Women entrepreneurs: Can your gender affect your business?

By Natasha Culzac
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We ask two female entrepreneurs whether gender has ever played a part in the highs and lows of their businesses.

Most days, somewhere, there’s a fiery debate going on about a woman’s place in the workplace – ‘how big is the issue of unequal pay?’, ‘ how generous should a maternity allowance be?’, ‘why is there a dearth of women in the [insert here] industry’?’, ‘should women go back to work after popping out a kid, or not’… ad nauseum – it’s enough to make you go mad.

It’s no wonder that this discourse and unease ironically makes young women second-guess their career choices and makes them feel insecure about their abilities and potential.

But for the women who have started their own businesses, how has gender affected their entrance into the entrepreneurial fire pit? We asked two female company owners whether their gender helped or hindered their business, and what they wish they knew when they started out. Their answers might surprise you.

Girl power

Russian businesswoman Ekaterina Solomeina, who now lives in the UK capital, is the founder of Future London Academy, a company which offers international designers and creatives immersive courses to meet, and learn from, design bigwigs based in the city.

“I was born in the Soviet Union, so I feel like the whole idea of equality for men and women was in my head from the start,” she said. “I never felt like my gender would affect my future in any way; maybe because of my naivety, maybe because of my personal confidence, I always demanded the same as my male colleagues or peers.

“What I learnt throughout my experience, is that pretending you are one of the guys is pointless. It’s always better to stay true to yourself and use your superwoman superpowers to save the world. When running a company, a lot depends on your personality, persistence and luck – gender is not in this equation at all.”

Confidence

Confidence has clearly got Ekaterina far in the business world, so much so that she’s just launched a new company – a high end jewellery brand. However, self belief might not come easily to others, especially those who have experienced gender-related discrimination in the workplace.

“A third of the female population would start a business if it wasn’t for the fear of failure”, states a 2003 statistic quoted by businesswomen support group Prowess. It’s an unfortunate shame that among the 25-34 age group, female entrepreneurship is still half of that of men’s. It’s a pity because, according to RBS, the UK would enjoy a £60billion economic windfall if more women took up the business reins.

Becky Rowe, the owner of research firm ESRO, said: “Gender hasn't really come into it for me. I think if you are good at what you do, then it doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman.

“There have been a few occasions when people have addressed a male colleague, assuming he was more senior. I've always found this amusing to be honest, as they are always embarrassed when they find out and they didn't do it intentionally. I've also wondered if it's more of an impediment to be short rather than female.”

"You'll figure things out as you go. Everyone does.”

Persistence and a willingness to take risks appears to be key when it comes to starting your own company. Self doubt might put the brakes on your fledgling enterprise well before a lack of capital or a skills shortage does the same.

The viewpoints here are obviously from a very small sample of the businesswomen pool. There will a be a lot of women whose experience differs greatly and who will have experienced sexual discrimination perhaps even in their own firm.

Ekaterina offers: “My biggest advice to the women starting out now would be to just start – you'll figure things out as you go. Everyone does.”
Echoing this, Becky adds: “Sometimes I procrastinated a bit too much in the early days. If you believe in yourself, then you have to just go for it – time is a precious commodity that you can't get back.”

More information

Global Entrepreneurship Week runs from 16-22 November 2016, aiming to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs. It has an ‘Inspiring GREAT Women To Create GREAT Businesses Conference’ event on 16 November 2016 in Bolton.

Prowess is the online hub for women-friendly business support, inspiration and information. The organisation has a ‘start-up club for women’ event on 16 December 2016 in Norfolk.

London-based Everywoman promotes the advancement of women in business in 80 different countries with over 10,000 members.

The WIBN (Women in Business Network) is a membership organisation for women who wish to gain new business opportunities through word of mouth.

Women in Business is a support and guidance group.

 

By Natasha Culzac

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