Developing female entrepreneurs by Ann Elliott
Friday Opinion – Propel Newsletter – 8th July 2016
Earlier this week, Elliotts held a lunch for 60 leading women in the leisure and hospitality sector inspired by an article Luke Johnson wrote for the Sunday Times in February. In the article he says: “I believe role models matter most if people are to take a chance and start a business. There are many high-profile men to inspire male entrepreneurs, but too few shining examples for women.”
And he went on to comment: “Understandably, some women do not want to make sacrifices over their children’s upbringing. The huge effort required to develop a business leads to trade-offs in family life – making the journey harder for female entrepreneurs.” Luke kindly accepted our offer to speak and didn’t seem to mind being the only man in the room (he finds that happens quite often). Several themes emerged about female entrepreneurship from his talk and from the lively conversations we had around the tables afterwards.
- Having a great idea is pretty important really. All those times when you think, “I wish I could find/buy/have” but can’t, give rise to potential ideas that could work with time, effort and application. The thought of bringing an idea to fruition gives entrepreneurs their energy, drive, determination and motivation. It inspires their dreams.
- Being single-minded about this is critical. Having an idea and seeing it through from conception to realisation (never mind driving it to success) is not for the faint hearted or for those who give up at the first hurdle. Entrepreneurs don’t let go of their vision or their passion to make things happen. They are focused and determined, working round obstacles, rather than letting them derail the whole shooting match. They don’t let anything get in their way.
- Work-life balance is a concept but not a reality for the successful entrepreneur. It’s not possible to just work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, cook tea every night, put the children to bed, read the paper, watch the television, be in bed by 10pm, get eight hours uninterrupted sleep and achieve success.
- Having a supportive partner (who understands what you are doing and why – and pulls their weight) and getting help in (childcare, shopping, cleaning, ironing, cooking, running errands) were seen as vital. It is impossible to do it all and be the perfect wife, mother and chief executive day in, day out.
- Having a mentor and/or role model is a real help – “probably more so than the money” commented one person. A mentor needs to know and understand the journey of the entrepreneur, help them keep the end goal in mind, provide contacts and be there when the going gets tough.
- Being an entrepreneur is brutal. It’s a life of ups and downs, of success and failure, of constantly learning from both (probably more from the latter than the former). It’s hard, relentless, unforgiving and frustrating. Entrepreneurs need very thick skins.
- Being happy at speaking in public and being able to deliver convincing presentations are both very useful skills for the budding entrepreneur – best learnt at as early an age as possible.
- Having a thick skin is particularly important for women when they do decide to put their head above the parapet – if criticism does come their way then it can be virulent and probably a lot more personal than any criticism levelled at a male equivalent. Clothes, shoes, hair, age, marital, and child status are all seen as appropriate targets.
So why should any woman consider becoming an entrepreneur if it’s so hard, so brutal and so punishing personally? The entrepreneurs amongst us would say it’s because creating something from scratch, being your own master, having freedom, seeing success – beats all the downsides. I, for one, am really determined to try to help as many women as possible become entrepreneurs in this sector. And I have a couple of ideas on how to make this happen – soon.