It’s no secret that the vast majority of entrepreneurs are men.
Despite sparse data, a recent TechCrunch article estimates that fewer than 1-in-5 business founders in 2014 were women. And while that number is not great, it’s nearly twice the percentage it was in 2009.
Make no mistake. While female business owners are relatively few, they intend to win on their terms.Take, for example, Kimberly Jones, president of Butler/Till a New York-based media and communications company with more than 100 employees. The firm was was founded in 1998 by namesakes Sue Butler and Tracy Till.
Earlier this year, the founding tandem retired from their company, selling their ownership stakes to employees and naming Jones as president. However, they knew they had created a unique workplace and culture that conducted business differently than most companies run by men.
They wanted to ensure continuity during the ownership transition that occurred in January.
“While it was difficult to fill their shoes, they armed me and the rest of our leadership team with the tools to be successful,” said Jones. “Primarily through their own mentorship, as well as encouraging us to talk with other leaders and maintaining open communication with employees, we were really able to understand and address internal concerns resulting in a seamless transition.”
Nearly a year later, the company continues to grow and thrive. Jones attributes that success to the hard work and dedication of her employees as well as the unique DNA embedded within its culture courtesy of its female founders. Jones says she’s convinced that they do several things differently than would a male-dominated culture.
1. More to prove.
While every entrepreneur works hard, Jones says that women have to work harder than men when they’re starting out on their own because they have more to prove to others and themselves.
“There’s a constant self-imposed pressure on us [women] to be recognized for our efforts and taken seriously --not only with clients but with employees as well,” said Jones.
“I know that I want to be perceived as an expert within my field so I’ll go further and push harder to demonstrate that expertise. While I recognize I’m applying that pressure on myself, I believe it drives me to push harder because I have more to prove. I think many female leaders feel that way.”
2. More employee-focused.
Jones says the decision-making model for her leadership team places a higher priority on its employees, rather than the bottom line. She says the female founders taught her that if she takes care of employees, they’ll take care of the customers and the business will take care of itself.
“As a women-owned and employee-owned business, our company wants all of its employees to strike a sustainable work-life balance. To that end, one of the policies we instituted is flex hours. We have a lot of people, both men and women, who work 7 am to 3 pm so they can be home for their kids after school. That's important to all of us.”
Additionally, every month Jones and her leadership team take a random group of employees on a rotating basis out for what they call Family Dinners to build esprit de corps among workers and instill a sense of belonging.
“I think female bosses tend to be more sensitive to the wellbeing of their employees than male-counterparts," said Jones.
"Our company focuses a lot on having a very positive work environment and that absolutely correlates and translates into business success. We were recently recognized by AdAge as one of the best places to work in marketing and media. I don’t think it’s merely coincidence that our high level of employee engagement also correlates to our high levels of client retention, satisfaction and new business.”
3. More empathetic.
The Butler/Till culture not only seems more sensitive toward its employees than a male-run organization, Jones says her company is “intentionally empathetic” towards its customers as well. That has translated into a competitive advantage.
“For the clients, we make a real effort to get to know them as people -- we think of them as friends. We want to make sure that we’re watching out for their personal wellbeing and not just their business. We take the time to write birthday cards, celebrate work anniversaries and remember their children’s names. Those seemingly little things are very important to us and to our customers.”
For Jones and her team it’s not just business, it’s truly personal. When they’re pitching a new client, they spend as much time and energy building personal dossiers of the individuals they’re presenting to as they do understanding the target business.
“Our philosophy is that the more we know about the personal aspects of potential clients, the better we can anticipate how they’re going to react to different strategies, ideas or concepts. I can tell you, there have been times when our personnel research has dramatically shifted our business pitches, resulting in some of our strongest customer relationships to date.”
While some of these insights might seem like puffery that’s more appropriate to a Hallmark card than the entrepreneurial workplace, the truth is they’re actionable hallmarks of a thriving entrepreneurial culture.