This Is the No. 1 Struggle Holding Women Entrepreneurs Back
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Having owned my current business for more than 10 years — and mentored hundreds of women business owners — I’ve come to realize one of the most common struggles we women entrepreneurs display when it comes to embracing leadership is hesitation. Hesitation to take the leap, hesitation to speak up, hesitation to leave our mark on the world.
I, too, fell into the hesitation trap for so many years by labeling myself as an “accidental entrepreneur.” Whenever I was asked about how I grew my business so quickly I would always give a roundabout answer, mumbling something across the lines of “It just sort of happened.”
What I realized — with the help of a coach — is that I was drastically selling myself short. My journey to becoming an entrepreneur didn’t “just happen.” I made it happen. My own curiosity and drive over the years — from my first side-hobby fashion business, to my handmade stationery wholesale business, to my website design business — were all discarded breadcrumbs leading me to be the successful entrepreneur I am today.
So why is it that for so long I shied away from calling myself an entrepreneur? Perhaps it was because I didn’t have a business degree or a long string of letters after my name marking me as an expert. This entrepreneurial life wasn’t the path I thought I’d be destined for, so why did I think I knew what I was doing? Who was I to grow a business?
Do women have trouble calling themselves experts?
I put my theory to the test, placing a call out to women business owners across the country. Among a series of questions I asked them was, “Do you ever hesitate in self-declaring yourself an ‘expert’ in your industry?” I received hundreds of responses from brilliant women, and the results were alarmingly similar.
Leigh Vickery, founder of Queso Mama, whose products can be found at Costco stores in 13 different states and D.C., said “The idea of calling myself an expert at anything has never crossed my mind! I just texted my sons and asked them what they think I am an expert in. Instantly, they both replied, ‘food.’ So, you know what? I will say this: I am an expert in knowing that one way to find common ground among people is through the making and sharing of good food.”
Hellen Hall, founder of Blender Bombs, launched her business only three years ago and has already landed her product in Whole Foods stores across the country. She replied, “Definitely. It makes me cringe to think of calling myself an expert in anything because there is nothing I’m an ‘expert’ at. I am always learning, no matter what the subject.”
Violette de Ayala, founder of FemCity, a members-only networking organization with local and online gatherings for women launching and growing businesses, said: “Yes! A few years into launching FemCity, a dear friend of mine who is a professional journalist was working on my bio for my website and noted me as a small business expert. When I read her notes, I laughed and said, ‘I am not a small business expert!’ Sometimes we need others to see in ourselves what we doubt.”
De Ayala’s final thought stuck with me, because it reminded me so much of my own experience, “Sometimes we need others to see in ourselves what we doubt.” Just like her, someone else had to point out my strengths as an expert before I could even fathom describing myself as one.
Step forward with confidence
Studies have shown that most women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 100 percent of the qualifications — they feel they need to check all the boxes before they qualify enough to submit their resume. Men, on the other hand, will apply if they meet 60 percent of the qualifications.
Even when they are more than qualified, a vast number of women seem to struggle to deem themselves as experts in their field. Whereas men overestimate their abilities and performance, women underestimate both, even if their performances do not differ in quality.
To the women entrepreneurs reading this right now, the next time you’re uncertain about stepping into leadership I want you to think about the “hesitation” symptom. That’s what is most likely holding you back.
A few things you can proactively do to let go of your hesitation include:
Look at your breadcrumbs: As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I was able to let go of the phrase “accidental entrepreneur” when describing myself by recognizing all the accomplishments I had made and steps I had taken to get me where I am today. Not only did this exercise give me confidence and make me realize I am an expert, but it also made me realize the fact that I own a business is not so accidental.
Work with a business coach: As de Ayala put it, “Sometimes we need others to see in ourselves what we doubt.” Hiring a business coach has done wonders for me in this department. Whenever I hesitate or have an off day, my business coach is there as a support system to make sure I’m strong when I need to be. If you’ve recently started out and cannot afford a business coach, then all you truly need is a good friend who believes in you and can help you see yourself (and your accomplishments) objectively.
Start asking questions: Ask yourself what’s holding you back. Perhaps it's the fear of losing a reliable corporate career or the fear of failing. Once you think you have an idea, ask that question, “Why?” again. Rarely is the first answer the full answer. Dig a little deeper and get to the root cause so you’re aware of your triggers.
Take the leap anyway: Although every woman business owner who answered my query admitted to hesitating, not one of them regretted taking the leap. In fact, they’re proof that with the right grit and perseverance, you too can achieve success.
Now more than ever, this is the time to stand up. To recognize your worth and the gifts that you bring to the table. The world needs more examples of women who are ready to dive in and take charge, and it starts right now with you. Let go of that hesitation, so you can step into your leadership with confidence and make the impact you desire.