One of my great passions is in supporting other women entrepreneurs.
And by support, I mean far more than just cheering them on. While growing my own tech startup, several years ago, I also cofounded Hautepreneurs, where we even recently launched an online accelerator for women entrepreneurs ready to scale.
I have pretty much spent every bit of my free time not spent on my own business in finding ways to support other women entrepreneurs.
But I've also come to understand that supporting women entrepreneurs goes far beyond purchasing their goods and services, sharing expertise to help their businesses grow, or attending the events that other women organize. Those are actually the easy ways we can support women in business. The real challenge is continuing to support women when it requires that we hold them accountable for bad behavior or intercede when we see them making decisions that could damage their reputation or company.
Sometimes women entrepreneurs do some really icky things that shouldn't be supported. And when that happens, the best option is often a good dose of tough love.
This is very different than attempting to marginalize someone else for whatever reason. When personal grudges, envy or even following the lead of someone else causes us to be less than generous or supportive of others, it can have devastating effects for the person being maligned.
Whenever and wherever possible, we should support others in their entrepreneurial efforts. But when we continue to publicly support people in positions of power simply because of their gender, we do a disservice to everyone else making the hard decisions to maintain integrity.
More than once over the course of the past few years, I've found myself in the role of mentor being privy to information about problems in a company that were never made public. When the problems were a direct result of either illegal or unethical behavior by a woman entrepreneur, I have found myself in the unenviable position of not being able to publicly support them but also not being in a place of being able to explain why.
These experiences have solidified my own belief that sometimes the very best way to support women business owners is by not supporting the ones who behave badly - even if we are misjudged in the process.
I have also come to the conclusion that to truly support a woman in business, we have to be honest with her. That might mean less than positive feedback about our experience with her company or telling her about a problem we might have witnessed with one of her employees.
If we're a card-carrying member of the Kumbaya Club, or if we wilt at confrontation, this is not going to be easy. But it is the right way to support women entrepreneurs. Just to be clear, this is not the same as when we may think every other business owner has a right to our opinion about their business. Nothing is usually less helpful than business advice from someone who suddenly knows everything about someone else's company after only knowing about it for five minutes.
What this does mean is that we should be brave enough to give negative feedback when it is the right thing to do.
There is this sentiment that support requires absolute backing. I don't subscribe to that idea.
While we should do everything possible to encourage each other and to help others put their best selves forward as women entrepreneurs, sometimes we do more harm than good when we remain silent instead of voicing our concerns. It can feel really uncomfortable to call out unethical or bad behavior, but pretending it isn't happening means we are choosing to support the wrong thing.
We don't have to become the crusader who continually finds fault and points out flaws, but when we choose to stay silent when we know something is going wrong, we become part of the problem.
That is not support.
The next time we find ourselves face to face with one of these more difficult decisions, let's ask ourselves what it really means to support the women entrepreneurs in our network.
Sometimes it isn't going to feel like support, and maybe it won't look like support to others, but if we really care, we'll support them - even when it means taking the more difficult path to do so.