Women running a business face a deeply entrenched history of inequality, which still significantly impacts their ability to access funding, support and community in the same ways that men do. One 2020 Harvard Business Review report found that female founders received only 2.3 percent of venture capital (VC) funding.
With more women embracing entrepreneurship than ever before, progress is being made and an ever-expanding list of communities and networks are cropping up to support female founders. Whether joining a women-only or a mixed-gender business network, the business community needs to ensure all genders are welcomed and respected equally.
Speaking to six female entrepreneurs – all members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) – we asked what was the number one thing they’ve learned from another inspiring woman in business. Here’s what they said.
1. “Stop multitasking, stop comparing and stop being quiet.”
“Stop multitasking. Many people think multitasking is a skill that women are naturally good at. You could continue to do this, but eventually working as an entrepreneur at a million miles an hour will take its toll. You are also running on your adrenals, which will burn out at some stage. Stop multitasking and instead, do one thing. Be more present. Enjoy each activity.
“Stop comparing. When we compare ourselves to other people, whether it is physically or how big one’s business is, it never leaves us with a feeling of being enough. Everyone has success and challenges based on their background and the decisions they’ve made. Be aware that you are on your own journey. Honor that journey and be happy for others more successful than you. Help them celebrate.
“Stop being quiet. Make noise about things that matter to you. When your values are challenged, do something about it. Whether it is the school your kids go to, or your business partner, an employee or a family member. Don’t just shut up. Think about it. Be on your “adult” side and then express your view in a calm and professional way. The other person may or may not get it, but do the part that is within your circle of influence.”
– Shivani Gopal, multi-business Founder, Author, Speaker and Coach
2. “Profit from profit.”
“My big learning from EO Malaysia member Fong Leng Wong that I keep in my mind at all times is this: profit from profit. As business owners, we often have a huge amount of wealth tied up within our businesses, but don’t form the habit of creating other income streams and forms of wealth, such as investments outside our businesses like shares or property.
“As female entrepreneurs, we are independent-minded and innovative, and this advice is critical for securing our future and the future of our families. Author Rachel Rodgers says that when women start businesses, we know that they’re more likely to reinvest their money in their communities, families, homes, education and so on. When women have more money, not only is there gender equality and economic growth, but there’s also stronger and healthier communities for our children and generations to come. This advice inspires me every day.”
– Sarah Bartholomeusz, Principal at You Legal
3. “Find female mentors and community.”
“Without the guidance of other female mentors, Be Fit Food would not be where it is today. My first female mentor was the incredible Janine Allis, Founder of Boost Juice. She provided me with so much advice on business strategy, business channels and HR. The best advice she ever gave me, though, was to join the EO to build my leadership skills and my support network. Through the EO, I have met so many incredible female entrepreneurs, including the former female President in EO, Founder of Cupcake Central and League of Extraordinary Women, Sheryl Thai.
“It has allowed me to share my business journey with other like-minded entrepreneurs and get their experience when I’m seeking solutions in my business. Like most female founders, I have certainly experienced my share of challenges but, with the support of my peers and my incredible husband, I can passionately follow my dreams as I truly believe that Be Fit Food can change the health of Australia by using ‘food as the first medicine’.’’
– Kate Save, Founder of Be Fit Food
4. “It’s OK to take up space.”
“I’m a single mum and started my business at the same time I separated from the father of my three children of 14 years. I knew nothing about running a business and had no management experience. My overwhelming subconscious desire to forget about the reality of my personal life breaking down, combined with my ability to learn very quickly and the need to financially provide for all my kids, helped me to propel my business into what it is today. I have never worked so hard in all my life, but the rewards and personal growth have been worth every bit.
“About a year and a half after starting my business, I joined the EO and was quickly invited onto the board of directors where I sat with a woman who is so unapologetically herself. She is assertive, asks questions and stands up for what she believes in. As women, we are often socialized to ‘shrink ourselves’.’ I have always liked people that go against the grain. The most important lesson I’ve learned from this is that it’s OK to take up space.
“Just as I acknowledge that everyone’s feelings and opinions matter, so do mine. Just as this woman is always respectful of others, she expects the same in return – and rightly so. She listens, but always responds with her own thoughts on things, regardless of whether they match the opinions of others. I have learned that it’s not just OK to take up space, it’s necessary in the path to believing that my voice is valid.”
– Sian Williams, Founder and CEO of Here2Home
5. “Expect the unexpected, and run with it.”
“As a female entrepreneur, I’m constantly made aware that I’m part of a minority, but that’s not always a bad thing. We still have a long way to go, with boardroom representation and gender diversity just being the beginning, but I believe we are moving into a new era. I hope we keep pushing boundaries and moving forward to become a generation of empowered female leaders for the next generation – for our daughters.
“I’ve been involved with the entrepreneurial group Women of the EO Australia & New Zealand for the past two years. Through this network, I’ve met so many inspiring women and learned to be supportive, open, vulnerable and to constantly seek knowledge. I have come to see that female leaders carry so much more in their work, in addition to the many juggling home life and family relations.
“From my mentor, Jane Bianchini, I’ve learnt so many things, both about business and about myself. I’ve learnt how to slice the equity pie for VC investors, and gained so much insight about the still male-dominated tech world from this successful tech business veteran. Male-dominated industries can feel like smoke and mirrors sometimes, so having an experienced female mentor with years, if not decades of knowledge ahead of you is truly vital.”
– Emilya Colliver, Founder and Managing Director of Art Pharmacy and Sugar Glider Digital
6. “Find community, even if it’s not in your industry.”
“As a female business owner in a heavily male-dominated industry with only five percent women, I’ve been surrounded by men for the majority of my career in civil construction and thought I had to ‘go it alone.’ However, since joining the Sydney Chapter of the EO in 2012, I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by inspirational women who have not only had my back, but supported me on the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship and inspired me to be “more”.
“What I’ve learned from other women is that they’re community-oriented, values-based and brilliant at supporting each other in the good times and the bad. And that a network of empowered women is supportive and, in the challenging world of business, necessary. There have been male-only groups for a hundred years, so if a woman-only group or community within a community provides a safe environment to build women up, that is an achievement and a step in the right direction.
“Let’s keep our focus on the end goal, which is to get 50–50 equality in entrepreneurship and pave the way for our children and future generations of leaders. Women need to raise each other up, collaborate and support each other to make a difference. They need to realize that competing isn’t the answer and that we are most successful when surrounded with an army of strong, supportive women.”
— Kim Liddell, Founder and Managing Director of Non Destructive Excavations Australia
As the manager for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) in Adelaide, Karen is committed to supporting and growing the Adelaide chapter of the non-profit, peer-to-peer network of entrepreneurs. With more than 16,500 influential business owners globally, operating in more than 60 countries, EO helps entrepreneurs achieve their full potential through the power of life-enhancing connections, access to some of the world’s greatest business minds, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, a global university, retreats, accountability and shared experiences.