-doubt. Being a female entrepreneur is a hard and lonely road, but it is manageable. When we drop our unrealistic expectations of ourselves, we can unlock astounding opportunities that we never imagined before. Ultimately, the choice is ours and ours alone. Are we going to take a stake of our rightful place in the business world or are we going to let the opportunity pass? No one can make that choice but us — the female entrepreneurs of the future.