How to Succeed in Business (as a Woman), Part 2
The steep increase in women-owned businesses between 1997 and 2014 is indicative of a trend of women circumventing the glass ceiling. Women are leaving male-dominated workplaces and inventing their own way of doing things as women business owners.
After interviewing several women business owners for this series, I was struck by the similarity of their advice and experiences. Many of their practices center around vulnerability, requiring great strength and courage in a workplace setting. I was reminded of Brene Brown’s seminal work on the same topic. Women are poised to reinvent traditional business practices in favor of more authentic ways of interacting in the business world.
One of the key themes I discovered is that women business owners tend to not delineate between their personal and professional selves. To the extent that I could tease it apart, I provided advice on managing the personal side of being a woman business owner in Part One of this series, How to Succeed in Business (as a Woman).
In Part Two, I am covering professional advice for succeeding as a woman in business.
Embrace Emotional Connection
Show up for work as a whole person, open and available to interact with others as a person, as well as a professional. Contrary to popular belief, the authenticity and vulnerability necessary to share your true self is a strength, not a weakness.
“Emotional connection takes extra time to nurture, and women are better at it than men,” explains Danita Delimont, owner of a stock photography business, Danita Delimont Stock Photography. “Men take care of business. They don’t care about personal issues you’re dealing with, like your mom breaking her foot, finding childcare, or even hearing about the trip you just got back from,” she says.
Delimont does it differently. She takes time to connect with her clients, asking how they are doing and reciprocating that openness by sharing information about herself. She attaches photos of her family when she composes client emails. She believes these photos make her more relatable, and they change the tone of her business interactions.
“Anyone can send images and quote prices,” she notes. Taking the time to share a part of yourself fosters a connection between you and your clients and can result in relationships that endure for years. In the end, sharing her humanity has been an asset to her business. Barbara Busetti, a partner in the women-owned Seattle architecture firm Allied8 agrees. “Human relationships drive business,” she says. “You need to embrace that.”
Listen to Everybody
Great ideas are not confined to organizational charts. Make a point of listening to all your staff members, no matter how junior they are. Allow everyone to participate in discussions and brainstorming sessions.
“In so many traditional business meetings, people often think about what they want to say next when someone is talking. They’re preoccupied with saying something better and smarter than the guy who just spoke,” says Delimont. “Instead, use your team as a sounding board and really listen to them and hear what they are saying.”
“At Allied8, everybody has a voice,” she Busetti. “When we talk about ideas, everybody’s ideas matter.” Collaboration is a radical approach to workflow, particularly in the field of architecture. Historically, architectural firms have been dominated by male visionaries who eschew collaboration and pursue their own agenda with singular focus.
Be Generous and Share Knowledge
Share information and empower people to make good decisions, rather than jealously guarding knowledge. When your organization functions as a team, you help your employees mature and grow.
“Share your processes and be transparent,” says Ryan Davis, co-founder and principal of Smarthouse Creative, a publicity firm for independent films, small businesses, and creative projects. “There’s no point in simply appearing to be smart.”
This represents a profound shift in the traditional order of workplaces. Your company is built on people performing jobs, rather than jobs performed by people. This mindset is a great way to increase job satisfaction, loyalty, and a sense of control, purpose and belonging for employees.
“We’re interested in supporting our team,” says Busetti. “We want to help everybody grow the way they want to grow. And we delegate responsibility in ways that align with each person’s goals.”
Support Work-Life Balance and Flexibility
As long as people are getting their work done, allow your staff to work when and where it’s best for them. “We want to give everybody the ability to have a life beyond work,” says Delimont. “People have challenges in their lives, and many of our staff have children. We often use Skype for staff meetings. One employee even moved to Alaska for family reasons.”
“Quality of life is important to us,” says Busetti. Her business partner is a mom and has to leave at 5pm to pick up her kids. “We advocate for sustainable work-life balance, and we support time off.”
“I like to lead by example,” adds Delimont. “I know my staff is getting their work done. When we are respecting and honoring each other, that’s success.”
You spend so much time working that sometimes it can feel like you spend more time with your colleagues than with friends and family. Why not make it fun? “We spend so much time together and we work hard; why not enjoy the ride?” asks Busetti. “Men can take themselves so seriously sometimes,” she says. “We strive to have fun—with our clients, contractors, and staff.”
There are no rules
It’s easy to feel like it’s not okay to embrace more stereotypical “female” roles as women business owners. Real freedom is not being constrained by stereotypes. If you are a whiz at accounting, crunch numbers. If you are a rockstar at event planning, plan events. “Be practical and rational when you approach your work, and don’t worry about what other people think,” says Davis. Knitting as a historically feminine craft is a great analogy. Nowadays you are allowed to knit. But you are not obliged to knit.