[Tips for Women Entrepreneurs ] “I Can Do That”

I hope to have coffee soon with a friend I’ll call “Margie.” While it won’t be Wizard of Oz dialogue (Cowardly Lion: “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!”), there will some similarities.

And those similarities will have a lesson for entrepreneurs who are female.

For starters, the impact and power and roles models is well understood and well researched. The challenge for many women is to be able to find – or be able to “see” – people like them who have been successful in starting their own business. It’s compounded by the fact that the challenges of child rearing put many women off the main career track to a “mommy track” before their kids are a little older and they can return to their “regular” careers at an older age than their many of their counterparts.

Absent a highly supportive spouse/ partner who picks up the majority of family responsibilities, they may take jobs if they have the choice that give them greater flexibility, or where instead of being in charge they take a lesser, less demanding role. Donald Gibson and Lisa Barron’s research has shown having positive role models is not only important in early career identification and individual skills development, but for an older worker’s satisfaction as well.

The trick, though, is that finding folks “just like them” is harder for would-be entrepreneurs who are female who are  re-entering the full-time paid “career” workforce at 40.

The goal of finding “reflection” is compounded by a tendency for women to have less self-confidence, perhaps less self-esteem, than males. Research with kids has shown a variety of challenges for self-esteem in girls as compared with boys. Boys get more broken bones for example. Why? Because they consistently overestimate their abilities. Girls get fewer broken bones. Why? They underestimate their abilities.

For males, both young and old, role models for entrepreneurs are wide spread, ranging from young (Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) to older (author James Patterson). While the models for women are there (Stephanie DiMarco, founder and CEO of Advent comes to mind), the models are fewer and less prominent. The fact of the matter though is that according a study done last year by the Small Business Administration there is a wave of entrepreneurs who are female  hitting the market who tend to be better educated and older than the typical entrepreneur.

Coaching – work that I do to help people have highly successful outcomes – with someone like Margie involves at least one and / or two different approaches.

  • The Esther Morris model – aka “I Can Do That” from her autobiography – is an approach of reaffirming someone’s skills and abilities in the belief that they can see themselves reflected in the accomplishments of someone else. The Morris story is compelling: first justice of the peace in the United States who was female, and a campaigner for the successful effort to get women the right to vote. The approach is to have people inventory their own skills as it compares to others – male and female – doing work in which they are interested.
  • The second approach to working with someone doing career re-entry is to repurpose recent work – frequently on an unpaid basis – that has been done in one area to a realistic analogue in the for-pay sector. In the case of Margie she has fundraised to the tune of a few million dollars for not-for-profits, and has also founded a not-for-profit: no small feat for a someone who reflexively says “I am not a working mom.” Just as reflexively I will say to Margie, “You are. You just don’t get directly paid for it.” The work is to get someone to see that the unpaid work they’ve done is the same thing – just different setting- to the paid work to which they aspire.

Part of the magic that the Wizard of Oz was his ability to have people to believe in themselves.

For entrepreneurs who are female, the work is to understand that their accomplishments and skills rank and compare well with anyone else in the paid working world.