Over the last 20 years I have counseled thousands of women business owners. They have faced immense challenges on the climb up the steep mountain of success and have handled each situation with grace, perseverance, and a focus on constantly pivoting their position so they can climb better.
While there are a multitude of barriers women face in the workplace, here are the top five challenges that most women struggle with at some point in their careers. And while many of these obstacles may seem insurmountable, there are plenty of tools and resources available to help overcome the challenges you may face now or in the future.
1. The Funding Challenge
Finding funding as a startup or existing business has been a challenge for decades. In particular, traditional loans or lines of credit require a strong credit history, sufficient collateral, established revenue, and much more. In addition, the traditional angel investing community is not as straightforward as one would imagine. Often entrepreneurs are required to showcase a proven concept before an accredited investor considers any infusion of funds, and statistics have proven time and time again that more funds go to male entrepreneurs.
The good news is there are many more options available to women now than were available 20 years ago, including the opportunity to apply for grants through economic development programs or foundation programs. For example, the Girlboss Foundation awards one grant biannually to female entrepreneurs pursuing creative endeavors. The winner receives project funding of $15,000, in addition to media exposure through the Girlboss community.
Another option is competitive business grants, which target women-owned businesses that are starting exceptional companies. The Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference, targeting women business owners in Utah specifically, is one example of an organization offering a grant competition through their annual one-day educational conference. The conference helps women develop skills, access resources, and build relationships in order to run more scalable and profitable businesses.
More and more investment groups are targeting women’s organizations for fund infusion. One of my favorite women angel investing programs is Pipeline Angels. Their mission is to change the face of angel investing and create capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs, serving as the “friends and family” round for women who may not have support at that critical stage. The key is to always focus on target funding with an emphasis on programs that support women-owned businesses.
2. The Work-Life Balance Challenge
With all three of my sons, I worked from home building my business so that I could spend quality time with them when they were very young. In doing so I turned down many career opportunities because it would have meant spending less time with my children.
This is not uncommon for many women who are entering the career force or managing their business and a family. While some women business owners may have the luxury of working from their homes, this isn’t always the case. We still live in a society where, in most cases, women are expected to both successfully care for their children and manage a career.
One of the best things about being a business owner is that you likely have more control over your schedule than if you were an employee at a large company. Maybe that means starting the work day a little later so that you can drop your children off at school or daycare, or finishing up your emails after you’ve put your children to bed.
Another option is to build a business from home and have a nanny or caregiver watching the children while you work. While it is still hard to manage both, it is not impossible. Having a dedicated office space in your home (where you can close the door) is a huge help when your children are also home.
If you are lucky enough to live in Santa Monica, California, you may consider Big and Tiny, a co-working space that includes on-site child care. Big and Tiny offers all the amenities working moms need, including sound-proof phone booths for when you need to hop on a call, and noise-cancelling headphones for when you need to tune everything out. The children’s program is operated by experienced educators and includes a variety of programs that support science, music, and even yoga.
The important thing is to prioritize what’s important to you—if you feel like a fulfilled and happy wife or mother, that satisfaction will likely translate into your happiness at work.
3. The Confidence Challenge
Women are often struggling with their levels of confidence in themselves. In particular, they scrutinize their worth and constantly question if they know enough on a topic or have enough experience to be considered an expert or a person of authority on a particular subject. In fact, they often face imposter syndrome, the phenomenon where they feel like a fraud when others believe they are successful or an expert, because they doubt their own abilities. This false belief process is often seeded in long-term mind blocks.
While overcoming a lack of confidence is necessary for all women in business, it’s especially important for female business owners. You need to make sure you project confidence to employees, customers, and investors.
Joining a local Toastmasters chapter may be an incredible opportunity to move out of your shyness and into a more comfortable position of speaking authority. This international organization helps members practice public speaking skills, improve one’s communication, and build leadership skills with a very small financial investment.
There are also many non-traditional places that can support women’s confidence such as a Women’s Summer Camp called Camp Yes, a four-day all-inclusive retreat experience designed specifically for women entrepreneurs, leaders, and CEOs that offers an opportunity to relax in a beautiful natural setting and connect with other powerful women who want to change the world without losing their sanity.
4. The Networking Challenge
We have all heard of the boys’ club—the idea that men can work together to support each other in their career paths and open doors where there may otherwise be walls. It’s something that has been a part of the career world for a long time. One of the challenges most women face is not having the equivalent of the boys’ club to lean on and get support.
Today, there are many incredible women’s organizations that empower and engage women with one another. For example, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) has supported more than 10 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. with chapters across the country. They serve as a one-stop resource to propelling women business owners into greater economic, social, and political spheres of influence.
Learning to surround yourself with other powerful women can help you strengthen your own power and leverage it for career success when faced with other dominating personalities.
5. The Respect Challenge
Respect is something that’s earned and, with women in particular, we have to work harder to earn it. I have been in plenty of situations where I was not taken seriously as a business owner or an expert when I was offering guidance on cybersecurity, innovation, or even funding. Men, and even other women, have questioned my knowledge and experience until respect was earned.
One of the best ways to increase respect is to build your portfolio with experience, formal and informal education, and receiving industry-specific awards doesn’t hurt either. For example, the Women in Business program offers various awards annually to exceptional women entrepreneurs including the rising star award, the champion of change award, the startup of the year award, and role model of the year award.
The reality is that being in business as a woman can be a lonely path, so it’s important to align yourself with other like-minded women who can open doors for you, inspire you, build your confidence, and brag about all your amazing efforts in the world. Stay strong. There are plenty of women ready to help.