Thursday, March 24, 2011

Loooking For a Few Good ... Women!

This year I take encouragement from the fact that there were more women attending SxSW as leaders in the music, gaming and entertainment industry than ever before. I especially enjoyed the reports coming out of the workshop entitled: Breaking the Glass Ceiling -- Fearless Women Entrepreneurs. According to the event coverage from The Guardian, the event outcome hit upon a key principle that we at the SmartGirls' Way hold dear; support from other women is critical to overcoming the first hurdle of entrepreneurship -- the fear of failure.

Another hurdle that women entrepreneurs face is self-confidence in their strengths as women. A tri-University study released last week from Binghamton University, the University of Missouri and the University of Minnesota, attributes gender stereotyping as a primary barrier to women choosing entrepreneurship. The research was done to address a seemingly lack of role models among the pool of existing women entrepreneurs. Specifically, it unveiled a need to change the way entrepreneurship is discussed, portrayed and valued in dialogue with ALL genders.

And here is the Eureka moment for me. For the past few weeks, our founder has been interviewing women all over the country for the 100-100 - A SmartGirls' Way Project highlighting the success and strengths of women entrepreneurs. The issue is NOT that there aren't great role models out there confidently overcoming fears and gender barriers to build successful businesses. The issue is that not enough people know about them as a collective force, dramatically transforming the face of business in our country.

Events like the workshop at SxSW are a GREAT start to engage this collective force of role models. We want to take it to the next level by championing and celebrating the momentum and potential impact that women entrepreneurs bring to our economy.

If you know a woman entrepreneur who would be a great role model, tell us! What do you look for in a role model? What strengths do you most admire in those that have inspired you and ask yourself, what can they teach you about stepping up and launching your own type of entrepreneur?

Friday, February 18, 2011

First, Take a Deep Breath: Four Ways Women Can Build Confidence In and Support for Their Great Ideas

On Sunday, I attended a fabulous small event organized by Libba Pinchot—the heart and soul of The Bainbridge Graduate Institute; where innovation and ethics meet in the original sustainable MBA program.  The event was unique not only because of the range and breadth of experience of the eight amazing women, including author and inspirationist Sally Helegesen, the incredible food and amazing dialogue, but also for Libba’s unique approach to our group’s self-introductions.

She asked us each to name one thing that we were the most proud of recently, and (a key here) to do so without worrying about making each other feel bad. With that one statement she brought to the foreground one of the key differences in perception’s about women and men entrepreneurs.

Girls are taught, even now in this liberated and open world, to be modest about their accomplishments. There are still countless articles and blogs about the pros and cons of bragging for women. The consensus—it’s a risky business even when the bragging rights are well deserved.

I’m not suggesting that humility (or hubris) organize completely along gender lines. In fact I know some women who are all too happy to brag and a lot of men who are too modest to do so. But the fact is there are more men willing to toot their own horns than women.

And when it comes entrepreneurs, this difference represents a critical issue. When women don’t brag and overstate their confidence, they come across as lacking confidence in themselves or their business. SmartGirls’ Way has a copy of a redacted confidential study by the banking industry that shows what seems obvious to some of us—women fail to get loans for businesses that men do get loans for.  The most commonly named reason for rejection (by the loan officers themselves) was the seeming lack of confidence that women have in their business projections.

In other words—we’ve GOT to brag.

So here’s your assignment:

First: Take a deep Breath

Second: Think about the thing you did this week that was creative, courageous and/or wicked smart.

Next: Find someone important to you, your business and your success to brag to—don’t overdo it, just be authentic and appropriately proud.

Finally: Be present with their reaction. Don’t judge or be judged by it. Just note it and note how you feel about it.

If their reaction was a little put-off, know that it wasn’t personal. It’s not about you. It’s about the culture we live in, and the stories of that culture that seek to dictate our behaviors.

Where those dictates are limiting us we can (and should) challenge them.

So go ahead. Be smart and say so. Be good and say so.

And be successful and say so!

Jean Brittingham
Founder, The SmartGirl's Way

Friday, February 11, 2011

Five Reasons Women Choose Entrepreneurship over The Glass Ceiling

Over the past week, several sources on my radar shed light on the ongoing debate behind the corporate glass ceiling. Collectively I believe they punctuate the reasons behind why I – and perhaps 10 Million other women in the US – have chosen to shed corporate confines in favor of the freedoms, risks and rewards of entrepreneurship:

  1. Bias is a natural behavior: Serial CEO Margaret Heffernan explains that corporate leaders act upon their natural biases by choosing others that are “like them” when hiring and promoting leaders.
  2. Gender discrimination is embedded in our cultural perceptions: A recent University of Utah study found that female-led firms with identical personal qualifications and company financials were perceived as less capable than male CEOs in those same roles.
  3. Behaving like men is counter-intuitive to our nature: Patricia Sellers points to the female power conundrum that happens when female CEOs try to behave and lead like men.
  4. To break the glass ceiling, we have to jump off the glass cliff: A study in this month’s Harvard Business Review suggests that women’s perceived leadership attributes are only embraced when a company is in crisis and needs a change of leadership.

While all of this is very interesting it makes you wonder why any woman would want to stay and fight the corporate battle. Perhaps this is why women in the U.S. are starting their own businesses at twice the rate of men. Research on women in development reveals that nearly 75% of women involved in early stage entrepreneurship are already employed. Are many of these new entrepreneurs frustrated ladder climbers?

I’m not suggesting we should abandon our efforts to support women as corporate leaders. After all that same Harvard Business Review article found that the glass cliff isn’t an issue in organizations with a history of female leaders. But it does suggest another reason that women choose a different path:

  • 5. Business is NOT just business anymore. By-and-large women entrepreneurs start businesses that are aligned with both their personal and business values. Riane Eisler suggests in her latest work, The Real Wealth of Nations, that there is a strong movement – a revolution if you will -- to create a genuine caring economy—one based on balance and a respect for the intricate relationships that keep our planet and society healthy.

It is these “caring” skills that the corporate world eschews until there is a crisis. And they are the very skills that The SmartGirls Way most values. It’s about time for women to stop trying to think and behave like men and start embracing our collective women’s wisdom. I’m willing to bet that’s an idea that any enterprising woman – corporate or otherwise -- can get behind.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Who Will Buy Us a Seat At The Table?

Today the seemingly unrelated news of White House Climate Czar, Carol Browner’s departure and the new gender quota at Davos  started me thinking about parity in leadership. One of our primary objectives at The SmartGirls Way is to help women contribute to the new economy by building sustainable businesses. By this we mean a business that a woman can lead with integrity because of its alignment with her values, her community, her life and the planet. 
Two topics that greatly influence the idea of sustainable business are environmental stewardship and collaboration within leadership communities.  Social scientists believe that a tremendous change takes place in group dynamics and output when at least 30 percent that group is comprised of women.  It takes the spotlight away from “what the women in the group had to say” and shines it on the real content of the discussion.
Tuesday’s news that Carol Browner would be leaving the Obama Administration is disappointing because for many of us, the appointment of a female Czar was an opportunity to bring new perspectives and a voice to one of the most important issues facing our government.  So while the politicians debate the impact her leaving has on the President’s commitment to his environmental policy, we’re curious, even concerned, about the impact that the remaining women in Washington can have on the tone and ideals going forward.  Have we lost that tipping point where the feminine view becomes more than just an odd voice in the crowd?
And then there’s Davos. The annual leadership event for the global business elite kicks off today in Switzerland with the theme Shared Norms for the New Reality. Does part of that “new reality” include broader representation of women’s views? A new and highly touted gender quota, is supposed to increase the percentage of female participants at Davos to 20 percent by limiting the number of people that accompany a leader from 5 people to 4, unless the fifth delegate is a woman. Some hailed the gender quota is a clever idea that made a diversified attendee list fashionable; apparently 80% of participating companies will have a woman on their delegation. However, a New York Times report on the excessive costs to participate in Davos pushes the price tag for delegation inclusion to over half-a-million dollars per company. At this price, how many companies will chose cutting their delegation to adding a woman? With such a price tag attached, how serious is the commitment to effectively represent half of the world’s population while setting the global agenda?
At the heart of the debate are the cost and losses associated with leadership that lacks gender parity, and it puts this debate squarely on the table. It’s time we quit nibbling at the edges and seriously consider the value of what is missing. As in all things, what gets measured gets done. Begin accounting for the true cost of not having women at the table and real change will rapidly follow.

Tracey Collins a writer and executive coach, specializing in women’s leadership and change.  Her company, Mirror Group Consulting, delivers content, coaching and change management services to clients in Europe and the US.  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Multi-Tasking and the Motherhood Penalty

by Tracey Collins
For decades women have learned to divide their focus between the twin demands of career and caretaker.  The National Center for Policy Analysis estimates that 70% of today’s home-based businesses are run by women and a recent US Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) report put out the by US Department of Commerce attributes “work-life” balance as a key factor for why women are starting businesses twice as often as men.  That same ESA report noted that female businesses grow at a slower rate than male-run businesses.  Female owners tend to work fewer hours than male business owners.  They obtain less outside financing and may expect less business growth than men.  Maybe that is because one-third of all self-employed women have children under the age of 18.  We spend less time working at our businesses because we have less time to work.

If you are a woman running a business alongside other commitments – family or parental -- chances are you engage in a daily struggle for balance.  Some call this multi-tasking, and after years of struggling to balance the tensional pull between my growing family and growing business, I’ve come to loathe this term.

A study in 2002 by John Arden found that, “multitasking decreases your memory ability.” He also claims that for every new task that you take on “you dilute your investment in each task.”  Dr. David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, claims that multitasking can actually hinder a person’s ability to complete tasks at the optimum level because it adversely affects the brain’s short-term memory and concentration. One 2005 UK study actually found that when it comes to multi-tasking, males were superior in quiet conditions; females were superior during distracting conditions. However that same study also noted that male or female, our IQ drops 10 points when multi-tasking.

Here at the SmartGirls Way we have oft debated the upside and downside of multitasking.  When I am effectively multi-tasking I feel empowered, efficient and capable – delivering a feature article in advance of a deadline, plowing through the laundry and wrapping up a new coaching contract in time to steal some precious moments on the playground with my kids.  But on a bad day multi-tasking just seems to provide me multiple things to feel guilty about.   Even if I have had a good session with a client --it wouldn’t be a surprise to discover I’ve forgotten the parent-teacher conference and misplaced my cell phone in the refrigerator.   These are the days that I contemplate closing up shop because the fear of failure – as both a mother and a consultant – clouds my head with doubt and dread.

And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.  A 2007 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey found that an increased fear of failure among women in particular is why fewer people are now considering setting up a business. Is the underlying problem really a fear of failure or an impossible standard of achievement by which I measure myself?  

Shelley J. Correll at the Clayman Institute at Stanford, calls this the Motherhood Penalty. When it comes to entrepreneurial ventures, men view lower levels of achievement as success, whereas women see it as confirmation that they were not up to the job. Is it the disadvantageous stereotyping of working women that is really the culprit here?   I know what I tell my own clients when they’re feeling overwhelmed and guilty.  
  • First, identify the lesson in each situation. When I’ve consistently dropped the ball on my familial responsibilities I see it as a big sign from the universe that I need to step back and evaluate.  I love the definition of insanity:  doing something the same way every time and expecting a different outcome.  When I start to see a pattern, then I know I’ve got to make a change.  That doesn’t mean I need to stop running my business, but it may mean I need to stop working for a specific client or ask for some help from my husband to get me through a busy time.
  • Second, focus on your strengths.  I am a big fan of life coach Markus Buckingham’s 80/20 rule.  Most of us spend our time focusing on what we perceive as weaknesses when what we really need to do is spend 80 percent of our time focusing on what we do best.  That’s one of the reasons I left my corporate job to start my own business in the first place.  If I’m feeling too stretched and its having a knock-on effect on my family, chances are I’ve fallen prey to something that is keeping me from focusing on what I do well.
  • Third, weave together a support solution.  The evidence on business ownership suggests that people who have family and friends who have started businesses are more likely to do so themselves. I truly believe that there isn’t any problem that I’m facing that some other woman has not also experienced.  In all of the research I did for this essay, one common theme rose above all others: the support system I weave around myself is critical to my success.    This support system allows me to share the burden of child-rearing and entrepreneurialism with my spouse, my childcare provider and my colleagues.  It also allows me to focus my intuition and passion on the business activities that are at once enticing not only for their profitability, but also for their interest and beneficial impact on others.  Finally, this support system allows me to meet and learn from some of the most interesting and dynamic women and men in my field. 

So I'm going to stick with it - at least for today. Maybe my experiences will benefit another woman in my shoes and I’m willing to bet I can learn a lot from some of you.  If you have any suggestions for me I’m all ears.

Tracey Collins is guest-writer for The SmartGirls Way.  She is President and Founder of Mirror Group Consulting; a consultancy focused on content, executive coaching and change management.  

Monday, December 27, 2010

What’s So Great About Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk AND What She’s Missing

by Jean Brittingham

I was very pleased to see Ms. Sandberg, COO of Facebook suggest some solutions for the mistakes that we women make in making our way in the work world. And even more pleased to hear her acknowledge the significant issue of dualism in our society as it relates to the interpretation of strong men and strong women. We (and in most studies and instances this includes women) are not so sure that we like strong, passionate, forceful and successful women as leaders. We’re pretty sure that we do like those traits in men.

This hard truth is a glimpse into a primary and deeply embedded belief in the culture of human society that is at the heart of why the leadership shift that we need must happen through a massive and meaningful women’s entrepreneurial movement. Only in a society where we have changed the culture from the top of our own organizations will the other efforts to gain equal access and opportunity meet success.

And here’s why. Culture is an amazingly strong and unwieldy force. It is largely unnamed and invisible. Asking someone to explain the essence of their organizations’ culture is like asking a fish to explain water. The Denison Culture Survey folks, arguably the holders of the world’s leading database on organizational culture, say that culture is like an iceberg—most of it is hidden and underwater. Further, it is that hidden and unacknowledged part that will wreck your ship.

In his book Ishmael, Daniel Quinn unveils the concept of “mother culture” as a way of helping us understand not only how ubiquitous and unexamined most of our culture is, but more importantly how deeply we respect and obey these unexamined norms. Our culture is who we are and what we will become. It is our protection and nutrition. Our laws and societal norms don’t form our culture—they are built upon our culture.

So where does this strong aversion to women as leaders come from and why does it endure even now when the world has dramatically shifted to one where the very skills unique to the female half of our species are those most needed in leaders today?

At this point I could go into a long discussion and explanation of the role that the rise of the male-dominant monotheistic religion and the concurrent rise of legal property rights has played in creating our current culture. But let’s suffice it to say that these ideas, of right and wrong for women, have been in development for millennia (which is a very long time).

But we can simplify the analysis dramatically if we examine the primary mechanism of culture—the conversation.  The language and stories of society offer us a most interesting window into the issue of strong, competent women as somehow “wrong.” Our feelings about this, individually and collectively, are set from the beginning by the language chosen to support the culture.
              Good girls are Nice.
              Good boys are, well--just good.

And everyone knows, nice is different than good.

Nice is polite, pleasant, kind and respectable and modest.

Good is skilled, superior and respectable.

There you have it.

It can be no surprise then that corporate cultures expect women to be capable and nice and know their place and men to be capable and skilled and get the job done no matter what. After all, nice girls grow up to be women and good boys grow up to be men.

And it’s not very likely that this dominate culture (which prevails in nearly every corporate, government, religious and civil society organization on the planet today), will change no matter how consistent women are in staying at the table, keeping our hand raised and negotiating for better and more equitable compensation.

It will change in two related and meaningful ways:

First, by men and women openly talking and exposing this culture without recrimination or need for apology. 

And second by building new companies with new cultures that work the way women entrepreneurs work. 

Women's success at navigating the waters of the next economy will be the final tipping point for a return to balance between the masculine and feminine in the power structures of our society.

Because as Sheryl says, “if half of our countries and half of our companies were run by women, it will be a better world.” 

It would be good and nice.

Monday, December 20, 2010

If You Want to Design Consumer Shift - Let the Women do It!

by Jean Brittingham

Over the past few years, there has been a ‘quickening’ in the world of women as it relates to the health and future of our planet. This awakening has fuelled the emergence of grassroots communities as well as the significant increase in entrepreneurial activity among women that we at SmartGirls are so very excited about.

It has also created a significant body of research about the traits of successful women in these ventures.   Not surprisingly, they are the traits talked about extensively in sustainability salons, environmental blogs, and policy meetings -- systems awareness and thinking, passion, hopefulness, solutions orientation and a keen understanding of the undeniable power of relationships.

Women, who are known to wield significant influence in consumer decision-making, can become a secret weapon in a shift to sustainable consumption. To be specific, if women are engaged in the design, marketing, advertising and delivery of the shopping experiences of a future based on sustainable, healthy and generative products and services, the shift to sustainable consumption could be accelerated and the long-desired “consumer pull” for sustainability could see daylight.

I would be thrilled to see consumer brands get excited and real about this opportunity and have recommended it to Davos through my involvement with the Consumer Industry Global Agenda Council. Think about the power of a “design for the future” project incentivized with prizes that is particularly focused on engaging women across the planet. I see kiosks in retail outlets, community centers and other places where women naturally gather.

It’s true the current consumption model was built on creating desire and needs that citizen-consumers (mostly women) respond to. It’s also true women care more about the health of families, communities and therefore the planet and are creating a lot of the actual leadership to make this shift happen

Who then better to help design our way to the future we want?