Stories abound about the disadvantages of being a woman in the male-dominated business world. With the nearly-impenetrable glass ceiling, wage inequality, and hostile workplace environments, it can be extremely difficult for a woman to make her mark and rise to the top. Yet there is one area of the business world where women have made significant strides, and that is as small business entrepreneurs.
Slowly but surely, women have found their center and are having an impact on the overall economy by starting and successfully managing their own companies. In fact, The 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses, commissioned by American Express OPEN with research provided by Womenable, estimated that there are now over 9.4 million women-owned firms in the United States, nearly 30% of all businesses. These firms are owned by women of every ethnic background, employ almost eight million workers, and generate revenue of nearly $1.5 trillion—pretty impressive figures given the supposed disadvantages women bring to the corporate world.
Like millions of my sister entrepreneurs, I started my own business because I thought I could bring something special to the table. It has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and perseverance to build a successful organization, but I think it is thriving specifically because of the attributes I have as a woman. It may be one of the best-kept secrets in business, but did you know that women have some very specific advantages as entrepreneurs?
Collaboration vs. Competition: Men seem to get caught up in the corporate clash of egos, trying to best each other and win the business game. They see it as an extension of every sports competition they have ever entered. While women are learning to be competitive, they still follow an underlying mantra of collaboration—often trying to work together to benefit everyone and realize group goals instead of individual achievements. This can be particularly effective in small business when there is a need to work with like-minded companies to help each other succeed.
Willingness to Help and Be Helped: Sometimes men seem to think they have to achieve everything on their own, that asking for help makes them look weak. Women, on the other hand, are open to the idea of going beyond themselves when they don’t have a specific expertise. I have personally benefitted from the help of some great mentors who have guided me on my journey, and I am thrilled to be able to share what I have learned with young female entrepreneurs just starting down the business path.
Openness to Sharing: In their competitive spirit men still like to keep everything close to the vest, but this can be dangerous in an age of social media. Women have a high willingness to share information, and have taken to the internet to do so like moths to a flame. We blog often, share openly, ask questions, and respond to inquiries because we are trying to build online relationships. I have personally found that the more information I share on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, the more interest I generate from families looking for knowledge on these topics.
Ability to Adapt: Corporate America has been great at learning to deal with the Baby Boomer generation, but that sense of serenity is coming to an end as the Millennials are quickly overtaking them in number and buying power. The problem is that the Millennials have a different way of approaching the business world. They want to be more involved, have more of a relationship, and don’t want to be forced into doing something a particular way. Being stubborn and continuing to do things in the same manner is not going to have an impact on this up-and-coming generation. Women have the ability to flex themselves from one group to the next, perhaps because of their role as caregivers for two generations, or perhaps because of their innate desire to cooperate and work together. In any case, this is a powerful skill that is going to attract business opportunities as the Millennials build economic power.
Nurturing Instincts: The need to take care of others was once looked down upon as a weakness in women, but it has surprising strength in the business world. Whether as customers or employees, people still want to work with someone who understands them as a person and cares about how they feel. In a world which seems to get more impersonal every day, prospective customers look harder for companies that care.It might be a bold new business world, but it is also turning out to be a woman’s world. After so many years of trying to push down our natural instincts and conform to male business patterns, the time is finally here to use our advantages as entrepreneurs to achieve small business success.
Jodi Okun is the founder and president of College Financial Aid Advisors. She has helped thousands of families successfully navigate the financial aid process, has been named one of the “Top 30 Social Influencers in Personal Finance & Wealth,” and is a keynote speaker on the topics of financial aid and small business entrepreneurship. Her book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, explains how to master the college funding process and give your child lifelong financial skills without losing your cool. Follow her on Twitter @JodiOkun.