Jessica Mah, co-founder and CEO of accounting software and services provider, inDinero, is an entrepreneurial star, who, by the age of 25, had been featured as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 and appeared on the cover of Inc. magazine. Despite her young age, Mah has served as a mentor to many women, and has helped educate and motivate many thousands of entrepreneurs by publicly sharing her saga about identifying flaws in her business, making significant, painful changes, and successfully pivoting inDinero to become a great success.
I recently spoke with Jessica - shortly after the publication of my recent article about sexism in the tech sector -- and asked her specifically about her advice for women going into business - and for the men who want to see them succeed. She provided several interesting points, which I share below:
1. Focus on the positive
Women are bombarded with stories about sexism in the workplace and other societal ills affecting women. These topics are discussed in the media, at women's conferences, and when women speak to one another. While the underlying issues most certainly need to be addressed, it is critically important not to inadvertently create limiting factors in women's minds - we must mention issues, and address them, but we should not keep reinforcing an image of sexism as a personal obstacle that must be overcome; we do not want to discourage girls and young women from pursing their dreams. Jessica credits her mother - who worked in the male dominated garment industry - with instilling this concept in her from a young age.
2. Know that you have allies
Some allies may be men or women who openly state that they are seeking to help women succeed professionally, while others may be the positive counterparts to the many people who have an unconscious bias against women - these folks don't openly announce that they have made it a cause to help women succeed, but their actions and record in helping other women show that this is de facto the case. Seek out allies, and don't be afraid to reach out. Jessica notes that when she was 16 years old she reached out via email to Mark Benioff, the founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, and he quickly replied to her.
3. Seek out advantages
In certain regards, women have professional advantages over men. There are many professional groups specifically for women, and which offer women the opportunity to "be vulnerable" and discuss personal issues - but few men will find a similar gathering for themselves. Among various groups in which Jessica participates is a women's CEO group on Facebook, which allows women who are CEOs to share experiences. Jessica stresses the importance of leveraging these resources - and taking advantage of other opportunities offered to women. Participating in such a group also helps with item #1 above - as Jessica notes, belonging to a group of dozens of other women going through a similar journey can instill confidence and positivity far better than a formal mentor.
4. Refer to women role models
Jessica notes that it is important to try to refer women entrepreneurs to female mentors and peers, not just to men.
5. Communicate intentions
As I have noted in previous articles, to prevent uncomfortable situations, members of both sexes should be clear about their intentions. Men requesting to meet with women for coffee, lunch, or after work, for example, should be clear if the meeting is intended for a business purpose or as a date. Jessica notes that she has experienced such a miscommunication - and, for that matter, so has every other woman whom I have asked.