By Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia
“Female entrepreneurs currently account for approximately a third of all entrepreneurs worldwide, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2025, the share of women entrepreneurship in that country will increase to more than 55 per cent.” The Global Legal Post, April 2012.
As a woman entrepreneur, my eyes are always open to anything to do with the subject of female entrepreneurship, and there is a lot out there! Late last year there was a comment in a Norwegian newspaper about “why do so many women run away from companies to become entrepreneurs” and a few days later I found an interview on an American site asking two successful lady business owners “why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?.”. Two rather different angles in two different countries, but both indicated an interest in this subject.
Women are considered to be risk-averse. Yet according to a study quoted in BBC News 21 in February 2011, “Compared with men, women were found to aspire more to running their own company than achieving higher rank within a firm.” According to the same news channel in 2008, “Women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to set up businesses following big life changes such as ill-health, divorce or moving house.” Across the world, we see more and more women starting up business, but bottom-line, there are more men than women entrepreneurs.
Women are also supposed to have less self-confidence and less experience in self-promotion than men, and I tend to agree – considering my experience as an HR professional, coach and member of women networks. This isn’t an advantage when being self-employed. You need lots of resilience and courage – and a good dose of self-confidence to keep going. Despite the struggle, women entrepreneurs have enough motivation and drive to shut down the inner negative voices and go for it anyway.
So what attracts the women that are not risk-averse to get into this new territory? Or are they still risk-averse, and there are just other attractions? Speaking for myself, I was attracted to choosing my tasks, or “following my passion”. I was attracted to working with several clients as opposed to working in one corporate culture. I was also attracted to making my own decisions, without going through an authorization process to implement an idea. In my case, I do take calculated risks from time to time. Talking with other women, words like “freedom” and “flexibility” do tend to pop up.
In developing countries, support is given to women entrepreneurs as they are more likely to return the money they borrow and the whole family benefit from the income.
I have read in various media that women today are more attracted to starting up a business due to the lack of flexibility with their employer and also hitting the “glass ceiling” or the “sticky floor”. Despite the challenges already mentioned (risk aversion and lack of self confidence), more and more women feel drawn towards being their own boss. It is possibly due to the various options of help now available. Here’s what I’ve found on that point:
• Numerous books; examples being 100 Ways To Boost Your Self-Confidence: Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too and Self-Promotion and the Making of a Brand and How to Start and Run Your Home-based Business
• Companies that sell “how to set up business” (financials, bureaucracy, law, sales, how to grow business, etc.) Some of them focus on women entrepreneurs only.
• Coaching. This is particularly helpful on the personal side of setting up business, e.g. self-confidence. A coaching tip: find an image, a symbol, a saying or draw a picture that inspires you every day and place it where you can see it all the time.
• Women network meetings for entrepreneurs. Here in Europe, the European Professional Women’s Network arranges information meetings for entrepreneurs and there are special “clubs” for women entrepreneurs.
• Individual effort. Entrepreneurs can come together on an individual basis to give each other support. Meeting other women entrepreneurs over lunch to discuss deeper challenges and get advice can be inspiring and motivating. Often there is much in common and the entrepreneurs coach each other on challenges, fears and hang-ups. Knowing that you are not alone in having them – even if “the others” look so successful and “knowing it all” – is motivation to keep going.
So, are we moving into a new era of women entrepreneurs? The overall trend seems to indicate that. The trend may be speeding up as we are finding more and more role models and a supportive infrastructure for women. This may have a positive spin-off effect on medium to large enterprises: how do you keep your female talent happy so that they don’t leave you for a solo career?
Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia, owner of NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting, is a consultant, trainer and co-active coach. She has more than 20 diverse years of experience from the oil industry, recruitment and customer relations. Sunniva is a diversity specialist and inhabits deep knowledge on working across cultures.