Women in business – getting a foothold

When a woman is first setting out to make a name for herself in business, she’ll be faced with a steep uphill climb. Research has told us that this is tougher for women to achieve, partly due to issues with how society is structured, partly because it’s harder for them to win the confidence of others and partly because they’re more likely to lack confidence in themselves. This doesn’t mean that women can’t succeed. It does mean that they need to be smarter if they want to make sure of that success.

Be clear on your goals

Every successful career begins with a plan. It will need to be flexible and something that you’ll keep going back to review, but it will help you to be clear about your aims and the progress you’re making towards them. Approach it in stages by working out where you want to be in one year’s time, five and ten, then work backwards to define the smaller steps that will get you there. This is equally important whether you’re an entrepreneur or trying to make progress within an established corporate environment.

Make the right connections

If there’s one thing that’s worth more than money in business, it’s your connections. Securing the position that will help you to make progress in business is all about linking up with the right people, and you can approach this in your social life just as you can through formal business events. A good way to start is to identify the key contacts who would be most useful to you and then work out who they know that could help you if you were introduced to them. You might aim to get to know leading industry figures, politicians sympathetic to your type of business venture or influential individuals like Lady Barbara Judge, who is well known for supporting women who are trying to get ahead in business.

Be smart about funding

Studies have shown that, dollar for dollar, companies with wholly or predominantly female leadership generate more revenue than those led by men, but despite this, women still find it harder to source funding. What can you do about this? One approach is to seek out those lenders who have recognised this problem and offer loans specifically targeted at women, whom they tend to regard as less likely to default anyway.

Balance your responsibilities

Because women still do the lion’s share of the work when it comes to caring for children and elderly or disabled family members, it can be difficult to approach business successfully in the same way that most men can. Many women choose to get around this by working from home, but there may be other options that can help you to find the balance you’re looking for. If you don’t have a partner who is able to step in, you could pay somebody to help with care or find other local entrepreneurs with whom you can make shared arrangements, such as setting up a crèche or arranging to help one another out at short notice so that it’s easier to go to meetings. Most major conferences now offer childcare as part of the package.

Be professional

When you have to deal with the unfairness of these additional barriers, it’s all too easy to lose your patience with people who don’t take them seriously. Maintaining control in this situation is essential to win respect, however, and it can help to give you the steel you need to rise to the very top. Women are judged on their appearance more than men so it’s essential that you present yourself well, but don’t be afraid to add individual touches to your look and be confident about your style. Likewise, don’t be shy about asserting your opinions. These things will help to ensure that people remember you.

Be brave

If there’s one disadvantage women have in business that goes beyond externally imposed barriers, it’s lack of confidence. Research shows that they’re far more likely than men to second guess themselves and to under-invest in their potential. They’re also, as a rule, less comfortable with talking up their own skills and achievements, which can lead investors and potential business partners to think that men are a better bet even when those men haven’t achieved at the same level. It’s important to believe in yourself and trust your own judgement. Be realistic about what you’ve achieved so far and what you can achieve, in a positive way. When other people see that you’re confident they’ll be much more willing to grant you their time and attention.

Carving out a niche in business always takes courage but with each step you’ll find the going easier. It’s worth remembering that once women get past the early hurdles in business, their projects are significantly more likely to last.

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