Several years ago I realised something that completely changed the way I mentally and verbally talk about female entrepreneurship. In our day to day lives, particularly as technology evolves, we are exposed to excessive amounts of information and as such our perceptions, beliefs, emotions and actions are influenced rapidly yet subtly without us even blinking an eyelid!
Have you ever been in a situation where you realised something about the way you think or behave and it was like a wake up moment where you suddenly became aware of that habit or tendency of yours? And, almost in disbelief, you ask yourself “Wow, how did I not even realise that?”.
Well even if you haven’t been in that situation, I have many times. Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it's more comical than anything (especially when its a “Silly Sally” moment - like how at the age of 16, I had an epiphany while eating watermelon with my mother as to why it is called WATERmelon). Okay, maybe my watermelon case scenario isn’t the best example but hopefully you get the principle I’m highlighting - the difference between deep understanding and surface level [often subconscious] awareness.
Before I deviate too much, let’s go back to the start of this conversation where I mentioned the scenario in which I realised something that completely changed the way I perceive female entrepreneurship. A series of micro exposures to information and events resulted in me abruptly asking one day “Why do we emphasise the word ‘female’ in business?”.
The first people I actually asked this question to were male friends of mine which in hindsight was probably not the best idea because there’s, naturally, an absence of inherent emotional attachment to the question versus that of a female. But in any case I asked them and I recall hearing responses to the effect of “well she achieved something great” and “it’s to respect women”.
As I was absorbing these responses I felt my eyebrows start to dance around and my objective logic start to think of counter questions and statements with a genuine intent to understand. One counter statement I recall blurting out was to the effect of “but we don’t do that for men”. So my immediate broad, thought-less perspective subsequent to those statements was that either women are being unfairly glorified and men are victimised or the potential of women is being subtly and condescendingly insulted indirectly through deceptive communication.
What had dawned on me was the blatant, global perceptive consensus surrounding women in business VS men in business, or even more broadly in society. To clarify, I did not think I had made a new discovery on behalf of the human population, I instead developed a focused conscious awareness of the way in which we’ve been societally conditioned subsequent to traditional evolution surrounding ‘norms’ affiliated with gender.
It is such a multifaceted and complex conversation to have and as such I personally don’t believe we can hand pick a few variables and attribute the inconsistency between perceptions of men VS women in business to said few variables. Instead I think our best bet is to create and nurture communication ecosystems that allow us to collaboratively explore the extensive number of influencing factors with consideration to objectivity, subjectivity and possibility. It would be naive of us to think that any one person or segment within society is able to become the sole voice of influence on such a critical conversation that unequivocally has macro effects made up of immeasurable combinations of micro factors.
The future of female entrepreneurship specifically will evolve to emulate an identity very different to that which we currently know. The stigmas and constraints imposed on women will become weaker and less potent and as a global society we will continue to evolve towards a scenario in which the realised and materialised consequences of gender stereotyping will become less severe and will evolve at a rate more relevant to the speed at which the world as we know it evolves.
So what can we do to contribute to the process in which the future of female entrepreneurship is given the opportunity to thrive in the way it is capable of doing so? There’s a lot we can do albeit our individual willingness and ability to do what is possible is going to be contextually relevant. I think a great place for us to start is by acknowledging and considering, but not limited to, the below things in no particular order:
In order to drive positive change it is not a matter of eradicating these influencing factors but rather being mindful of how they influence decisions and behaviours both consciously and subconsciously is a great first step towards being an active contributor to the process in which we identify how we can give the future of female entrepreneurship the life it deserves.
This conversation is not one sided, indisputably this conversation impacts men both positively and negatively too. A gender collective effort is required in order to achieve sustainable, practical and meaningful change and as such no single person should excuse themselves from this conversation.
We should always consider asking ourselves, where appropriate, “how can I equalise my perception here to eliminate unnecessary gender bias?” or “merit should prevail as the determiner”.
Questions like these help us to hold ourselves to account for making deliberate and conscious decisions, in any and every scenario.
Share this with a promising female entrepreneur you know or someone who will appreciate it.
Sally A Illingworth