Authored by Tonya Dalton
The idea of how luck plays a role in success has been a topic covered many times over the years. But in looking at my own start as an entrepreneur, when I up and decided to scale my business to absorb my husband’s income, I realize that luck only got me so far. It’s what I did with the luck — the opportunities I seized and the relationships I made — that really grew my businesses.
Despite the rise in women-owned businesses, female founders still lack the financial resources for starting their own businesses. According to MarketWatch, just 2.2 percent of all venture capital in the U.S. goes to companies founded solely by women. In addition, companies with all-male founders receive funding after their first round close to 35 percent of the time. For companies with female founders, that number is less than 2 percent. Only 2 percent of women-owned businesses ever make it to $1 million in revenue — 3.5 times less than their male counterparts.
For the women and some men reading this, instead of listing out my advice on how we fix this problem (because that would be quite the feat), I thought it better to pose some thought-provoking questions. These are questions I’ve asked myself that I hope will prompt you to be part of the solution. As I like to tell the women I coach, small changes lead to big impact.
How do we expand women’s networks to accommodate all women entrepreneurs?
When I first launched my business, I felt like I was doing everything on my own without the support I needed. It was a breath of fresh air when I found women's networking groups. Chances are there's a women-only networking community or mastermind a stone’s throw away in your local community.
But before spending the time, energy and money, I recommend really doing your homework. Which of these networks are actually going to move the needle in your business? Which network is right for you right now? Which will grow with you as you grow your business?
One of my favorite fellow women business coaches, Ali Brown, recently discussed this topic on her show Glambition Radio. The sad fact is there is a problem with women’s networks that's holding a lot of us back. Most entrepreneurial communities for women are designed for part-timers and beginners. Don’t get me wrong, that’s wonderful for those starting out. In fact, these communities are very much needed. But where does that leave us non-beginners who have already built seven- to eight-figure businesses? As Brown says, “The women who are ready for more get trapped here. They are caught in a cycle of networking laterally instead of up.”
Luckily there are some options for well-established female founders. Brown founded The Trust, a private network for women entrepreneurs with businesses generating over $1 million annually. And another option is the Ellevate Network, which offers four different levels of membership for women entrepreneurs, from their emerging membership for as little as $100 per year, all the way up to their executive council membership.
I’d love to see more networks like this arise in the next few years — a balance of networks that appeal to both women entrepreneurs who are starting out and those who have built their way up to that million-dollar benchmark.
How can we be a support system to the female business owners in our lives?
As I already mentioned, sometimes the smallest act can lead to the biggest impact. When I think about my start as an entrepreneur I’m reminded of two women who gave me a chance: Kimberly Wiley and Laura Novack Meyer. They believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself and spread the word about my new business to their networks. Without their support, no amount of luck thrown at me would have gotten my business off the ground.
Supporting someone doesn’t mean a huge commitment on your end. Most people assume a support group is made up of the people you know, but it can also come from complete strangers. Here are the four different types of support to remember when you think you can lend a helping hand — big or small.
Emotional support: Starting a business comes with many emotions including stress, anxiety and even loneliness. This kind of support is reserved for those who will have the woman’s back and be her shoulder to cry on.
Instrumental support: This type of support involves taking care of one’s urgent and immediate needs. That can be as small as stepping out to grab her lunch, or as big as deciding to invest in her business. Both are equally important.
Informational support: Providing guidance, advice, or mentorship. This support is especially needed from the women and men who have “walked the road ahead,” have a long-time thriving business and can impart wisdom.
Accountability support: I love having an accountability partner, someone besides myself who is going to hold me accountable for my goals and objectives. Can you be that for someone? Someone to push her forward and find success?
Even if you’re not an entrepreneur or your business has nothing to do with the woman’s business you're supporting, chances are you can fill the void of one of the above support types.
If you have the ability to mentor another woman, will you consider it?
If you're waiting around for a younger woman to ask you to be her mentor, chances are you’ll continue waiting. A survey by Development Dimensions International found that women are not proactively seeking out mentors. An overwhelming 63 percent of the women surveyed in the study reported that they have never had a formal mentor.
According to the hundreds of women who responded, this lack of female mentorship isn’t because they aren’t willing to mentor, but because they are not being asked. In fact, 54 percent of the women reported that they have only been asked to be a mentor a few times in their career or less, while 20 percent reported they have never been asked to be a mentor.
Knowing what we do from this study, how can we learn from it? Let’s stop perpetuating the problem by falling victim to the myths that surround female mentorship. For the women in senior management positions, stop waiting for an official invitation. And for the younger women who actively need a mentor in their careers, voice it!
I love this quote by Madeleine Albright: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Let’s all do our part in helping change those statistics and help women grow stronger, better businesses. Find ways to support and encourage other women business owners so we can collectively grow. My hope is 10 years from now, we won’t see these gaps in the marketplace — and it all starts with these three questions.