By Nyla Khan, Entrepreneur
The need to break the glass ceiling has existed for the past couple of centuries, and women have been fighting long and hard for that big moment. Available statistics suggest that 36% of small businesses worldwide are owned by women. People ask me about what it’s like being a woman in business at my age, and I always have the same answer:
“It’s difficult, there are challenges, but you push through.” My challenges, of course, pale in comparison to the million others who don’t have the environment, access, or support that I have had. However, we often hear the words that it’s difficult, but I think it’s important that we take the time to break it down. I am a highly solution-focused person, for better and for worse, and so, I would like to plug in some guidance to all those navigating similar experiences.
LESSON 1: PROTECTION VERSUS ENCOURAGEMENT
Yes, everyone is familiar with the savior complex, but it gets so much worse in the world of business. I want to say this gets better as you get older, but I have seen it happen to my colleagues with 20 and 30 years of experience as well. The assumption that we, as women in business, are naïve, standing like deer-in-the-headlights, is a real stereotype that we find ourselves fighting against more often than not.
Getting advice from those more experienced than you can be useful; however, it is essential that you question the intention of that advice. Is the intention one of protection, fear of your inability to succeed, or for your safety? Here is what I am going to say: you know your work better than anyone. Trust your own instincts and critical analysis. For instance, when we at Mirai Partners were entering Lagos as a new location for our business, most people gave us incredibly discouraging advice. We thought differently, and here we are, three years later, with state-level contracts and further expansion planned over the next three years.
LESSON 2: BREAKING INTO THE BOYS CLUB
Do I feel entirely comfortable going for a meeting or networking at events after work hours or outside a conference? The real answer is no, but I have done it many times, because when you own your own business, you have to. A 2019 survey revealed that out of 600 female entrepreneurs, nearly 56% had experienced some form of discrimination or harassment in their capacity as business owners. As such, the reason many women do not feel comfortable with gatherings associated with work is that we fear that men in those spaces will behave in a way that we don’t expect or want. However, as someone who’s had her own share of such odd experiences, I do have a set of ground rules to prevent such occurrences in the future, which might help you as well:
– If you are not meeting someone in their office, try and pick a neutral and public place.
– If they make you feel uncomfortable, no business opportunity is worth it.
– Personal questions about your relationship status shouldn’t be asked, so don’t be afraid to not answer.
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