On the day that the Spice Girls announced another reunion and their latest tour, it seemed like a good time for me to talk about some of my "Girl Power"-related discoveries from the 2018 Women in Leadership Conference, held at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, last Friday (2nd November).
My main aims for the day were to meet some fellow businesswomen, share stories about setting up a business here in the Netherlands, and network with women working in a variety of sectors. But the conference turned out to be much more motivational than I anticipated. Even the first speaker, David Golden (Senior Vice President of Eastman) noted that he could feel a room full of "positive energy", surrounded, as he was, by 250 passionate, high-energy businesswomen. As a solo entrepreneur, who usually enjoys her own company in a small home office in the Dutch countryside, this was an opportunity to feel like I had a whole room of strong women cheering me on.
Some of the big questions of the day were:
How do we bridge the entrepreneurship gap between men and women?
How can women build their profile in a male-dominated environment?
How can a woman get her voice heard in a boardroom full of men?
What is a woman's capacity for impact in business?
Although not all of these questions are directly relevant to me, here in my one-woman company where I am simultaneously CEO and employee, the following gave me some real food for thought, and helped me to see the role which we female small business owners can play in the much larger business world out there:
Gender imbalance has been inherited. We can look back on the problems of the past, but it is more beneficial to look ahead at how we can change the future and build towards making the business world more balanced for men and women.
To do this, men need to be helped out of their "goldfish bowl": they cannot possibly know what life in the business world (or world in general) is like for a woman. Showing men the disparity which exists is the first step, and it was nice to see a small number of men attending the conference to gain an insight into our situation.
It is important for women to know their worth: be clear about what you are going to do and what you are not going to do. If you know your boundaries and make them clear, it will be more difficult for people to expect you to overstep them.
Investors tend to ask promotion questions from male-led companies and prevention questions from female-led companies. In other words, they want to ask men about the benefits of a business and the opportunities for growth, whereas they would prefer to discuss risks and losses with women. This gender bias is true for both male and female investors. The solution? Learn the power of your words, and how a few subtle changes to your pitch or general conversation habits can turn a conversation from prevention to promotion.
"Women should acknowledge their individual accomplishments." - My Quote of the Day, from Janet F. Clark, quoted by Joan Eishen, a speaker at the conference. Too often we are humble when talking about our achievements, and hearing this quotation made me and the other attendees all too aware of our tendency to do this. In the networking drinks session after our talk from Eishen, I was praised by a fellow businesswoman for my progress with Kate's Tutor Room so far. My response: "Yeah, it's doing quite well." She stopped me right there. "You should stop downplaying your company's success," she said, "and acknowledge your individual accomplishments." That was me told.
If at least 23% of a leadership team is female, companies start to see an improvement in their figures. More diverse teams are more innovative, and can lower costs as they bring about greater operational excellence. Women have different types of networks to men, characterised as "broad and deep...solid and meaningful." Who doesn't want those adjectives in their business?
Women tend to stick to the things which they are good at, which prevents them from stretching themselves and perhaps reaching their full potential. This struck a chord with me, as I realise that it can be all too easy to stay within one's comfort zone. After finishing my tutoring job in July, I could have moved on to another, similar, position. Instead, starting up a company was a step waaayyy out of my comfort zone, but it has led to a much richer life of challenges, reinvention and new discoveries about myself. I hope that, as I head into my 30s in the coming years, I can maintain my desire to stretch myself further both professionally and personality, as it really can reap great rewards.
I didn't expect to come away with quite so many meaningful points which I can utilise in my everyday working life. After all, I am not a manager of a team of people, nor a corporate worker in a traditional business setting. However, as I navigate this new world of mine, where the only person in the driving seat is me, myself and I, I feel inspired to think more clearly about the image which I portray as a woman in business, and how I can change my mindset to celebrate my individual accomplishments, rather than always expecting more.
I went to Rotterdam full of expectations and wondering how I could make a difference as a female small business owner, but I left swelling with pride about the things I have already done in the two months since I started my company, and ready to look ahead to a changing business environment where girls really can run the world.
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