It’s frustrating to see the continuous stream of articles suggesting women are holding themselves back, particularly within organisational settings. I agree wholeheartedly with Catherine Fox’s assertion that we need to ‘Stop Fixing Women’. Research confirms that women are just as ambitious as men, and seek pay rises with the same frequency, yet are not paid equally or equally represented in leadership roles in our businesses and community. This is a key reason that women leave corporate roles to start their own business.
The outcomes of a recent survey surprised me
At a Queensland Government Advancing Women in Small Business event 59% of the women in attendance rated stress/self-doubt/confidence as their number 1 challenge. The women attending were from a range of industries and backgrounds. It was a virtual café event, so attendees were from both regions and metropolitan areas across Queensland.
Some of the causes the women identified included perfectionism, imposter syndrome, social comparison, lack of network, gender stereotypes and inequality in the way we raise boys and girls. Women reported they were feeling overwhelmed, guilty, selfish and isolated and that this was impacting their ability to properly price their business services and put themselves forward confidently to sell their business offering in the market.
It was disconcerting to read this and initially it seemed to be juxtaposed to my beliefs, but then I reflected that many of these causes are externally, culturally reinforced, and stem back to the ‘having it all’ principle. As Dame Quentin Bryce is oft quoted, “For a very long time now I’ve been saying to young women, ‘You can have it all, but not all at the same time.’ How important it is to take very good care of yourself, of your mental and physical and spiritual wellbeing; it’s hard to do. It’s easier to be a workaholic than to have a truly balanced life.”
What are the solutions?
As a reformed workaholic, my hindsight view is (in full agreement with Quentin) that it IS much easier to be a workaholic than to lead a balanced life. It takes time, planning, preparation and discipline to have balance in your days and weeks. Inevitably, you are forced to rely on others, ask for their help and you have to get very comfortable with saying ‘no’ to people.
I can propose a number of solutions from my own experience, and also draw from the combined wisdom of the attendees at the Queensland Government Advancing Women in Small Business event.
- Create a network to reduce feelings of isolation, have a safe and supportive environment to honestly share your current reality, and identify mentors and people to learn from. You can’t know everything in business, and it helps to have people to call to ask for advice or trusted referrals.
- Give yourself credit, celebrate your wins and practise self-care and kindness. Having quiet time in each day to refocus, reflect and enjoy your life is utterly essential to your wellbeing. Whilst humility is admirable, also carve out time to reflect on your strengths and achievements for the day or week.
- Nurture collaboration over competition with other women business owners to strengthen each other’s business and build community. The solace and practical support tendered by our own community of women business owners who are values aligned, so very accomplished and walking the same journey has been the most inspiring aspect of building Femeconomy.
- Be clear on your offering and purpose so that you can confidently communicate your ‘why’, and use your personal brand as a differentiator. Make sure this is reflected in your marketing efforts.
- Cultivate your ability to generate revenue. Benchmark your services and pricing to ensure you are not undercharging for your time. There is already a pay gap, make sure you aren’t perpetuating it by being unaware of or undercutting your true market value.
After over 12 months spent in daily conversation with women business owners, these are themes are repeated consistently.
From those who are at the very beginning of their start up journey, through to the very successful female entrepreneurs who have candidly shared their wisdom and advice on how they have tackled and triumphed facing these very challenges.
It confirms for me that it’s so crucial to keep showing up, going out, speaking up and reaching out to other women in business, no matter how you are feeling. And sometimes when you are feeling your least confident and most self-doubting is the time you most need to do this, and to ask for help.