Vanessa Sturgeon is the president and CEO of TMT development†
A healthy business requires three key ingredients: a deep understanding of its customers and their needs, a versatile team and strong leadership to lead the way.
As our society continues to reflect and shake off the prejudices that have kept certain groups of people in the margins, our definition of strong leadership is changing. The ethos of business is changing as many consumers and leaders invest in a more diverse and equitable society.
Traditionally, masculine traits such as stoicism were once considered the pinnacle of business prowess. However, soft skills such as communication, empathy and emotional intelligence—those that women have a natural inclination toward, but have been written off in the past—are recognized for their value in business.
As a woman navigating a male-dominated field for over 20 years, there is a clear need for more meaningful inclusion and representation.
A growing number of women are opting for entrepreneurship, but it is not an easy road. For those working in areas traditionally (and still are) dominated by men, the typical challenges of entrepreneurship are complicated by obstacles: the conscious and unconscious biases of men based in these sectors, and the lack of access to female mentorship.
While discouraging, it hasn’t stopped women from persevering. Women-owned businesses, and more specifically businesses owned by women of color, are growing, but still facing the most difficulties when it comes to access to capital and peer support. In 2020, women received only 2.3% of venture capital financing.
It is clear that women are driven, ambitious and hungry for a greater share of the market, but investment numbers do not reflect this. Where does this unconscious bias come from and how can it be addressed?
Historically, young girls were taught where they should to be. Barbie was a nurse and a ballerina long before she became an astronaut. It wasn’t until 1988 that Congress passed the Women’s Business Ownership Act, which promoted the development of women entrepreneurs, and only then did we see a change. Fast forward, and there are around 13 million women-owned businesses representing almost half of all companies.
However, government investment is not enough. For the ecosystem to evolve, there needs to be a cultural shift within business.
For me, mentorship and peer support have made all the difference. I belong to an incredible mentorship program for female leaders that goes beyond the superficial connections made through traditional networking platforms. Every year we go into the wilderness (no phones, no distractions) to have a close-knit experience. The value of having a group of trusted confidants is immeasurable. We discuss business ideas, challenges and share lessons learned along the way.
It’s not easy weathering the storm of womanhood in a male-dominated industry, but having other inspiring women to consult with has propelled me forward as a female entrepreneur.
As many women strive to break down barriers in their industry, they may carry and struggle with an internalized sense of impostor syndrome, especially since there are so few female role models to look up to. Access to female role models and mentors is a very valuable resource for aspiring women in business and creates opportunities for established women to mentor others to equalize their respective industries.
The numbers reflect this impact. In a studyit was found that mentees were five times more likely to be promoted than those without a mentor, while mentors were six times more likely to be promoted. another study by social impact organization Moving Ahead found that “87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationship’ and have subsequently developed more self-confidence. For women in male-dominated fields, the importance of trust cannot be overstated.
Of course, developing trust and community support is only half the battle for equal representation in male-dominated fields. The other half of the battle must be led by men in power within their company. Being a strong leader means understanding the specific role you play in the business ecosystem and knowing when it’s time to make room for others to play that role.
For male CEOs looking to do their part to support women in business, there are great resources like iFundWomen and Backstage Capital to make an immediate positive impact on gender equality. For men in general, it can be as simple as recommending a female colleague for a promotion or leadership role, bringing more women and more diverse perspectives into projects and key decision-making, and social customs such as letting women speak in meetings and presentations without interruption. .
More important is thinking about moments of unconscious bias towards women. While these actions may seem small, they can be encouraging and affirming for those female colleagues and challenge every masculine attitude that exists within the corporate culture.
It’s important to all of us – women and men – to consciously acknowledge the lessons and expectations we have been taught about the roles of men and women in business. For men, this means consciously creating space for women to succeed. For women, this means exploring (and overcoming) the self-limiting beliefs we have internalized through cultural messages and experiences.
While we have a lot of work to do to equalize representation in business and in leadership, there are simple, actionable ways to start this meaningful growth. Together, and only together, we can make it happen.