I Think I'll Pass

Do women have a tougher time delegating tasks?
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the October 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A common challenge entrepreneurs face is letting go of tasks as the company grows. Do women business owners have more difficulty with delegating?

"Most entrepreneurs I know feel compelled to try to run every aspect of their businesses," says Rachel Weingarten, the thirtysomething president and co-founder of GTK Marketing Group in New York City, a full-service integrated marketing and promotions agency with nearly $2 million in revenues. "Women in the workplace, especially, hate to be perceived as incompetent or weak and try to overcompensate by doing it all on their own."

Weingarten says that because she's never found an aspect of business that was too menial for her to do, she also has no problem asking staff members to take care of the things she cannot get to. "Since it's something I'm prepared to do, I don't see why someone else shouldn't be."

While working at Leo Schachter & Co., one of the world's largest diamond manufacturers, Weingarten hated being referred to as "the girl" and being ignored by most senior staff unless they wanted cups of coffee. She, on the other hand, tries to be sensitive when delegating. "If we all handle small pieces of a project, it will run more efficiently, and the end result will be more successful."

Discussing delegation with a male business owner recently, Weingarten realized women often nurture when delegating tasks. "A woman tends to praise the importance of a task before assigning it, while a man simply announces 'Here's what I need you to do,'" she explains.

Weingarten feels comfortable breaking down a project for her team to handle, from design work to writing press materials. But delegating doesn't mean distancing. "I will always be hands-on with the creative angles of the project," she says. "I work closely with each project leader to ensure the quality of the work is up to our standards." Delegating doesn't mean minimizing your involvement in the project. Instead, you're freeing yourself to concentrate on the parts of the project you're uniquely qualified to produce.

Delegation has also come relatively easy to Sarah Speare, 47, co-founder, vice president of marketing and president of Chomp, a Lebanon, New Jersey-based manufacturer of pet "candy," with projected revenues for 2004 exceeding $5 million. But Speare admits that her sister, co-founder Lesley Lutyens, 41, was not always as comfortable with delegation. "My sister and I are polar opposites and have handled delegation in different ways," explains Speare. "I'm much more trusting and have had experience managing people, so once I got over the initial stage of identifying what help we needed and got great people on board, it [was] relatively easy for me to delegate."

Lutyens, who is also clerk and vice president of product development, was less trusting at first, mostly because she had fewer positive experiences working with others. "She's a worrier and always preparing for the worst to happen."

Speare admits she and Lutyens tend to "mother" the staff and have been guilty of micromanaging at times. She believes delegating is easier when trust, teamwork and purpose are embedded into your company's corporate culture. "We found the best talent to fill [in the] gaps," says Speare. "Without being able to delegate and trust others to do what they're good at doing, we would be nowhere today."

"It's all about balance," says Weingarten. "Don't delegate something because you don't want to do it, but rather because your time and attention would be best served elsewhere. Don't be hung up on being nice. You pay [employees] to do their jobs and are entitled to ask them to do [the work]."

Aliza Pilar Sherman is an author, freelance writer and speaker specializing in women's issues.

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