A Message on International Women's Day

A new report by Queen's University Belfast outlines that despite being responsible for at least a third of business start-ups – many women in the UK find their plans undermined by a lack of self-confidence and negative attitudes from bank managers and suppliers. The report recommends that training programmes should focus on boosting self-confidence, as well as dealing with the practical and emotional considerations of self-employment. 

Patronising advice or true? 

Sadly I feel that it is probably true. When I reflected in early January about what resolutions I might make for 2013 I decided that any volunteering energies that I had outside of my own business I was going to focus into supporting upcoming female entrepreneurs. 

This decision was certainly no act of sudden feminist zeal but instead was a response to a number of factors: 

  • In my own recent experience of entrepreneurship training – often brilliant content from women was presented apologetically in comparison to men. 
  • Likewise on our own Cause4 Entrepreneurship training programme for graduates, females are often less confident that their male counterparts despite comparable or better backgrounds, education and ability. 
  • And finally, in my own experience of setting up a business, it was women (and sometimes even my own mentors) who were often the discouragers. Male colleagues were more likely to say ‘do it – what’s the worst that can happen, if you fail you can just do something else.’ 

All pretty depressing and most definitely a cause for 2013 worth embracing! 

The facts surrounding self-confidence in women are further underpinned by 2012 research from the Future Foundation that outlines that young women and teenage girls are all too often plagued by a lack of ambition and low self-esteem. Only a third of 11-17 year old girls feel confident that they will go on to have success in any chosen career, which according to the report could mean the UK being deprived of 200,000 female business professionals and 42,000 successful female entrepreneurs by 2050[1].

If problems with self-esteem and confidence are at the heart of this – what needs to change?

We live in an unprecedented era where women have the same opportunities in education and work as men. Are we so culturally programmed as women that we have to accept our lot?

Amongst the female entrepreneurs that I come across their advice in terms of ensuring success is no different than for male founders. However, in my experience the points below are pretty essential for women looking to keep the confidence killers at bay:

  • Work outrageously hard – no start up creates momentum for itself – you are everything that happens in your business – create clear goals and keep it moving but do make the goals a little bit realistic, self-induced failure by setting the bar too high is stressful and isn’t worth it. 
  • Be a self-starter – my definition of entrepreneurial is to ‘make things happen’ – this means making sure that things to happen and that there are no excuses, hiding behind failure or comparing yourself to others.
  • Get help – align yourself with good people and great advice. I have a business coach, a personal coach and a mentor and I in turn mentor three other emerging entrepreneurs – overkill perhaps? But all brilliant learning and support.
  •  Know your worth – at least charge enough to feel that you are being paid properly for your services – its too easy to feel not worthy or too embarrassed to charge properly.

The 8 March 2013 is International Women’s Day, celebrating women’s achievement. It even depresses me a bit that we need a separate day to celebrate but perhaps we do. 

If there is a single message that I would like put forward on this day – it surely has to be one about self-esteem – women especially need to just get on and do it, ignoring the naysayers and the confidence killers and remembering ‘to just do it – what’s the worst that can happen, if you fail you can just do something else.’

[1] The Future Foundation, 2012

Michelle Wright trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and played the violin professionally. A chartered marketer, manager and fundraiser, Michelle co-founded award winning third sector organisational development and fundraising enterprise Cause4 in 2009 after leaving the London Symphony Orchestra, where her achievements in private sector fundraising led to her being judged the Best Upcoming Fundraiser at the National Fundraising Awards in 2008. Michelle was the winner of the female entrepreneur category in the Natwest Startup awards 2011 and is a top 10 winner in the Ernst and Young Future 100 awards 2011 for entrepreneurs under 35 that demonstrate innovation in progressing a responsible business venture. Michelle is interim Chair of the national music charity Sound and Music and is a mentor for emerging entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs for the Aspire Foundation and Emerge Venture Labs.

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