By Valerie Young
I’ve been an entrepreneur on and off for the last 25 years and worked with women entrepreneurs for some 15 years now. So I was not the least bit surprised by the findings of a recent Kauffman Foundation study called “Are Women Entrepreneurs Different From Men?” As is the case with most things human, the study found male and female entrepreneurs to be more alike than different. But there are differences.
Before getting into some of the key differences and the lessons they offer you as you journey on your own entrepreneurial path I need to make one thing clear: Not all women act or think the same and the same is true of men. Whenever you talk about gender differences you are to some extent “genderalizing.” So with your permission, I’ll will use “women” and “men” here as shorthand but know that when it comes to gender, race, age, and the like, there are never absolutes.
The Kauffman study confirmed what I’ve been saying for 15 years. Namely, men feel a lot more family or financial pressure to keep a steady, traditional job. Even though I have plenty of male followers, it’s also no secret that more women read my newsletter, show up at my seminars, and sign on to work or study with me than men.
There are a couple of reasons for this, including the fact that women tend to focus more on meaning than money. Men’s self-esteem is more connected to making money. So it only makes sense that my message of “work at what you love” and The Life First-Work Second Approach to Career Change® is going to resonate more with more women while the “get rich quick” gurus are going to draw more men.
But it’s also more complicated than that.
Even those men who desperately want to follow their own road, to pursue both passion and profit, don’t always get the support they need. Families in specific and society in general are more tolerant of women leaving a well-paid job to pursue a passion. But a man, even one stuck in a truly miserable job situation, is often expected to just “suck it up” for the sake of his family. And that sucks.
Networking and Support
Another no-surprise study finding is that women entrepreneurs tend to value professional and personal networks much more highly then men. You certainly didn’t have to convince the 60+ attendees at last week’s Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, Inc conference in Regina.
I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at what was not only the organization’s annual conference but its 15 year celebration bash as well. It was a time to learn from – and with – each other, to celebrate member milestones, to network, and to inspire one another to grow and prosper both as individuals and collectively as women entrepreneurs.
In addition to proudly touting the organization’s impressive history of supporting women entrepreneurs financially and otherwise, CEO Laura Small was not above a bit of clowning around – nose and all!
The urge to merge with others may also explain another Kauffman study finding. When recruited by a co-founder, nearly twice as many women (56%) than men (31%) were motivated to become an entrepreneur.
I’ve seen women’s hunger for community firsthand in my own business. Last week I once again opened the doors to the Profiting from Your Passion Career Coach Training program. This time around I gave people a choice. Purchase the complete program or get the complete system plus the opportunity to network and get and give support to other aspiring coaches on this same path. Even I was surprised when 7 out of 10 people opted to upgrade to the Coaches Inner Circle.
Granted, we’re talking here about a lifetime membership with numerous ways to connect with me and other coaches in training literally around the world – online, on the phone, and at in-person meet ups. But perhaps the reason why so many women – and indeed men – find the chance to connect, collaborate, and brainstorm with other like-minded souls so important that we’re willing to pay for it is that, as entrepreneurs, we understand there is a return on our investment.
It’s been found, for example, that people who are “lucky” in business tend to put themselves in more social situations. This in turn positions them for fortuitous events and opportunities to enter their lives. People who reach out and connect with others also experience less depression and fewer health problems.
A Matter of Experience
If you read between the lines, there’s another key difference to extract from the Kauffman study – namely, that generally speaking, women view competence differently from men. Females in the study, for example, rated experience as more important than their male counterparts.
I’ve long observed that same phenomenon with my coaching clients and workshop attendees here at Changing Course as well as in my work on the Impostor Syndrome. Men are generally a lot more comfortable with the idea of figuring things out as they go along. They recognize they don’t need to know everything before they can launch their business. Instead, they understand that they can earn while they learn. If things don’t go perfectly the first time (and they never do) they know they can correct course as they go.
Women on the other hand feel like we need to have a fancy degree and years of experience before we dare hang out our shingle or start charging for our services. Those who fall into the expert trap always have one more book to read, one more course to take, one more practice client or volunteer stint before we can “legitimately” call ourselves a an expert. This elusive quest for the end of knowledge, this expectation that one day we will wake up and declare, “Now, I am an expert!” keeps far too many women from ever leaving the gate, never mind getting close to the finish line
In a similar vein, the women business owners in the study were more likely to cite “protecting intellectual property” as a key entrepreneurial challenge. Again, no surprise here. There are men, of course, who like to keep their entrepreneurial cards close to their chest. But as a rule, I find it’s women who are most fearful that someone is going to steal their idea or rip off their digital content without paying for it. Many are so afraid that they never take action. Sadly, it also means their brilliant idea or product will go to the grave with them.
Lessons for the Aspiring Self-Bosser
Whether you are a man or a woman is not what’s important here. What is important is that if you really want to be your own boss, you learn from others’ experience. Here are four things I took away from the “Are Women Entrepreneurs Different From Men?” Kauffman study:
Actively seek out ways to get – and give – support. Start or join a Mastermind group (as I write this I am sitting on the patio outside my room in San Diego on the eve of just such a group). Find a business buddy you can work with. And remember, support goes both ways. Support any men in your life who, like you, want to step away from the demands of the job world and into entrepreneurship.
When you start a business – or you do anything new for that matter – expect to hit some road bumps along the way. But instead of focusing solely on the challenges find ways to celebrate your own milestones both big and small. This year also marks the 15th year for Changing Course. It is amazing to think that I started this business when I was 40 and I am now 55. Time to plan the party!
Stop endlessly tinkering with your website, endlessly editing your book, or waiting until you complete one more course. You already know more than you think you do, so just get on with it and trust that you’ll learn as you go.
Finally, if the female entrepreneurs in this study are any indication, it’s pretty clear that a lot more women would venture into self-employment if they could do it in partnership rather than alone. Hmm, sounds like a great opportunity for someone to start a business partner matching service!
What do you think? Are women entrepreneurs different from men? What lessons do you take away from the Kauffman study findings?