The latest Census Bureau statistics reveal that women owned businesses are hotter than ever. Between 1997 and 2002 women started businesses at twice the national rate. Women-owned businesses with more than $1 million in revenue went up by 18% and those with more than 100 employees went up by 10%.
One upshot of all this growth is that now there are more women in leadership positions than ever. Whether they head their division or head the whole company, these women are in a position to do something they may have wanted to do for a long time. Hire other women.
Women like working with other smart, savvy women. There's often less ego involved and more willingness to collaborate. As woman leaders, we can create a culture where success doesn't have to mean trying to become "one of the guys." But our idealistic visions of women working together do not always translate smoothly into practice. There's no guarantee that just because we hire other women, everyone will magically get along. Here are a few of the more common problem areas we can encounter:
When Giselle became Editor-in-Chief of a new women's magazine, she told her all female staff that they had a say in every editorial decision and that her door was always open no matter how small the concern or how late the hour. "I didn't want them to see me as the big bad boss," she explained. "I wanted them to like me."
Instead, Giselle created an environment in which there was too little structure. Employees took her open door policy literally and dropped in to chat about personal problems or petty disagreements they should have been able to resolve on their own. Even worse, when Giselle made executive decisions her staff seemed to resent her adopting any authority.
Just because we're in leadership positions doesn't mean we stop wanting people to like us. Women are raised to always be nice and nurturing to other women and, like Giselle, we can be wary of coming across as too tough or power hungry. But part of your responsibility as a leader is to call the shots. If employees see you as their best buddy, it can be confusing when you start telling them what to do or calling them on their mistakes. Try envisioning yourself as a leader who is respected by her employees rather than seeking unconditional love.
Many women abandon the traditional corporate world because they're sick of a macho work culture where they have to do twice as much to prove themselves while someone's always looking over their shoulder waiting for them to screw up. But once on our own, it can be difficult to relax these hyper-vigilant standards. This can be especially true with your own business, where everything that goes out the door has your name attached. But you're going to have to learn to let go.
We'll assume you've hired competent, innovative women to work under you. If you insist on supervising every last detail, you're sending the message that you don't trust them to handle anything on their own. That's a sure way to breed apathy, or even worse, resentment. Because women are often more attuned to relationships and more sensitive to feedback, they can be especially prone to interpreting your micromanaging as criticism. It's worth the risk to give them some autonomy and even allow them to make the occasional mistake. They'll work harder if they feel like their input matters.
It would be nice if all things were equal on the work-family front -- if men took on just as many domestic responsibilities and were just as eager for maternity leave and flexible working schedules. But we all know this isn't true. Women are still the primary care givers and they expect female bosses and employers to be more sensitive towards this struggle to balance work and family lives.
Before you institute policies, talk to your employees about what they need and be clear in your own head about what is possible from a financial standpoint. Be as generous and as creative as you can. Women with less personal stress make happier and more productive employees. But also be realistic about what the business can support. One of the worst things you can do in this department is make promises you can't keep.
Above all, women leaders owe it to their female employees to practice what they preach. A charismatic, well-adjusted woman at the top goes a long ways towards creating a healthy office atmosphere. When powerful and highly visible women are seen helping other women by implementing women-friendly policies, acting as mentors and role models, or simply honoring their word, they set a standard for everyone else to come.