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.