They say that birds of a feather flock together-and for many women entrepreneurs, flocking together at conferences and networking events specifically targeting women is par for the course. But the next time you attend your local chamber meeting or general venture capital forum, look around the room. You can probably count the women on one hand.
Does this picture seem a bit out of whack? It is, and that's hurting women, because mixed-gender and predominantly male events are where the money usually is, says Aldonna Ambler, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and growth strategist in Hammonton, New Jersey. Even if you're not seeking capital, Ambler says these events are prime opportunities to meet strategic alliance partners, customers and others who can help grow your business.
"I grew my businesses through sponsorships, but I never would have had the sponsors if I had worked only with women," says Ambler, who owned six companies before running the Ambler Growth Fund.
What scares women away from mixed-gender events? "In many male-dominated forums, there are a lot of games being played," says Deb Haggerty, a business coach whose Orlando, Florida, company, Positive Connections, helps companies improve internal communications. "Men are very competitive, fighting for power and position. Women build relationships and are less comfortable in that environment."
Even in 2001, business events can still be surprisingly sexist. Haggerty is a member of five different organizations, only two of which are all-women, and she's noticed a definite difference. "I'm taken more seriously more easily in my women's business group than in the chamber of commerce or the convention and visitors bureau," she claims.
Does the thought of being the lone woman in a sea of men intimidate you? Preparation is key to boosting your confidence. Susan RoAne, a San Francisco, California, speaker, networking expert and author of How to Work a Room (Harper Quill), suggests reading conference brochures and getting all the information you can on the sponsors and speakers. For regular networking events, such as chamber meetings, find out as much as you can about the types of members who attend. Finally, read the newspaper and don't skip over the sports page so you're prepared to make small talk.
All the gear you need for success-without a trip to the hardware store
When Aliza Sherman was held up and kidnapped at gunpoint in Manhattan in 1994, the brush with death changed her life. Realizing her job would never give her satisfaction, she decided never to work for someone else again. She took a $10 HTML class and started a successful Internet company-Cybergrrl Inc.-in 1995, before most people even knew the Internet existed.
The founder of Webgrrls International, a global Internet networking group, Sherman is an expert on getting what she wants out of life. In her new book, PowerTools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work (Entrepreneur Press, a sister company of Entrepreneur magazine), she shares the 10 "PowerTools" that worked for her and for other women in business.
While the principles Sherman advocates (take charge of change, never stop learning, overcome crisis, share your stories, use technology, be a mentor, find your life's mission, nurture your network, wield your power, give back) are undoubtedly familiar to most entrepreneurial women, putting them into practice is another story altogether. Sherman includes projects, resource lists and tips to help readers incorporate the PowerTools into daily life. Advice and real-life stories from more than 70 businesswomen illustrate the rewards reaped by doing so.