Why do women find it difficult to succeed in business when starting from scratch? What are the business challenges women entrepreneurs face especially in Africa? What are the factors that militates against women in entrepreneurship? How do you overcome these challenges? Well, i advice you read on to find the answers you seek.
A closer observation at the business world and you will come to the reality that it’s ruled by men. Take a look at the Forbes’s list of world billionaires and you will observe that it is dominated by men. Well, you may say it’s a man’s world but women are taking the bull by the horn.
Overtime, we have seen women entrepreneurs start businesses and risen to the pinnacle of success. We now have women entrepreneurs who are drop out billionaires, sitting atop multi billion dollar empires.
Well, before I go into highlighting the various challenges women entrepreneurs face when starting a business and how to overcome them; I want to emphasize the fact that this article will be case studying women entrepreneurs who started businesses from scratch. Not successful women entrepreneurs who inherited businesses or successful corporate business women.
Now let’s critique the successful women entrepreneurs in the world. I am talking about successful business women such as Mary Kay Ash, Estee Lauder, Coco Chanel, Lilian Vernon, Anita Roddick, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart, Madame C.J. Walker and Debbi Fields.
How did these women entrepreneurs make it? What challenges did they face when building a business from scratch? How did they overcome such challenges in business? And how can you replicate their success strategies? Well I will say you read on because I am about revealing the challenges business women face.
This article was not written to discourage you or get you excited, rather; it was written to increase your level of preparedness and better your chances of success in business. Do you want to start a business? Then below are some business challenges you must expect and surmount.
5 Business Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face and How to Overcome
1. Cultural value
“You know, all these years, all these years you’ve been eating my cookies. All these years you’ve been telling me how wonderful they are. Well, I’ve decided I’m going to go into the cookie business. My husband immediately said, ‘Oh sweetie, that is such a stupid idea.’ And then my mom and dad pipe up and say, ‘You don’t have any business going into the cookie business.” – Debbi Fields
The first entrepreneurial challenge women entrepreneurs face is that of cultural value or tradition. This challenge is more profound on women entrepreneurs in Africa; where the cultural value entails that the man/husband be the bread winner. A woman exhibiting her entrepreneurial prowess is presumed as wanting to take over the leadership role of the husband.
This challenge also surfaces in families where the husband/father is an entrepreneur. The male children are usually groomed on running the family business and carrying on after the demise of the father while the female children are usually left out of this entrepreneurial grooming process. To overcome this entrepreneurial challenge, you must be prepared to breakthrough this limiting tradition; you must stick to what you believe in.
“I knew I had been denied opportunities to fulfill my optimum potentials simply because I was a woman. These feelings were not merely indulgences of self pity because I had personally known so many other women who had suffered such injustices.” – Mary Kay Ash
2. Societal discrimination
“The greatest failure is not to try. Had I listened to all the people during the course of my life who said, “You can’t. You’ll fail. It won’t work. You don’t have…,” I wouldn’t be here today.” – Debbi Fields
The next challenge women face in business is societal discrimination. Most people still live with the mentality that certain businesses or tasks are better handled by men. Have you ever come across a female auto mechanic, commercial bus driver, plumber, mason or welder? What was your first reaction? You must have screamed “what the hell is a woman doing with such occupation.”
Well, I have done it countless times. The truth is that we often assume women are generally incompetent in certain fields of life. People would rather deal with a business man than a woman. Why? The reason is because it’s believed that the men are born to do it.
“Those men didn’t believe a woman had brain matter at all. I learned that back then that as long as men didn’t believe women could do anything, women were never going to have a chance.” – Mary Kay Ash
“It is horrible to say, but I was stigmatized by being a bridal designer for a long time, I am amazed I have been able to move beyond it. I had really all but given up trying, but I did it because it was my lifelong dream.” – Vera Wang
“I am black, I don’t feel burdened by it and I don’t think it’s a huge responsibility. It’s part of who I am. It does not define me.” – Oprah Winfrey
You might think this challenge is uncommon; wait until you lose a business deal or contract just because you are competing with male counterparts. The only solution to handling the challenge of societal discrimination is to develop a tough skin towards criticism. Stop seeing your feminine gender as a weakness; see it as a strength, and prove yourself by striving to outperform your male competitors.
3. Lack of investors confidence
“What’s the worst that could happen? Everyone turned me down; big deal.” – J. K. Rowling
The third challenge women entrepreneurs face when starting a business is the challenge of raising capital. Investors naturally give less consideration to business women and I can’t really pinpoint the reason for this. It’s easier for business man to raise capital than a woman; except such a woman has proved her competence and credibility over time.
Women entrepreneurs generally find it difficult to raise capital or obtain a bank loan because investors and bankers would rather risk their venture capital with male entrepreneurs than females.
“I would tell them about my plan, the cookies, my dream, and sure enough, they would listen and eat the cookies. They would respond by saying ‘Thank you so much. Thank you for coming in, but no, we’re not interested.” – Debbi Fields
Now how do you overcome such challenge? The answer is persistence. You must keep asking for what you want; irrespective of the amount of rejections you get. You must press on while selling yourself on why you should be trusted.
4. Balancing business and family
“There is time for work, and time for love. That leaves no other time.” – Coco Chanel
The fourth business challenge women entrepreneurs face is that of balancing business and family. Women naturally are the backbone of the family; they lay the building blocks on which the family foundation is built. So often times, women entrepreneurs usually find themselves torn between commitment to the family and business.
“When my company started really growing, I didn’t have any help in my house at all. I had the upkeep of my daily life, I had a one year old and a three year old, and I had my house. So I had to prioritize.” – Julie Aigner Clark
“It was a risk. I had a husband and I was pregnant with my oldest son. But I don’t look at risk the way other people do. When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to go in feeling like you’re going to be successful.” – Lilian Vernon
Now how do you handle such challenge? The answer lies in time management and delegation. These two keys are essential to balancing your act and building a successful home alongside a family.
“How did you balance growing the business with raising a family? You just do. I had a business, a lot of orders, and a baby howling for supper. You balance it. You give your baby supper first and then get your orders in. I have worked on more holidays… but what are you going to do?” – Lilian Vernon
5. Stress due to competition and business routine
“I started The Body Shop in 1976 simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters, while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas. I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon’s advice to take sales of £300 a week. Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.” – Anita Roddick
The last but not the least challenge women face in business is the stress and stiff competition associated with running a business. The entrepreneurial process of building a business from scratch entails hard work, commitment and persistence. Business is a game of dog eat dog; to survive, you have to be tough.
“Toughness is a good thing, yet it is considered good only in men. When a woman is tough, men can’t stand it. I like being tough; tough and smart.” – Lilian Vernon
“There is always competition. Whatever you do, there will be competition, and you have to decide how you’re going to play. For me, I had to be the very best. Because if I was not the very best; I would end up being number two.” – Debbi Fields
As a woman in business, you might find yourself going head to head with competition and fulfilling your business tasks; and this might lead to fatigue. When confronted with such challenge, you have to use the art of delegation and time management to your advantage. Get the tedious business tasks off your neck and concentrate more on the core issues at hand.
“What was your greatest challenge?” Staying alive as a business, staying ahead of the game, and melding my business life with my personal life.” – Lilian Vernon
As a final note, these are the five challenges specifically faced by women entrepreneurs. So if you are a female entrepreneur just starting out in business; expect to face such challenges. Your ability to surmount these business challenges is what makes you a successful entrepreneur.
Remember that gender, age, race, religion or personal beliefs is not a criteria for success. Most important is having a good plan and being determined to succeed, even in the face of failure.