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In a world where headlines constantly remind us of the challenges faced by underrepresented groups in the business world, pursuing entrepreneurship as a career might seem daunting for young women. The recent oscillations in the business landscape, particularly about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, have left many wondering about our message to aspiring female entrepreneurs. While the journey ahead might be complex, it is essential to understand the nuances, acknowledge the historical context and navigate the shifting tides of change.
For centuries, women have been battling against stereotypes that limit their roles to homemakers and caregivers, positioning them away from the entrepreneurial sphere. Despite advancements in various sectors, women still face significant hurdles in accessing venture capital, securing loans and breaking the glass ceiling in leadership positions. The numbers speak volumes: less than 2% of venture investments are directed towards women-owned businesses, and the representation of women in CEO positions remains disproportionately low.
Historical biases and systemic issues have perpetuated this imbalance, and addressing them demands a comprehensive approach. The waves of change, seen during the #MeToo movement and calls for racial justice after George Floyd’s tragic death, have shown that businesses can respond positively to societal shifts. Many corporations took proactive measures, appointing Chief Diversity Officers, revamping hiring practices and embracing diversity strategies. The momentum generated seemed poised to reshape the landscape and create new opportunities for women in entrepreneurship.
Related: A Look Back at Women’s Entrepreneurship Over the Last 35 Years — and How We Can Change the Future for Women Business Owners
However, recent developments have cast a shadow of doubt on this progress. Reports suggesting that major entertainment companies are downsizing their DEI teams and scaling back gender and racial justice investments raise concerns. It implies that the journey toward a more equitable business environment might be longer and more complex than anticipated. The initial optimism surrounding a more inclusive entrepreneurial landscape is now challenged, prompting introspection on the message being conveyed to young women contemplating entrepreneurship.
So, what do we tell these aspiring female entrepreneurs? The answer lies in a multi-faceted approach that acknowledges the challenges while emphasizing the potential for change.
Here are key messages that can guide young women in navigating their entrepreneurial aspirations.
- Resilience and historical context are critical: Young women must recognize that the path they are embarking upon is their personal journey and a continuation of the fight for gender equality that generations before them initiated. The historical struggles of women in business testify to their resilience and determination. Understanding the context can empower them to confront challenges with vigor.
- Be realistic and prepared: While optimism is essential, aspiring entrepreneurs should be prepared for the hurdles that may come their way. Awareness of the gender disparities and biases in the entrepreneurial ecosystem can help them proactively seek solutions and build strategies to navigate these obstacles.
- Collaboration and mentorship will make the difference in success and failure: Encouraging young women to seek mentors and join networks can provide them with guidance and support. Mentorship can offer insights into overcoming challenges, making informed decisions and building a network that aids their journey. Finding the right group and mentor can be time-consuming, but it will be worth it.
- Collaborate, don’t compete: There is room for all! Entrepreneurship is not a solo journey. Building a successful business can’t be done alone. Look for ways to partner and collaborate with others in all aspects of your vendor. This will elevate and enhance your business. Even if there is no clear synergy today, building the relationships will yield results, introductions and support in the future.
- Embrace change: The evolving nature of the business world means that setbacks, pivots and shifts are inevitable. Embrace flexibility. Remind them to listen to the customers, be aware of market changes and approach them as opportunities to innovate.
- Personal empowerment: Empowering young women to find their voice and advocate for change within their spheres of influence is crucial. Encouraging them to stand up for their ideas, beliefs and values can create a more equitable environment.
Related: The Odds Are Still Stacked Against Women in Business. Here’s How Young Women Can Defy Them.
The narrative surrounding women in entrepreneurship is one of complexity, challenges, change and success. The recent ebbs and flows in DEI efforts within the business world highlight the need for perspective when guiding young women into entrepreneurship as a career. While the road might be longer, the historical context for women entrepreneurs is bright. Women-owned businesses outperform the market in key KPIs, including revenue, people retention and overall economic contribution.
What do we tell a young woman considering entrepreneurship? I tell them to run towards a career in entrepreneurship as fast as they can!