3 Ways Women Owners of Early-Stage Companies Can Fight Adversity
Male entrepreneurs have an inherent leg up over their female counterparts. This may not come as a shock, but maybe the actual numbers do because they don't represent an equal playing field.
Take startup funding, for instance. Pitchbook revealed that only 11 percent of venture capital firm partners are women. This is a strong reason why runway capital -- a vital resource for any business -- is awarded to male leaders instead of female leaders at an astoundingly disproportionate rate.
Still, there is some good news: In April, the Female Founders Fund -- which includes Melinda Gates, Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Katrina Lake -- did its part to begin to fix that disparity. The collective set up the Female Funders Fund II, a $27 million initiative aimed at investing in early-stage companies led by women.
Lack of funding hamstrings any young company, limiting the level of talent it can target and stunting its ability to scale in a number of areas. And for female entrepreneurs, unfortunately, funding is just one of several uphill battles they face -- along with harassment and issues pertaining to family and childcare flexibility.
These barriers, and many others, can derail women early in their entrepreneurial quest. Luckily, the climate and resources are now finally there for women leaders to persevere and thrive in the face of early obstacles. Here are some tips on how they -- perhaps you -- can thrive:
Don't let the muck keep you down.
Naya Health co-founder and CEO Janica Alvarez had one mission when she was pitching her startup to VCs, according to a Bloomberg report: to raise capital for her young company, which had just patented a smart breast pump. Instead, the (mostly) male group of VCs peppered Alvarez with questions about how new mothers stay in shape and how she expected to balance motherhood and a business. Others were visibly uncomfortable discussing the product or even touching it.
Alvarez's dilemma was one that's not new to women in business. Of course, some struggles are simply a part of entrepreneurship, but there’s no question that women need more grit and determination than most men in order to find success.
Women certainly have the ability to inspire their teams in unique ways, and we are seeing them use that strength to deliver effective and enduring business strategies. But getting there isn't all roses and sunshine. Adversity will hit, and the fate of your company will hinge on your ability to push through it. I myself made it through, mostly with the help of three methods:
1. Free your mind so the rest will follow.
True story: Someone at a VC fundraiser once asked me if I was creating an all-lesbian management team because I was there with two other women leaders. Dumb comments like that one happen, but you can't let them mentally distract you from where you want to go. When people disparage your product, revenue model, strategy or expertise, you need to keep your head above the fray even when it feels like the sky is falling.
Ban.do founder and chief creative officer Jen Gotch regularly shares about her struggles with mental health with her Instagram followers. She's a big believer in the role a full night of sleep plays in her mental recovery. Sleep gives your brain the break it needs to declutter and put all your highs and lows into perspective.
Develop your own routine for keeping your mind fresh. These methods can be anything from meditation to set-aside times each day for a mental recharge. No matter what, it's a habit that can mentally prep you to face whatever challenges get placed at your company's feet.
2. Don't take physical fitness for granted.
During a speech at the 2017 TEDWomen Conference, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki spoke about the transformative effects exercise has on the brain. She explained that even a single workout improves our mood, energy, memory and attention by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
After a workout, the ability to focus lasts for at least two hours. Likewise, a workout can speed up your physical reaction times and cause everyday stumbles, such as spilled coffee or bumped shins, to frustrate you less. Being a black belt in taekwondo, running marathons and weightlifting all provide me with a physical outlet to work out my frustrations and start emotionally fresh.
Body and mind work as one, so don't let your fitness routine fall by the wayside in the pursuit of entrepreneurial glory. Carve time out each day to get a physical workout to maintain mental fluidity.
3. Lean on others when that's needed.
Having a strong network of men and women leaders who've paved the path before you is paramount. They can tell you when you are on track; when you are off track; and when you need to pivot, tilt or speed up.
If you have to face additional challenges compared to male entrepreneurs, you need additional practical resources. While male entrepreneurial success stories are all over pop culture, we women have to look a little harder for triumphs by our gender in business. Hearing other women tell their stories will encourage you.
If you’re having trouble finding great mentors, find an entrepreneur networking group for women, such as Women Who Tech. Networking groups offer workshops, free events and resources.
And when all else fails, take a girls’ night out with friends: Drink a bottle of wine, cry a little, laugh a lot and be surrounded by unconditional love. Even if your friends don’t know a thing about software or coding, the power to refresh your emotional health should never be taken for granted.
If you care about your business, don’t let negativity hold you back. These tips have helped me stay sane and determined throughout the challenges I've faced. To overcome the odds, find what it is about you that's empowering and apply it to your business.