How to Break Out of the 'Female Entrepreneur' Trap
As the lone female founder of a bustling incubator, I'm approached by women who feel dispirited, restless, confused, and insecure about their ability to jump off the cliff into the start-up unknown.
I listen. I empathize. I offer anecdotes for breaking out of their fear. In good ex-therapist fashion, I encourage them to take a risk.
While I understand the need to discuss their self-doubt and analyze the dearth of women starting high-growth companies, I am growing weary of these conversations. They have an echo chamber quality that, I fear, is doing little to actually solve the problem or help women move forward.
Instead of talking, let's start acting.
Here's the profile of a female entrepreneur that I want to work with:
- She's never attended a women's symposium.
- She doesn't do panels as the "token female," not because she's against this well-meaning exploitation, but because she's just too damn busy.
- She's hustling, recruiting people, building things, creating a movement.
- Her urgency is palpable. She takes little thrill in small talk, walks fast, and thinks big.
I had a meeting this week with one of our female founders. She is the type of female entrepreneur that I just described. She isn't interested in talking about being a "female founder" because it isn't important to her. She's building a business and a team. She's landing multi-million dollar contracts. She's focused on her family and her kids. She has clear goals and is uncompromising in seeing them met. And she's equally passionate about bringing other good people along with her. As decisive as she is collaborative, she is creating huge momentum around herself and her start-up.
I listened to an interview recently with Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. If she were an entrepreneur, she'd be a badass. And one I'd want to hang out with.
Talking about failure and resilience, she said, "If you live in the sting, you will undoubtedly fail. My way of getting past the sting is to say, "No, I'm just not going to let this get me down."
You're the only woman in your tech incubator? Capitalize on your uniqueness.
You have an amazing idea that's difficult to execute? Ask for help.
You feel isolated on a team of men? Find other ways to get support, then keep moving.
Don't live in the sting. Excuses only amplify the problems. There's a big difference between naming and blaming. It's OK to name the inequities that exist in the start-up community, but don't blame anything on them.
Instead, change the course by leading the charge.
Get crystal clear on your assets and strengths. Get exceptionally good at execution. Recruit others to your cause. Empower them to fill in the gaps where you are weak. Work harder than anyone else. Last I looked, whether you're a man or a woman, this is the recipe for success.
One of my mentors and role models, Pamela Dubin Beaty, recently said, "After billions of dollars to fund women's advancement and achievement in public policy and education, we in the West live in an unprecedented era that offers women the greatest opportunities in the history of our world. Want to succeed? Embrace technology, entrepreneurship, and the start-up culture. All three reward excellence. Create your niche and lead from there."
Want to lead? Then do it.
Dr. SHELLEY PREVOST is a mentor and early-stage investor at Lamp Post Group, where she hacks into the psychological and emotional side of starting and running a business. She is a co-founding partner of the JumpFund, an angel fund investing in female-led startups with high-growth potential. Prevost also speaks and consults with companies on finding purpose, humanizing work, and growing leaders from the inside out. She blogs about her work at the Glad Lab.
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