I have spent a considerable amount of time doing “men’s jobs” from being an engineer in manufacturing to being the professor and ultimately the dean of a business school. I’ve retired from academia and recently been working in the entrepreneur and investor space for the last 18 months. I network regularly and spend a lot of time with large groups of entrepreneurs and investors. I’m still surrounded by men most of my life; Men in black suits, young men in jeans with “great ideas” and start-up companies. To be clear, I’ve worked in a similar situation most of my life and I’m used to it and not troubled by this. However, I would really love to see more women taking the leap to financial and professional independence. I doubt that women are less entrepreneurial or have fewer ideas or that they are limited in any way.
What I see is that women are often without support systems to help them accomplish this type of independence. They are rarely encouraged nor do they normally have strong individuals who assure them of the rightness of their ideas or offer support. I speak to women entrepreneurs and work with them. I find them at the fringes of networking events. Standing alone or talking in twos with another woman; I’ll approach them and ask about their ideas and what they hope to accomplish. I give them as much encouragement as I can and offer advice that can point them in the right direction.
I recently read this article: https://thehustle.co/hint-is-100m-business which tells the tale of a woman who is treated very paternally by a Coke executive. She used this treatment to inspire her to continue her quest to challenge the soft drink world. It reminded me of how often in my life I’ve been discouraged by men I reported to or who considered themselves “superior” to me for one reason or another. Here are few examples (there are many more): I was discouraged from going to college by a high school calculus teacher; he felt I was too immature for college. I was discouraged from completing my masters in engineering by a teacher who told me I needed to study harder (I made an A in his class). I was discouraged by a boss who disliked my management style. This because I ate lunch with my employees occasionally but at the end of that year he asked me in astonishment “How did you get all this done?” (Answer: the employees liked me and we worked hard together.) I was discouraged from completing my Doctorate in engineering by the department chair who told me I wasn’t smart enough. As well, by a professor on my committee who tried three times to have my dissertation voided and rejected. (He lost tenure later.) I was told by a boss that it was my fault that I believed a VP of our company that he had a file for me in his room at the hotel where our company meeting was being held and instead of giving me a file he grabbed me and tried to kiss me.
Ladies, ANY of these things could discourage anyone. Somehow, it nearly always made me mad and being mad makes me work hard to prove whomever said such ridiculous things to me that they were wrong…and prove it to myself. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of good to great male colleagues in my life as well. I’m not an angry feminist. I am a feminist though and for good reason.
Don’t think I simply barreled through all these barriers and roadblocks with aplomb. I was often scared and questioned my ability and my intellect. But in the end, I would often ask myself this question: “If I don’t go forward and do this, where WILL I go? Where do I want to end up? Will I still look myself in the mirror and be proud? So, I went forward, in spite of my fears and doubts, and made it happen. I used my anger at the unfairness of these statements to fuel my energy to succeed. In the end, full of fear and frustration and through many, many tearful moments, I persevered.
Don’t let your insecurities be increased by doubt from someone who treats you like a child or questions your abilities or intellect. Perhaps you are so much smarter than the doubters that your idea is not understandable. Your experience is important. Your perspective is important. And your ideas for new companies? Equally important. Great ideas are not often welcomed when they challenge the status quo. It takes a bit of courage and boldness to overcome such doubts. But what will you tell yourself at the end of your life if you never took that leap? Find help and move forward. If I can prove all those naysayers wrong, so can you.