Women are the new black.
With today’s 24-hour news cycle, there’s no shortage of powerful, female newsmakers -- from Sheryl Sandberg and her "lean in circles" to Arianna Huffington’s empire. And happily, the Paris Hilton portrayal of women has been squarely kicked from "en vogue" to "out of the question."
Thank God. And thank Coco Chanel, Oprah Winfrey, Estee Lauder and other leaders who’ve fought their way to the top to lay this essential foundation. As young female entrepreneurs can now attest, the sacrifices these leading ladies have made cannot be overlooked or undermined.
But today’s women are a whole different breed. Post-feminist versions of the female entrepreneur are portrayed as independent, assertive, graceful and dare I say…hot. She seemingly moves mountains, increases revenue and gives her investors and stakeholders something to sing about -- all while maintaining a mane of good hair, a wicked sense of style and perfectly manicured nails.
Hers are names like Yael Cohen (F*#k Cancer), Alexa Andrzejewski (Foodspotting), Sophia Amoruso (Nasty Gal), Kellee Khalil (Lover.ly), Alexa von Tobel (LearnVest), Amy Jo Martin (Digital Royalty) and Leslie Bradshaw (Guide). But beyond the seemingly trendy Gen-Y names and edgy brands these women have built, exists the reality of what it means to be audaciously female in today’s innovator-friendly environment.
Five years ago, two friends of mine founded an organization called I AM THAT GIRL. Their “movement” dared to define a new version of feminism. In fact, they wanted to make a totally new “ism” for women. They called it “Bellism” and it was meant to promote the type of female we now see gracing the covers of business magazines -- smart, strong, beautiful and unapologetic. Suffrage, Feminism and Women’s Rights had their time, but today the most successful female entrepreneurs rise above gender-specific mandates and embrace their femininity.
What does this look like and how can you be a true “Bellist” without falling prey to run-of-the-mill stereotypes?
1. Don't be a woman in drag. Men don’t typically respond to aggression from women. They can simply shut down and auto-categorize you as a word that rhymes with witch, as do other women. Don’t be that girl. If you become that girl you have entirely missed the point and misunderstood the positive role you must play. Be graceful, be whip smart but lighthearted. Ease them into your brainpower through your soul -- men and women alike will fall in love with your passion.
2. Understand the nature conundrum. Truth be told, objectification to a point is flattering and can be used as an extreme advantage, as long as you have the chops to back it up. Most women would agree with me, but they typically wouldn’t say it out loud (or in print for that matter) for fear of reprisals. What women don’t want is sexual harassment that leaves no room for dignity in what they’ve built or accomplished. But understanding the power of beauty and femininity, and how it can be used as a catalyst to drive male-decision making, is absolutely necessary. Female guilt or shame around this form of competitive advantage is passé. So get over it.
3. Don’t be a "manizer." Respect in the boardroom isn’t earned in the bedroom. In fact, it creates the adverse effect. What you get instead is an ultimate loss of power and psychological warfare that has you questioning your true value. Focus on your strengths and attributes as a professional, of which femininity is one. Act like a lady. And let them treat you like the badass that you are, from arm’s length.
4. Be of service. Entrepreneurship is a constant act of service, not necessarily a profit-making mechanism. Here’s what I mean: We serve ourselves, first and foremost, as we strive to improve our own situations. We then serve others as we create jobs, provide leadership and inspire action. When seen through this lens, the whole world shifts.
In other words, when we focus on serving ourselves and others, progress will naturally occur. I am not suggesting that profitability and the dollar are not pivotal to success. What I am saying is that female-driven entrepreneurship has the ability to defy logic and reach heights that profit-only endeavors will never accomplish.
Entrepreneurship should not be gender specific. It should be brain specific, talent specific and personality-trait specific. However, understanding gender roles within the context of business -- a typically male dominated endeavor -- and embracing the strengths that women bring to the proverbial table, is more imperative than any argument surrounding the obstacles they face.
Women, how do you display your fullest potential? Men, how do you ensure that women have a seat at the table? Let us know in the comments.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.