By Chris Olsen
In part one of this three-part blog, I address how women entrepreneurs can use fear as a tool to help cultivate confidence. While overcoming fear is an important part of mastering confident communications, female founders are also working to slay a bigger monster—the gender and cultural biases that threaten our livelihood. Fighting for equality is a constant battle. If we want to see changes in our lifetime, we must continue to challenge the status quo. A great place to start is advocating for the rights of at least one woman—you. You’ve got to get comfortable using your voice and claiming the recognition you deserve.
Studies reveal that women across the country feel uncomfortable with self-promotion. It starts at a young age. Girls are conditioned to be “nice” and get good grades. We become accustomed to measuring our worth with high marks in school and an ability to follow the rules. This mindset stays with us as we enter the workforce. But in professional environments, doing what you’re told, keeping your head down, and working hard are not enough. Your work no longer speaks for itself—you have to speak for it.
The bottom line is that a hesitancy to self-promote significantly limits success. It robs women of resources and opportunities. From a funding standpoint, female founders receive less than a quarter of small business bank loans and less than 3 percent of venture capital. And those numbers decrease significantly for women of color. One big reason men receive more funding is because they’re not afraid to ask for it. They have no qualms talking about their track record. They confidently communicate their purpose and impact. Take a page from the playbook of male entrepreneurs and develop these skill sets:
Learn to Embrace Failure
No one likes to fail, but women are more likely than men to internalize feelings about mistakes, setbacks, and failures, and to then get stuck. Men don’t typically let past failures keep them from pursuing future opportunities, but many women do. It’s high time we stop beating ourselves up and spinning our wheels. The most powerful lessons come from failure. So use failure as your motivation to move forward. There’s no shame in changing direction based on new information. Take a step back, ask yourself what you learned, and pinpoint what to do differently next time. Embracing failure as part of the process for growth is how to get comfortable taking bigger risks in the future.
Celebrate Your Strengths
As women, we are often our own worst critics, focusing on weaknesses rather than the best parts of ourselves. This is largely because women believe if we concentrate on our weaknesses, we can change them. But research shows we actually grow faster when we focus on improving our strengths. In chapter five, you collected feedback from others regarding some of the specific strengths you’d bring to a survival situation. The responses you received are invaluable. Not only do they reveal your strengths, they demonstrate how highly others regard you. Refer back to the list if self-doubt creeps in. Better yet, post it on your office wall. Never forget that your talents, gifts and strengths are unique to you. No one else can do what you do the way you do it.
Let Go of Perfect
Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists. For many women, people-pleasing in adolescence manifests as perfectionism in adulthood. We tend to compare ourselves to other women (and men) and worry that we’re not smart enough, not experienced enough, not credentialed enough, not worthy enough—the list goes on. While the struggle to feel like enough is not exclusive to women, men are less likely to get wrapped up in these thoughts. It’s time to let go of perfect and embrace “good enough.” Re-evaluate your standards and relax them. Switch up your vocabulary and replace “should” with “could.” And don’t forget, you’re human.
What new skills will you master to challenge the status quo?
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.