Following the success of our recent Entrepreneurs Week, which brought together entrepreneurs from across the globe over 25 bespoke virtual events to explore what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, our “She owns it: leadership, breaking stereotypes and celebrating success as a female founder” masterclass has inspired our very own Maire Bates and Beth Balkham to explore how female entrepreneurs can break down barriers that they currently face. This article “She means business: breaking barriers and smashing glass ceilings as a female entrepreneur”, was originally published by Startacus here.
The 2019 Rose Review found that one in three UK entrepreneurs are women, and LifeSkills recently revealed that the pandemic has encouraged 51 per cent of aspiring female entrepreneurs to start their own business. Yet, with gender bias prevalent in the business world, female entrepreneurship is not an easy ride. During Farrer & Co’s 2020 virtual Entrepreneurs Week, the panel event "She owns it: leadership, breaking stereotypes and celebrating success as a female founder" shed important light on the challenges facing female entrepreneurs, but how can they be overcome?
You can’t be what you can’t see
According to a Barclays report, 85 per cent of young people who named an inspirational entrepreneur named a man. But a lack of female role models can be discouraging for women who have started, or are hoping to start, their own business, as such female inspirations represent and expand what is possible and encourage women to be more ambitious.
It’s therefore important that your successes as a female entrepreneur are celebrated and shouted about. Write blogs and organise talks or presentations, and if you’re asked to be interviewed or to participate in a panel event, say yes – your story will raise your profile and may inspire another woman to take a leap of faith and start her own business.
Mentorship is another way to both find and become a role model. So, if another entrepreneur has inspired you, get in touch and ask them to be your mentor. People who have knowledge and expertise are much more open to sharing it than you might think. Why not also mentor someone yourself?
Role models no doubt ignite inspiration, but if you can’t find another woman like you in your industry who has "been there, done that", being the first in your field can actually be very powerful, as your individuality will allow you to stand out and connect with a diverse audience.
Be seen and heard
To be recognised in your industry, building networks is also essential. Attend events (even if only virtually for now), ask questions and take others with you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice either. Male allies can also be a powerful asset, so look within your network and ask yourself who can help you to get what you need.
Confidence is key to successful networking, but self-doubt is common amongst female entrepreneurs, who often need to speak up and advocate for themselves more.
This is unsurprising, as women are typically taught from an early age not to brag, so self-marketing might feel egotistical and uncomfortable at first, but it becomes more natural with practice! Confidence also grows with knowledge, so continue to learn as much as possible about your industry. And whilst daring to go outside your comfort zone may seem daunting, you’ll feel more confident the more you try new things. It’s these little steps that will ultimately make a big difference.
The search for funding
The statistics behind investment in female-owned businesses are shocking, with less than 1p of every £1 of venture capital invested in the UK going to all-female teams. Knowing your business and industry inside out is vital, as is having as much data as possible to support a pitch. Whilst women investors may seem more likely to back female entrepreneurs, sadly only 13 per cent of senior people on investment teams in UK VC firms are women.
As such, it’s important to do your research and actively seek firms and partners with a history of investing in women founders. Do your due diligence to find the right investor who understands your vision and is able to give you the support and expertise (as well as the funding) to deliver it. And, whilst finding outside investment may seem like the thing to do, it’s important to keep in mind alternative financing options, such as crowdfunding, entering investment competitions and opting to grow organically. These may be a better fit for your business than getting the wrong business partner.
Although it shouldn’t be the case, female entrepreneurs need to display unmatched resilience to prove that their business can survive and is therefore a good investment. This is difficult to demonstrate but giving specific examples will provide investors with proof. Whilst you may write thousands of proposals and pitches, you must be realistic and appreciate that you can’t win them all. Tenacity is therefore vital to entrepreneurship and, whilst building resilience no doubt takes time, being passionate about what you do is the start, and learning to recognise the things that you are grateful for will shift your mindset to a more positive and productive one that can proudly pick yourself up from setbacks.
External factors, such as male-dominated networks and investment circles, inevitably make the road to success a rocky one for female entrepreneurs. Yet, with the right mindset, role models and networks behind you, barriers can be broken, and your success will pave the way for future generations of female entrepreneurs to believe that they can do it too.
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© Farrer & Co LLP, November 2020