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Business Woman Challenges, Examples and Opportunities in 2017 & Beyond

Written by on June 19, 2017

Women entrepreneurship is said to be entering its Golden Age, which means now is the perfect time to be a business woman.

In fact, according to the 2016 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the US are in fact women.

Global surveys show a similar trend. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey for 2011 and 2016 show an increase by 13% of women entrepreneurship.

That is much higher than male entrepreneurship, which only rose by 5%.

The trend is showing no signs of stopping, as more and more women work to turn themselves from an employee or mom into a business woman.

However, while the progress is great, there is still a lot of work to do.

The 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses showed that less than 28% of women-run businesses made more than $1 million in revenue. It also showed that only 18.6% of companies with at least 500 employees were run by women.

The barriers largely revolve around equal opportunities for women in funding, as well as good networking and support structures.

In today’s post, we’ll look at the biggest challenges and opportunities faced by business women in 2017 and beyond.

We’ll also look at some great business woman examples to emulate, and finally some fantastic resources to help get you started.

I. Business Woman Challenges

It is true that every single entrepreneur faces various challenges in his or her journey to success. However, for women the challenges can be quite unique.

Let’s look at the six most difficult challenges faced by the average business woman.

1. Crushing expectations

Although we are living in modern times, and therefore the most progressive time in our human history, the fact is that women still make up a small percentage of CEOs and small business owners.

In the US, about 29% of business owners are women, while in the UK that number is at 17%.

So it may come as no surprise when women go to seminars and conferences and find the population being largely male. In fact, in many instances there can be even only 10% women in the audience.

This is normally true for women entrepreneurs outside of traditional female businesses—fashion, cosmetics, etc.

In these situations, the women entrepreneurs find that they have to talk business with male executives. While different for different women, this can be quite difficult sometimes.

Many women feel the need to adapt to their environment and create a persona related to the stereotypical business male. That persona is normally aggressive, highly competitive and sometimes quite harsh.

However, if that is not your natural style, it is important to stick to your own style and find your own voice. After all, what people really respect is ideas, not presentation.

It can be very difficult for business women to overcome the expectations set for them
It can be very difficult for business women to overcome the expectations set for them

Nonetheless, there is still the burden of having to “rise above expectations” in the largely male-dominated business space. You may either come off as too docile or too aggressive. However, in reality and in business terms, none of that matters.

You have a business to run, which requires making a profit. If you use your natural style and it gets results, then that is essentially the most important thing right now.

Getting through deciding what the expectations are and how to overcome them can be quite a challenge, and is often the #1 challenge for the new business woman.

Real Business Woman Challenges

Because I am in the fitness industry and female I am often not taken seriously as a professional. I think the number one most important thing that you can do as a woman fighting to pave your own path is to continually stay authentic.

You started your business for a reason. You started your business because you were confident in your abilities as a woman in your industry and you believed originally that there was a need for your expertise.

Stay true to that. Be authentic. Be you.

-Emily Harsh, ACSM CPT, Founder & Owner of Heart Move Collective

2. Securing funding

Many small business owners need to find sources for additional funding in their new ventures.  This means finding and exciting investors in such a way that they are willing to fund your idea.

This is a difficult undertaking for any business owner, and for women it can be quite a challenge. In fact, according to Babson College’s 2014 report, less than 3% of venture capital (VC) funded companies were led by women CEOs.

VCs tend to invest in their own groups or in their own niches—meaning that they will choose to invest something or someone they are familiar with more often than not.

If the majority of venture capitalists are male (89%), it could hint at the fact they may be more willing to support other male business owners.

The story for angel investors is better, although not yet at an equal level. In 2014, 36% of women-owned businesses sought funding, and 28% of businesses that received funding were run by women.

Real Business Woman Challenges

As a woman entrepreneur with a focus on helping non-profits and schools, it has been difficult to get investors.

We have turned this around by pursuing customer acquisition organically and relying on direct revenues instead of investment for growth.

-Nirupama Mallavarupu, Founder of MobileArq

The options for equity or angel funding are more limited for women than men, although this is fortunately changing.

In fact, there are many new funding options specifically for women that can present lots of great opportunities for the new small business woman.

We discuss that further down in the Business Woman Opportunities section.

 

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3. Leading men

Another difficult challenge for any business woman, especially a business owner, is earning respect and leading male employees.

Many business women may be younger than their male team members, or there may be other friction that makes it difficult to give them direction.

In fact, the cause of the friction towards female bosses is a long and murky discussion in and of itself. Nonetheless, the important thing is that for many business women it can be a challenge.

Your male employees may think

  • you’re not dedicated enough
  • you’re not creative enough
  • you lack adequate experience
  • you are in your position due to outside events

In total, they can be threatened by female bosses for no good reason.

Real Business Woman Challenges

As a female entrepreneur operating a business in three heavily male dominated industries (aviation, technology, and drones), I have surrounded myself with people who promote women as leaders.

I have turned away incredibly qualified flight instructors because they made it clear that they had an issue with a young woman in command. We also currently have a leadership team with an equal number of men and women.

This is something I am hoping to continue as we grow.

-Abby Speicher, Founder of DARTdrones

This friction can be communicated in small or big ways. It can come from your team members directly stating that, or from body language and other subtle signs.

One important thing to do is to not internalize these things. It is very common for people in general, not just women, to assume there is some grain of truth in people’s unwarranted criticisms. This can lead to self-doubt and a lowering of self-confidence.

While criticism is good, it is important to parse through it and find a quantifiable reason for any statement. If you weren’t able to pull through with something, or were late on another thing, criticism is warranted.

However, if there seems to be no reason for a criticism, and the criticism is also unsupported by the critic, it is best to put it to the side. These comments can build up and even overwhelm you.

Business owners in general have a lot of stress and doubt about their paths, and there’s no need for extra, unnecessary ones that can stop you from reaching your full potential.

These are the 6 most difficult challenges the average business woman faces in her daily life
These are the 6 most difficult challenges the average business woman faces in her daily life

4. Overcoming humility

Girls are often raised to build up a sense of community, consensus and collaboration—this can be because of culture, biology, a combination of these or another factor.

The result is that, when women discuss their accomplishments, they tend to downplay it. In fact, a Harvard, University of Chicago and Princeton co-study found that young professional women downplayed their goals and abilities if those aspects were to be discussed publicly.

Whether out of fear or not wanting to seem like they are bragging, many women business owners find themselves using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ when discussing their business accomplishments.

While this is great for team-building, it can lead your audience to thinking you have lower abilities and fewer accomplishments than you actually do.

For example, if you say:

Last year, we managed to increase our sales by 35% and gain valuable market share.

it could imply that you and your team did this. Or, as is most often the case, it could mean that you gave your team the direction and they actually accomplished it. But what if it was mostly due to your hard work?

You should instead state:

Last year, I was able to increase sales by 35% and gain valuable market share.

If that sounds too braggy, you may be guilty of downplaying your own accomplishments.

Real Business Woman Challenges

if you’re not assertive, you won’t get heard. Yes, women have to learn to be assertive in a way that is different from how men show assertiveness.

But if you are always asking questions instead of making declarative statements, you won’t get what you want. Figure out a position and state it! People want to work and do business with those they like, trust and respect.

If you don’t like yourself, that will make it hard for others to feel differently. Without self-esteem, one is unwilling to take chances, speak up, share ideas or trust themselves enough to make things happen and get results. So focus on what you do well. .

-Elene Cafasso, Enerpace Executive Coaching

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5. Getting support

This is not about financial support as discussed above. This is about finding and building a support network of mentors and advisers to help you navigate the business world.

According to a 2015 Inc article, 48% of female founders state that the lack of mentors and advisers was holding them back in their careers.


According to a 2015 Inc article, 48% of female founders state that the lack of mentors and advisers was holding them back in their careers.

As a minority group, women entrepreneurs need to give and find support to be able to advance in their careers. It can be very difficult to cut out your own path, create networking opportunities and meet the right people all on your own.

Business owners have helped each other out for centuries, and there’s no special request in having women entrepreneurs do the same.

However, it can be quite difficult to find the right support network for women. Luckily, we’ll go over some great places to start in our Business Woman Opportunities section below.

Real Business Woman Challenges

I see female entrepreneurs trying to do it all – work, family, community support, etc. Women still have trouble saying no, and prioritizing themselves. My biggest blocker continues to be impostor syndrome – am I really an entrepreneur? Is my company a ‘real’ company?

As women entrepreneurs we need to encourage and support each other. As Madeleine Albright said “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.”

-Mikaela Kiner, Founder and CEO of uniquely HR

6. Still having family time

This is specifically and actually a problem for both genders, as male and female entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their business and family lives.

However, society places a higher responsibility on mothers to take care of their home and family. They have to do this while simultaneously running and growing their business.

According to research, it is still a fact that women who grow in their careers tend to be less romantically successful.

Mom entrepreneurs are also perceived as being less productive, more distracted and less goal-oriented than men (while working fathers are seen as being more stable and determined).

Real Business Woman Challenges

In terms of lifestyle, the age-old problem still holds true: many workplaces don’t have a culture that encourages taking time away to be with family.

Unfortunately, this disproportionately impacts women. It starts with creating a norm in the office, that people should take time to be with their families and not hide it.

This holds true for both men and women – it’s important for the environment to be encouraging for people to have the lifestyle they need to provide for their families effectively.

-Meredith Wood, VP of Content and Editor-in-Chief at Fundera

So, not only is there the challenge of not having enough time for your family, but you are also perceived as being less capable because of you are a mom entrepreneur.

While there is nothing to do about changing other people’s perceptions (and definitely not working just to prove them wrong), you should continue on with your business goals.

However, determined entrepreneurs (both male and female, mothers and fathers) have to set aside adequate time to spend with their family.

It is very important that business women set enough time for their families
It is very important that business women set enough time for their families

This includes vacations, date nights, games nights, etc. This will not only help your family, but also help your own psychology. You will feel more refreshed, energized and motivated.

And you can then use that energy to boost your own business.

II. Successful Women in Business

Now, one of the best ways to inspire success is to emulate it. Let’s look at some of the most successful women in business.

This list includes success by wealth, achievement and promise, and therefore includes both old and young, known and as yet unknown.


Marian Ilitch is the richest business woman
 Image source

Marian Ilitch

Country: USA | Business: Restaurant


Along with her husband, Marian Ilitch co-founded the US pizza chain Little Ceasars Pizza in 1959. She now has a net worth of a whopping $5.1 billion dollars, and the chain has sales of $4 billion.

Ilitch is also the owner of the hockey team the Detroit Red Wings and the MotorCity Casino Hotel.

She and her husband both are first generation Americans, born to Macedonian immigrants.

She and her husband are also known for giving back, having established the Little Ceasars Love Kitchen Foundation in 1985. The Love Kitchen has provided food to more than 2 million people and provides aid to hungry people and disaster victims throughout the United States and Canada.


Diane Hendricks is a very successful business woman
Image source

Diane Hendricks

Country: USA | Business: Housing Supplies


Not necessarily a household name, Diane Hendricks is the chairperson of the wholesale, roofing, siding and windows distributor known as ABC supply—not a household name either.

Nonetheless, the company makes roughly $7.2 billion in sales each year, and Hendricks, as the chairperson, has an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion.


Oprah Winfrey is a household name around the world

Oprah Winfrey

Country: USA | Business: TV/Media


Definitely a household name, Oprah Winfrey has her own television network, OWN, as well as a magazine.

She is most known for her life long career as a daytime talk show host and has a net worth of $2.9 billion.

Winfrey is also one of the most generous successful women entrepreneurs. By 2012, she had given away approximately $400 million for causes in education. She also donated $12 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2013.


Cynthia Ndubuisi is an innovative business woman
 Image source

Cynthia Ndubuisi

Country: Nigeria | Business: Cosmetics/Agriculture


Nigerian entrepreneur Cynthia Ndubuisi is the founder of EverGlow, a company that specializes in biodegradable dish soap.

Her business idea came about due to challenges in her home country: specifically, there was a need for non-toxic dish soap made from plants.

She also founded the Kadosh Production Company (KPC) helps women cassava farmers process cassava more quickly and cheaply, helping them rise up out of poverty.


Adriana Gascoigne is a young, successful business woman

Adriana Gascoigne

Country: USA | Business: Tech


Since 2007, Adriana Gascoigne has worked to help women advance in the STEM fields. She is the founder of Girls in Tech and provides help in many ways to women in male-dominated industries.

After realizing that she was the only woman in her company of 50 employees in 2007, Gascoigne decided to start Girls in Tech. The non-profit organization operates globally to help educate and mentor women in the tech industry.


Yang Lan is a successful business woman in China

Yang Lan

Country: China | Business: TV/Media


Identified as one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in China, Yang Lan is the founder of Sun Media, which is a media group in China.

She is also known as China’s Oprah, due to her multiplatform media empire, which spans TV, newspapers, magazines and the internet.

She founded the Sun Culture Foundation, which helps to promote education and build up the culture of philanthropy in China.

III. Business Woman Funding & Networking Opportunities

Luckily, we are living in modern and progressive times, and therefore there are lots of opportunities out there for the new business woman.

In fact, we’ll tackle the two most important parts of any women entrepreneur’s growth: funding and networking.

1. Funding for Business Women

The amount of financing and grant programs made for women is thankfully growing.

Just to note: these programs are exclusively for women, and are in addition to the financing and grant programs for entrepreneurs in general.

We have a wider list of grants, fellowships and scholarships in our Business Woman Resources section below.

Office of Women’s Business Ownership

The US SBA has great resources for women entrepreneurs

The US SBA (Small Business Administration) has a specialized division which oversees its network of nation-wide Women’s Business Centers.

These centers are based on the state and they offer counseling, training, resources and most importantly financing and grant programs for women business owners.

The centers will help women with SBA loan programs 7(a) (which includes Express, Export Loan, Rural Lender Advantage, and Special Purpose), CDC/504, Microloan and (if needed) Disaster Assistance.

UK Business Grants for Women

UK Business grants for women

In the UK, there are many grants for women entrepreneurs based on your business location and what your business structure are.

These grants come in the form of different program schemes that will assist women specifically in helping them increase cash flow, purchase equipment, pay off debt and more.

You can find out what you qualify for on ukbusinessgrants.org.

Women’s Funding Network

The Womens Funding Network

The Women’s Funding Network is an organization promoting the growth and development of organizations worldwide to help fund women’s initiatives, including in the business arena.

Member organizations in the network include public charities, women’s foundations and community foundations.

The emphasize the investment in all kinds of women’s initiatives, and is a great source for funding for your business.

Springboard Enterprises

Springboard Enterprises

This organization is focused on helping women entrepreneurs gain access to equity capital in order to grow their business.

Springboard Enterprises is a US nonprofit that emphasizes collaborations with business and entrepreneurial organizations, government offices, academic institutions and corporations.

Although located in the US, they operate globally.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW)

These grants are made available for business women who graduated university

This is a private source of funding specifically for graduate women—including women entrepreneurs. the AAUW is also one of the world’s largest such sources, which offers 5 different fellowships and grants.

Two non-post doctoral grants include:

  • Career Development Grant: $2,000 – $12,000 for women to pursue a degree or certificate to advance or change their careers
  • Community Action Grant: from $2,000 – $10,000 for a one- to two-year grant, open to individuals and nonprofit organizations to fund innovative programs or research projects promoting education and equity for women and girls.

2. Networking and Support

Besides funding, it’s important to have the right networking and support community to help you find connections and navigate the business world.

These are the best networking and support opportunities out there.

Catalyst

Catalyst offers great support for female entrepreneurs

The nonprofit global organization Catalyst has been around for more than 50 years, helping women succeed through workplace inclusion.

The organization helps women by offering research, tools and services, raising awareness, events, recognition programs, and necessary guidance.

Women’s International Network (WIN)

The Women’s International Network is a global leadership organization for women.

The Women’s International Network is a global leadership organization for women.

Founded by Kristin Engvig, WIN focuses on increasing the number of women in decision-making roles, helping women progress in their business, and networking to support each other.

They have regular conferences and events worldwide.

Boss Network

BOSS (Bringing Out Successful Sisters) helps to promote women in small business by encouraging them in every aspect.

BOSS (Bringing Out Successful Sisters) helps to promote women in small business by encouraging them in every aspect.

The network is composed of women entrepreneurs that will network and support each other online, in conversation and at networking events.

Ellevate Network

The Ellevate Network is composed of professional women that help each other by creating, inspiring and leading

The Ellevate Network is composed of professional women that help each other by creating, inspiring and leading.

Their focus is on helping women in the workforce (both as team members and business owners), hoping to change the culture by investing in women.

ASTIA

ASTIA is composed of both women and men working to help high-growth ventures headed by women succeed.

ASTIA is an interesting organization whose goal is to no longer exist within a decade. It is a not-for-profit organization that is composed of both women and men working to help high-growth ventures headed by women succeed.

It is composed of more than 1,200 volunteer members of the Astia Advisor Network. This network also includes at least 300 CEOs and more than 300 investors.

WIPP

WIPP is a nonpartisan public policy group that advocates for women entrepreneurs, and business women in general.

Women Impacting Public Policy, Inc. (WIPP) is a strong voice for women in business in the US capital. It is a nonpartisan public policy group that advocates for women entrepreneurs, and business women in general.

Its goal is to impact the legislative processes to create economic opportunities for women in business, as well as connect business women to other business organizations.

NAWBO

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) represents the interests of business women in virtually all industries.

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) represents the interests of business women in virtually all industries.

It is a dues-based organization with more than 7,000 members in 70 chapters across the US.

Although US-based, it works to impact women entrepreneurs around the world by discussing and pushing for important issues facing any business woman.

IV. Business Woman Resources

But wait, there’s more! Here’s a list of the best resources for any business woman on the internet.

These resources include books, networking opportunities, blogs, Youtube channels, additional grants, and much more.

Facebook Groups for Business Women

Blogs for Female Entrepreneurs

Podcasts

Youtube Channels for Women Entrepreneurs

Best Books for Business Women

This is an ever-growing list and we’d love to know what your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, and videos are for women entrepreneurs.

Let us know in the comments below!

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  • Veronika Lipar

    I think it’s so hard for young women to start their own business. Especially if they are beautiful and fashionable. Per example everyone think of me i’m good only in fashion and wouldn’t take me seriously if I started any other business. Even though I have studied finance and economics.

    Veronika
    http://brunettefromwallstreet.com

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