I am a female business owner. I am also an immigrant entrepreneur.
There is a bit of complexity that comes with being a female, immigrant, entrepreneur. I have an accent. I come from a different business culture and professional setting. And I have had to build my business from scratch while navigating the male-dominant IT and technology space—which is improving as far as diversity is concerned.
Twenty years ago, I was one of only a small handful of girls in a class of all boys studying Software Engineering and, even today, I’m one of only a small handful of women in an executive-level business meeting.
Every day, I witness one or both of these qualities impacting my path in the business world. Some people are tremendously supportive and truly appreciate my working knowledge and expertise. Some have a hard time trusting someone who doesn’t speak exactly like them and isn’t the same gender as them. The first few moments of meeting somebody new in a business setting is a very critical and difficult moment for any female business owner, entrepreneur, or leader. We have to prove ourselves the moment we walk through the door, whereas a male figure can sit down at a table with a bunch of other men and immediately feel a sense of belonging.
If you are a female business owner or entrepreneur, then here are a few of the challenges I have run into on my own journey—and how I would recommend you navigate them.
1. Many decision-makers at companies are male, so be prepared to prove that you are as good as them in business, if not better.
When I first started my company, Optimum, I saw first-hand the reality of the male/female imbalance in the business world.
Many decision-makers at companies are males. When I would go to a meeting and start talking, it seemed that the very first thing some people would notice is that I am a female and then my accent. As I would talk, I could actually see in their face how long it took for them to gather their thoughts and pay attention to what I was really saying.
Then, after a few moments of me talking and explaining whatever I had come to discuss, there would be a moment of decision. Either they saw beyond my gender and ethnicity and could acknowledge my expertise, or they remained locked in their judgments and that was the end of that business relationship.
As female business owners, one of the main challenges we face is gaining the trust that we are as smart, experienced, and business-minded as our male counterparts. That we can do serious business, handle the heat, and make the tough decisions when needed.
2. In addition to being a female business owner, I am also a mother and a wife—which comes with other challenges and judgments.
The second obstacle is the fact that when you are a female business owner with a family, you have to juggle a whole different array of things in life.
Being an entrepreneur already means you have very little “free time.” Being a mother also means you have very little “free time.” So the challenge becomes navigating these two responsibilities, both of which are all-consuming, while simultaneously being aware of the fact that you need to work harder than average in order to be successful in your career.
However, juggling these different responsibilities is not impossible.
It just takes practice, patience, and compassion toward yourself. I also believe the love that we have for our kids and families is another great motivation and reason to keep pushing forward.
3. As women, we are frequently told that we are “too sensitive.”
One of the other big challenges we face as females in the business world is the fact that in many cases we are being labeled as “emotionally sensitive” instead of “emotionally aware”.
We feel and act in a different sort of way than men. For example, most female business owners I know try to establish deeper professional and personal relationships with their employees, clients, and peers, and genuinely care about their employees’ well-being and desires. We sometimes even show too much flexibility and empathy for other people’s wants and needs even in tough business deal negotiations. We analyze other people’s words and actions thoroughly and sometimes we are more critical of ourselves than we should be—and without a support system or community to help us process through these emotions and moments, we tend to over-internalize what we are told, which is, “You’re too sensitive.”
Now, the answer to the above challenges is that, as women in the business world, we have to work a little bit harder than everyone else and trust that “we can”. We have to invest in ourselves and our careers, and not ever sit back and expect to be handed the opportunities we want. We also have to nurture our self-confidence and know when to walk away from negative situations.
It’s okay for a woman in business to be strong, serious, confident, smart, and emotionally aware—and that’s what the business world will eventually be okay with too.