Here's What's Wrong With Pleas to Buy From Female-Owned Businesses
Five ways to actually help women entrepreneurs.
This International Women’s Day my Twitter feed was filled with diverse voices urging their followers to buy from women-owned businesses in support of female entrepreneurship. Firstly, I’m glad we are no longer questioning why female entrepreneurs need support and focusing on the how.
But that’s where my empathy for these kinds of pleas runs out. As a female entrepreneur with an overly active imagination, I start picturing a new client inquiring about my PR agency services. After the usual process of presenting and discussing an offer, I hear that imaginary client say: “We liked another offer better, but we are going to go with you because you are a girl.” In no imaginary universe do I see this kind of scenario as a win. I want clients to choose my company because they know that the service is great. I want them to feel confident the investment will pay off because the solution I created helps them address their problem. Not because I happen to be a girl.
In this week on social media, I’ve seen all kinds of solutions around this idea — from platforms listing products based on the gender of their founders to credit cards giving cashback for buying from women. I believe that these kinds of promotions are wrong at their core. If you want to help women grow strong, competitive businesses ready to withstand the competition, don’t just blindly promote or buy something you don’t need because it’s women-owned.
Here are a few ideas for you of what you can do instead.
Mentor a woman
Every entrepreneur, regardless of their gender, can benefit from a knowledgeable mentor. But the infamous gender gap makes it more difficult for young girls to even imagine themselves as entrepreneurs. Seeing is believing. A study showed that female students were more likely to choose a career in STEM when assigned a female professor and not a male one. Having a role model can be a deciding factor in other areas too.
I remember as a young professional, I looked up to Kristina Mand-Lakhiani — a co-founder of Mindvalley, where I was working at the time. Today I’m proud to consider Kristina my mentor. But back then we weren’t officially acquainted. Still, just seeing a bright young woman who was just a few years ahead on her journey gave me an image of how my life could look like if I took that leap to entrepreneurship.
If you have time and skills, mentor a woman. Help her see a career or business she can have.
Organize a mastermind
From cultural issues, like gender-role perception, to physical challenges like hormonal health, female entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges in business. Yet, sometimes we think we are the only ones having a particular issue. A warm room of fellow female founders can be just the right space some women need to take the next step forward in their business. I remember sharing an apartment with two fellow girls on a mission in my late 20s. Every night felt like a mini mastermind session, and years after, we are still supporting each other on our different missions.
Bring together even just a few women and work on creating a safe space. It can be a local meetup or a virtual room. What’s important is building trust and creating a space where anyone can ask for collective wisdom to tackle a business challenge.
Go out of your way to give a review or tell your friends
Let’s recognize the difference between the appeals to buy from female-owned businesses because of their founder’s gender and because you genuinely love the solutions they can offer you. If the second scenario is your case, I urge you to take an extra step in spreading awareness and sharing your love for the product. Leaving a review on Google, Yelp, or Amazon and recommending it to your friends and family, or posting about the product or service on social media can go a long way.
4. Give genuine feedback with the intention to help them rise higher
This brings me to my next point. If a product or service has potential but is not quite something you absolutely love and want to share with everyone around, honest constructive feedback is worth a hundred fake reviews. When you choose to close your eyes to some obvious shortcomings, and just spend your money at a company because it’s founded by a woman, you are ripping her of valuable feedback. You are stealing her opportunity to grow and reach the right audience with the right product.
5. Ask them what kind of support they need
More often than not, women have an idea of what kind of help they could use. It might be something from a list above, it might be something unique, something only she knows. Save yourself from guesswork and save her from unwanted help or unsolicited advice. Ask her. Then listen. Often that’s all you’ll need to do to really make a difference for her. Famous psychologist John Grey points out that women tend to process feelings by talking them out loud. And research proves entrepreneurial loneliness is a real thing. Put these two factors together and you’ll see how simply checking in on a woman who is running a business can be the kind of help she's been longing for. Maybe all she needs is someone who’d listen while she rants about complex business decisions. Maybe there is something more tangible you (or someone in your network) can do. An ask goes a long way.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor