Feminist to my fingertips I may be, but I’ve never been one for all-women events. So I should have known that going to Business Link’s Women in Business networking event probably wouldn’t end well. But … I’m trying to launch a new project, and if there’s advice to be had or a potential market to tap, it seemed worth sampling.
Then I went.
Trampolining for success and Feng Shui-ing Congleton
“It’s so fantastic to be here with all you girlies.” trilled our keynote speaker. She insisted that we”girls” weren’t entrepreneurs with a strategic vision for business – “that’s the boring words”. We were “dream catchers”, with a “team dream – to be MAD – Making A Difference” as we brought love and hugging to the world of business. I remained seated as we were encouraged to stand and shout out our mantra: “I am amazing! I am incredible! I am fantastic!” Apparently it works best if you shout it to the universe first thing in the morning, while trampolining. I spent an entertaining few minutes trying to imagine other successful women doing this – Margaret Thatcher? Margaret Mountford from The Apprentice? – but found it strangely difficult.
The kicker is, of course, that I was the one sitting sourly in the audience planning a dash for the drinks table. She was the one on stage with £50million in the bank, advising Vince Cable on entrepreneurialism and living her dream of Feng Shui-ing Congleton (really).
The ditsy route to success?
This means one of a number of things: either kooky and wacky is the way ahead in business (I doubt it); or women have come so far that however ditsy we are, we can still be taken seriously (debatable); or it’s an act to disguise the fundamentally unfeminine pursuit of managing things (I hope that’s not the case now, though it may have been 20 years ago); or it’s just patronising drivel. You’ll be unsurprised to know that that’s my preferred option.
Women as entrepreneurs vs women in the workplace
Ironically, the last place you should have to play the air-head is in your own business – your gaff, your rules. The statistics on women starting up business suggest that women appreciate the freedom that self-employment offers and are making a success of it. The least they deserve is to be taken seriously and treated like adults – especially by other women. I read one consultant recently recommending that a way to get women to think about business planning was to tell them that it was like preparing a shopping list – dear God …
There are, undoubtedly, big issues facing women in the workplace. The statistics on equal pay and the gender imbalance at the top of major corporations suggest that women are still at a disadvantage in business. And, of course, there are barriers to joining the ranks of the self-employed too. I’m just struggling to think of many that are unique to women.
Are women’s businesses different?
These are the characteristics which were shared by the 50 fastest-growing women-owned business in the US last year:
- A commitment to high growth — 71% agreed or strongly agreed that their goal from the very beginning of their leadership of the company was to build a large company
- Inspiring leaders — 64% believe their “ability to motivate employees” is the most important characteristic for being a successful woman entrepreneur
- Surrounding yourself with a skilled team – 78% say “Hiring the right people” was the most important action that contributed to their company’s growth
- Adapting to a changing environment – The strategy most frequently chosen (64%) to meet the challenge of the current economy is to “enter new markets”. Sixty-one percent admitted current economic conditions caused them to change their business strategies
Those are the successful characteristics of businesses. Not women’s businesses. All businesses.
Having cast around for hints as to what the gender issues facing women entrepreneurs are, I found this which suggests our major problem is that we “care too much” And maybe we do. I feel quite un-sisterly in criticising last night’s event. It was done with the best of intentions and may have helped hundreds of women. But I’m nonetheless slightly baffled at the proliferation of organisations desperate to help us cope with the burden of being women in business. Do we really need them? I’m genuinely interested to know. The West Wing’s Ainsley Hayes would probably have a view. (If you’re short of time join her at 3.55′)