Is it really any tougher for women in business?

I hadn’t really thought much about challenges, issues or problems that might be specific to women setting up in business. I thought we were light years past all that “We’ll need your husband’s signature to guarantee your loan” malarky… yet a recent post on Birds made me ponder that well, maybe there are the odd things that we gels have to take into account and cope with that our male counterparts don’t…

I’ve already added some of my own points over there on a separate post that you can go and have a read of if you fancy, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead I’m just going to select and put my perspective on three of Ola’s 10 things ‘they’ didn’t tell you about being a woman in business…


No: Women aren’t always your best allies.

Maybe partly because I came from a commercial background as opposed to the public sector, I was perhaps more used to the “dog-eat-dog” attitude of some women in business – it isn’t nice (or necessary, in my opinion) but it certainly wasn’t the shock to me that it seems to have been to Ola… I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve come across enough not just single minded but hard bitten ladies from infant school onwards!

I think too nowadays maybe it’s less about long term formal partnerships and instead being on the lookout for and open to strategic and/ or tactical alliances that may be relatively brief yet nevertheless mutually beneficial and provide benefits for customers that would otherwise have been difficult (if not impossible) to achieve.

I think the issue here is more the importance of hanging out with the kind of people, male and female, who share similar values, ethics, interests and ideals.

Sexism isn’t dead!

Well there’s a surprise, yet I don’t believe I’m conscious of any more or less sexism as a female entrepreneur than as a female employee. Prior to the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act virtually all telesales staff in classified advertising were females and virtually all the reps were males. I suspect that the act probably didn’t so much wipe out the practice of sex discrimination so much as nudge it underground and force it to be less blatant.

Many years later when I was seeking to put together a team to carry out telephone marketing research for a client I was determined to be an equal opportunities employer. I recruited five men and five women to work part time. By the end of 2 weeks I’d sacked the guys and the women worked full time. Because they were better at getting that particular job done.

There are pluses and minuses regarding the looks department (none helped by that rather peculiar lady who made a name for herself recently in the UK press purely from having such a high opinion of her own looks…) and yes, I suppose there always will be the odd Neanderthal bloke who’ll behave like a pillock in the presence of a good looking woman. But if we’re going to bleat every time we come up against something that “isn’t fair” maybe we need to learn that’s just part of life…

Trying to be a man doesn’t work

Yes, it’s time to question the (mainly male-designed) business model that’s been followed by and large in the west for so long. But at the same time I believe we need to take care that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the opposite direction.

I am in entire agreement that there’s not only room but a need for both masculine and feminine qualities in business – from both men and women: it’s about balance more than anything else.

In my opinion there are way too many “bleeding hearts” who want to do good yet are hardly making enough money to survive – what good does that do the world? As I understand it, Mother Teresa wasn’t independently wealthy… yet do we really think she hadn’t got herself into a position of power and influence to drum up whatever backing she needed for her projects? And, whether or not you or I am a fan of hers, I wonder how many people were helped by her making the most of herself?

I don’t think there’s a nobility about choosing to be touchy-feely to the detriment of making a profit in business – to me that’s no better than its polar opposite: the old style entrepreneur-turned-corporate who’d use you and fleece you as soon as look at you!

I’ve always found the way around all three of these issues is to provide value that would be hard to match and well nigh impossible to beat! 😉

What are your views?

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8 Responses to “Is it really any tougher for women in business?”

  1. Some fields are tougher for women than others. The advantage we women have as entrepreneurs is that many women would rather do business with us.

    I’ve been aware of gender discrimination since I was a teenager, but my choice has always been to forge ahead and see what I can get away with! I know that there have been times when I have been viewed as a ball-breaker (e.g., in meetings, when I refused to let myself be bulldozed by a dominant man). But I accept that as the “cost of doing business.”

    • Hi Mary

      Your contribution could kick of another whole post… 😉

      Meanwhile, I believe more women could find they achieve a heck of a lot more – in pure satisfaction and fun, let alone favourable results – by believing in themselves and allowing that belief to come through and take a stance that’s more “Actually, s*d whether you like the fact this is coming from a woman – my contribution is at least as important as anybody else’s.”

      More of the old: “Don’t ask for permission. Do it. And, if necessary, apologize afterwards”…

      I didn’t once add 25% plus unexpected perks to my salary by continuing to present the quiet accepting employee face I had been for the previous two years – I got assertive.

      And we definitely to carry that kind of belief combined with bravado over into our own business :-)

  2. When I first arrived in London to start work almost 20 years ago I had quite a strong Suffolk (Lowestoft) accent. I found this an impediment to being taken seriously and battered my own confidence, so I consciously impersonated the posher London types and over time the accent faded away, and through being ‘inauthentic’ I felt much more able to get on in a career.

    Being a bloke, I don’t know if this bears any relation to the way women might sometimes feel in the workplace. I hope that women are now much more likely to be judged on their abilities for the job and the discrimination that was once definitely a huge issue has melted away to some extent, although prejudices undeniably still exist.

    I think that social mobility in general remains an important issue though. What are the opportunities for people from deprived backgrounds to have opportunities in work and business? Isn’t being born into a poor area with failing schools a much greater factor in determining one’s opportunity for success in life than gender? And then of course there are other factors that are never discussed – things like ugly-ism where one’s appearances can have a huge effect on opportunity…

    • Hi John and welcome to the discussion :-)

      You raise some valid points about wider issues, too… Guess it’s time to get off our rear ends, work together and take on the world…

  3. Lynn Tulip says:

    Being a woman in business can be a bonus. I find that being authentic and consistent is the best and just doing what I say I can do when I said I would do it works well too.

  4. I find the best way to be taken seriously in business by both men and women is to be as good at my job as I can be. But it’s not always easy, as you say. You must recall that old saying … “when people praise the sheer skill and dance talent of Fred Astaire, remember that Ginger Rogers did it all, too, in high heels and going backwards.”

    • Yes, I do, Suze.

      I think we women need to set aside the old adage about self praise being no praise and realise that it has nothing to do with justified self confidence and speaking up for our own abilities.

      If we’d just do that a bit more, at least we’d know we’d always have someone in our corner! 😉

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