Female Entrepreneurship – Vive la Différence!

by: February 27, 2014
With all the positive and highly successful developments in female entrepreneurship, is the way women do business another case of ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’?
The latest figures show that there are 126 million active female entrepreneurs operating businesses in 67 economies around the globe.  It is estimated that around 90% of these business owners employ at least one person in their enterprise. Therefore, female entrepreneurs are responsible for a considerable number of jobs and a significant contribution to the global economy and wealth creation.

Without doubt many of these female entrepreneurs have had to fight harder battles than their male counterparts to overcome the usual social and cultural stereotypes and prejudices to get their businesses started.  Even now, in many cultures, debates over the “do’s and don’ts” of working mothers are still a minefield – and yet despite all the odds the figures confirm that women entrepreneurs succeed and do it extremely well.

Equality legislation, changes in social attitudes and better business opportunities for women have certainly contributed a far more positive and encouraging backdrop in the UK for female entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, successful women have been building their own enterprises for a great many years and, in the process, proving every male chauvinist wrong.

Elizabeth Arden was already exporting her cosmetics brand internationally before World War I and her Red Door beauty salons flourished in Depression-era America, bringing in $4 million per year at its height.

The indefatigable Coco Chanel, considered one of the ‘100 most influential people in the 20th century’ started life as an impoverished orphan but the fashion, beauty and accessories empire she created is still going from strength-to-strength 40-odd years after her death, with a net worth of $4.5 billion world-wide.
Traditionally, female entrepreneurs tended to thrive in beauty, fashion, clothing, decorative and service enterprises, child or home orientated businesses, as well as entertainment – think of Oprah Winfrey, a billion dollar media ‘super-woman’ and Laura Ashley, who in the 1950s with her husband Bernard founded a textile design company still bearing her name nearly 30 years after her untimely death.

But even that assumption is being turned on its head with more and more women successfully branching out into traditionally male-dominated operations.

India’s bio-tech entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw founded biotech firm Biocon in 1978 when she was 25.  Taiwanese entrepreneur Cher Wang co-founded smartphone giant HTC.  Wu Yajun, a former journalist turned real-estate tycoon, co-founder of Longfor Property, and is now reportedly worth $4.1 billion.  Dawn Gibbins MBE is the British entrepreneur who co-founded Flowcrete,  a commercial and industrial flooring company in the 80’s, overseeing its worldwide growth before its sale in 2008.

Other British female entrepreneurs of note are also an inspiration. The list includes the likes of: 

  • Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho CBE (aka Martha), co-founder of Lastminute.com
  • Deborah Meaden, whose considerable success in leisure and retail sectors led to her starring role in Dragons’ Den
  • Hilary Devey CBE and Kelly Hoppen MBE, also Dragons’ Den stars with phenomenal entrepreneurial achievements in logistics and design respectively
  • Carrie Longton and Justine Roberts of Mumsnet
  • Investment manager Nicola Horlick
  • Travel industry guru Rita Sharma
  • Karren Brady, star of TV show The Apprentice and first lady of British football, and
  • Denise Coates founder and CEO of Bet365.
There are of course many more….
So with all these positive and highly successful developments in female entrepreneurship, is the way women do business another case of ‘men are from Mars and women are from Venus’?
I would suggest that the answer is predominantly ‘yes’ and all of us, regardless of gender, can learn from both the positive and negative aspects of the way in which female entrepreneurs approach work and starting up a business.
  •  Confidence. Many commentators believe that there is a tendency for women to under-estimate their own abilities and be less confident.  This is no bad thing as complacency, in my opinion, is the enemy of success.  Rightly or wrongly, it frequently results in women working harder than their male counterpart, and being even more determined and focused on achievement. Men are sometimes too confident in their abilities and what they perceive to be the ‘right way’ of doing things. Consequently they don’t necessarily take note of and act upon good advice.  And we all know that plenty of men are terribly bad at listening.
  • Reality-Check. In my experience of advising both men and women in starting up a business, the women with whom I’ve worked are exceptionally down-to-earth in their approach. For example they seem to produce more workable, better thought through business plans. Indeed there have been many times, when working with their male counterparts, that I’ve felt the need to nail their feet to the floor of reality!
  • Identity. For a man, his public identity is based upon his career and achievements, so a business failure is seen as a disaster – there’s nothing worse than a deflated, despondent alpha male.Even in the so-called enlightened 21st century, much of society still judges women by their looks or ability to be a mother/home-maker. No one really cares what Barack Obama or David Cameron look like or wear – they just want them to get on and govern the US or UK in the best way possible. But Hillary Clinton’s hair-style, make-up and fashion-sense were analysed ad infinitum, distracting from the serious message of her statements and missions when she was US Secretary of State.However, that flawed undervaluing of women and their acumen means that they tend to be more determined in their business ventures, more rational and less emotionally proud or exposed than men.
So, given just how skilled and successful many female entrepreneurs are, maybe one should paraphrase Prof. Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’ by saying, when it comes to entrepreneurship: ‘Why can’t a man be more like a woman?’

Share this post:

About Author

Paul is Zonata's founder and MD. He has a true passion for business and is massively excited by the opportunities that Zonata provides for its clients and partners. He loves helping owner-managed businesses be exceptionally successful, and enjoys the phenomenal quality of the people who work with him.

Comments are closed here.