The Three Things I Tell Women in My Social Entrepreneurship Class
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The future of American economic growth is in the hands of women, but much of their entrepreneurial potential remains untapped. This is not just my opinion, it’s backed up by a 2014 Kauffman Foundation study,which found that women-owned businesses account for just 16% of employer firms. I fall into that minority, even though I myself have four entrepreneurial ventures under my belt.
Why is women’s potential not being effectively utilized? One reason that I’ve observed is that women often embody and exhibit behaviors and beliefs that can hurt them in the entrepreneurial arena.
As an adjunct professor of a social entrepreneurship course at the University of North Texas, I see this every semester, including the one that just concluded. My students are usually evenly divided by gender, but young women are more likely to exhibit a few problematic behaviors. By identifying a few of these behaviors below, I hope to help women—and men—increase their potential in an increasingly crowded market.
Don’t let perfection be your enemy
My male students are twice as likely to share their early-stage “crazy ideas” with the class for discussion, or with me during the break. Female students, on the other hand, often only want to share ideas that seemed “fully baked” and can be more sensitive to negative feedback. We call this phenomenon in entrepreneurship “falling in love with your idea.” When I have asked female students about this trend, many say stay quiet out of fear of failure or rejection.
Sheryl Sandberg and Brene Brown have done a lot to expose women to the perils of perfectionism. In entrepreneurship, it’s vital to remember that nothing is ever perfect. You start with an idea and over time you refine it as the market shifts and customers react to it. If you are paralyzed by trying to be perfect, you may never get started—or even quit before your idea has been refined enough to succeed.
Ask for help
In my classes, female students rarely ask for help: with an idea, with a letter of reference, with a quiz answer. And after they graduate, few stay in touch. Meanwhile, the male students almost instantly add me to their rolodex of go-to supporters. When I have ask female students about this trend, many note they didn’t want to be an “imposition,” worrying that those they asked for help might say no.