Being an entrepreneur comes with great rewards, but not without some challenges, too. For women entrepreneurs trying to break into male-dominated industries, those challenges can often feel insurmountable. From facing gender pay gaps to lacking a support network, women have to be both determined and creative when it comes to succeeding in the business world.
But that doesn't stop driven entrepreneurs from excelling. In fact, for many, overcoming these hurdles can light a fire to achieve even more. Incfile chatted with four successful women business owners and founders to shed some light on what it takes for women to break into male-dominated spaces. These tips can be useful for anyone wanting to know how to be a successful woman entrepreneur.
Confidence Is Key in Male-Dominated Industries
Priska Diaz knows a thing or two about confidence. As the founder and CEO of Bittylab and inventor of Bare® Air-free Feeding System, she had to break into the very male-dominated manufacturing industry. She highlighted the importance of confidence for women wanting to start their own business. “Have confidence in what you are doing, and your goals will guide you through success,” she says.
While being confident might be easier said than done, Diaz explains that, for her, it was all about equipping herself with knowledge. After many years of educating herself on everything there was to know about the manufacturing process, she was able to demand better solutions and challenge her male counterparts to think outside of the box. “Confidence is built on education. The more you know, the more confident you are to defy, question and demand,” says Diaz. Knowledge is power, as they say.
Women Entrepreneurs Should Lift Each Other Up
When Kathy Bennett, founder of Bennett Packaging, one of the largest independent packaging companies in North America, first started her company in 1987, the world of women entrepreneurs was incredibly small. However, it’s a much different world today. One of the benefits for women trying to break into male-dominated industries is that there are other women out there to help and offer guidance, just like her. “I find so much joy in being able to share my own highly successful business ventures with other women. It is an honor to be able to give back now,” she says.
By reaching out to other successful women, together you can dismantle some of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and lift each other up. “There are certain struggles that only fellow [women] entrepreneurs will be able to understand. By leaning on each other, we will all rise,” she explains. While the business world may seem competitive, the collective benefit of supporting each other can make a huge difference for the future of women in business. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and in turn, offer help to others.
The World Needs More Women Leaders
Still, even with some progress towards gender equality, the business world needs more women leaders. According to the latest Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey, women are still underrepresented across the corporate ladder, especially at the higher management and leadership levels, where women typically only represent around 25 percent of executive-level managers.
This leaves room for women entrepreneurs to try to take the lead. “Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a team of male professionals, don’t be afraid to innovate and don’t be afraid to lead,” Diaz states encouragingly.
She also believes that there are many benefits for businesses promoting women leaders. “[Women] see the world differently than males and will contribute with 'out-of-the-box' thinking, which could push a company to success,” she explains. Innovation and creativity are driving industries forward, and women have a lot to bring to the table.
Industry Transparency Is Incredibly Important
Unfortunately, we know that women still don’t get paid enough for what they do. A Pew Research Study found that in 2020, women only earned 84 percent of what men earned on average, which means that women would have to work an extra 42 days to earn the same amount as their male counterparts. While this has been a common trend since women entered the paid workforce, there is a growing urge for businesses to close the gender pay gap.
“That is why workplace transparency is so important,” says Laura Roeder, founder and CEO at PaperBell Coaching Software. “You can’t expect your employee to give you their all if you don’t treat everyone equally based on their performance." Industry transparency means that these gender disparities are being highlighted within many businesses and women can demand better.
Kim Marie Branch-Pettid, owner and CEO of LeTip International Company, encourages women entrepreneurs to request transparency. “You will have to be firm with them, but do it in a way that strengthens and teaches them,” she explains. “We need more [women] leaders in every industry. It starts in the business world with your company culture and handbook." It might be a challenge to stand up in male-dominated spaces, but women can spark change and do it in a way that benefits the success of a business.
Onwards and Upwards
While there are many challenges facing women entrepreneurs, these women business owners have some encouraging tips and insights to share. There is so much potential for women to create change, demand to be heard and help lift each other up in the business world. While male-dominated spaces can be intimidating, with confidence, knowledge and support, women can do anything. Applying for grants and fellowships can also help women entrepreneurs launch successful businesses.
Incfile continues to break down barriers and help women entrepreneurs overcome systemic challenges to reach success. Boosting your confidence, supporting other businesswomen and pressuring society to close the gender pay gap are just a few ways to get closer to a better working world.
Jenna Scatena is a writer and content strategist with a love for stories that have never been told before. More than a decade of working with prominent magazines and brands informs her approach to impactful storytelling. Her stories have reached more than 30 million readers, won multiple awards and been anthologized in books. Jenna's work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Marie Claire, The San Francisco, BBC and The Atlantic. She's the founder of the editorial consultancy, Lede Studio.