What Works For Women As Entrepreneurs

By Geri Stengel

I just finished reading What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know by Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey. It got me thinking about the similarities and differences between corporate and entrepreneurial women.

For women who are burning out from “Prove-It-Again” and again, and hitting “The Maternal Wall” (two of the four patterns Williams and Dempsey write about)  in the corporate world, it may be time to go someplace else. Yes, there may be a big company that appreciates you more, but if you really want to control your destiny, entrepreneurship may be for you. While progress for women  in the corporate world and other sectors has stalled, women are making big strides in the entrepreneurial world — 11 Reasons 2014 Will Be A Breakout Year For Women Entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship isn’t without risks — 50% of small businesses fail within their first five years — but it does have it rewards. I’ll be writing about 10 women (Erika Bliss, Qliance; Mandy Cabot, Dansko; Luan Cox, Crowdnetic; Liz Elting, TransPerfect; Kara Goldin, Hint; Lili Hall, Knock; Paula Long, DataGravity; Kourtney Ratliff, Loop Captial; Danae Ringelmann, Indiegogo; and Nina Vaca, Pinnacle) who lead high-growth businesses in a book that Dell commissioned me to write. Not all of these women started businesses (two joined businesses after they were launched), but from those who did, you’ll learn what inspired the creation of their businesses. That may be the motivation you need to make your move. Sign up for updates about the book.

You’ll still be confronted by a world in which men control the vast majority of power and money, but with several women starting venture capital firms, more women becoming angels and the option to crowdfund — in which women show early signs of excelling — the funding picture for women looks brighter than it ever has.

Now, it may not be that men are holding women to a higher standard in the entrepreneurial world as they do in the corporate world. They just may not understand the business models women are creating. When VCs don’t recognize a market opportunity, it takes them a while to see the light. Knowing now the potential of crowdfunding, it’s hard to believe that Ringelmann and her co-founders received 92 “nos” before getting outside funding. Indiegogo recently raised $40 million in Series B funding in the largest venture investment in the crowdfunding space.

Williams and Dempsey point out that current doctrine is focused on what women were doing wrong, such as not asking, not being ambitious and opting out, rather than fixing the system. It should be noted that research is beginning to show that none of this may be true. In the entrepreneurial world, an ecosystem has sprung up and taken root, especially among angel investors.

While “The Tightrope” (another pattern in the book) may be thinner in the corporate world, women entrepreneurs are expected to look, sound and act a certain way. Women don’t need to wear hoodies and be brash, but they do need to drop the cloak of modesty. They can’t lean back and let the facts speak for themselves. They need to lean in and tout their own accomplishments. Winning awards is one way for women to do this in a way that is more comfortable for them.

“The Tug of War” pattern between women’s personal and professional lives is shared by corporate and entrepreneurial women. Women make choices and there is no one right way to do things. However, “it’s time for women to stop judging each other about what they believe to be the right way to be a woman … If we begin to judge each other’s compromises, the opportunity for women to help each other vanishes,” writes Williams and Dempsey.