Female led businesses and the role of mentorships

By Zoe Duckworth, Project Assistant, AISE Consulting Group and Founder and CEO, Positive Orange

Starting your own business can feel like a mammoth task, particularly with how uncertain the last few years have been. Despite all of that uncertainty, new MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) are still popping up and being created every single day, and there has never been a better time to start one if the pull of running your own business is calling you!

However, out of the 400 million MSMEs operating in the globally today, only 8-10 million of those are run by women. There are certainly challenges when it comes to beginning a business, but for women, those challenges are particularly prevalent. This is due to a myriad of factors, a lot of which intersect with each other and stem from a variety of different sources. But the good news is that these barriers, despite them feeling huge and plentiful, can be overcome!

A huge element of the challenges women face when starting a business is down to the outdated notions of what a woman “should” be doing. This not only leads to much unsolicited advice from others, but can also cause a huge sense of guilt amongst women that feel they are not adequately attending to the responsibilities that they “should” be.

The balancing of responsibilities is a tricky challenge to overcome, and starting a business alongside starting a family or taking care of your loved ones can at times feel too huge to tackle. Add to that those women who want to start a new career alongside an existing one, and it’s easy to see why overwhelm stops a lot of women starting a MSME.

A lack of opportunities within a traditional workplace can be a great incentive to start a MSME, but can also unfortunately be a massive barrier to gaining funding or financial support to get a business off the ground. A lot of the most popular modes of seeking funding can feel very inaccessible to people unfamiliar with those spaces as many of these modes can feel overwhelming and typically very “male” in practice. Cultural bias against women can lead to many applications for funding unfortunately being denied on those grounds, which can feel both incredibly unfair and insurmountable.

Outdated ideas around women and how they work can lead to massive issues of self confidence. Typically in society, women are taught to be less visible than men, and this leads to so many women growing up feeling shy, nervous, and generally not wanting to be visible. This has such a huge knock-on impact on women looking to make a new and fresh path for themselves, and it is unsurprising to see so many women plagued by fear, people pleasing and impostor syndrome. It leads to many women feeling like they couldn’t possibly make a business work, even when that is very clearly not true!

Whilst a lot of women have unfortunately experienced prejudice and sexism in traditional workplaces, these same outdated ideas do still pop up all too often whilst running your own business. This is where a lot of these challenges come together and intersect, and there is clearly a lot of work to do to make sure that women feel safe, brave and confident in running a business.

 

So if you’re reading this and wondering how to even begin tackling all of these challenges, that’s where mentoring comes in!

 

There are many places online and offline where potential business owners can find a future mentor and use their skills, contacts and experience to aid them on their journey. These opportunities can be either free or paid, and can be extremely beneficial if you are just entering the business world for the first time.

Hiring a mentor is an excellent investment in both your business and yourself, and can give you a fantastic start into the world of business under the guide of someone that has been exactly where you are. There is no better way to both be inspired and stay inspired than building a relationship with someone that has faced the same struggles firsthand. This is especially important for women, seeing as their struggles in accessing the world of business can sometimes be more acute.

Working with a mentor puts you into contact with someone that can give a fresh perspective, much needed in the world of running your own business, which can feel incredibly lonely at times. Just talking to someone about an issue you’re facing in your MSME can help you begin to solve it. There’s a reason why the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” exists!

A mentor is also a great opportunity to introduce some accountability into your life. A good mentor will challenge you to push yourself and to get those business tasks in your life done in a gentle but firm way. This accountability can be absolutely essential when you’re working by yourself and missing the accountability that a traditional boss or manager can give. 

Hiring a mentor is also a great step to take to stave off the loneliness of running a small business. Especially when as women, we are more likely to have those additional challenges, and therefore, any help we can get is essential. It’s vital to remember that you are not alone, and that you have access to a strong support network that is available to help when times get tough.

As a woman, it may feel like you have a lot of challenges to face when starting your own business, but knowing them is half the battle, and with a strong mentor by your side, these are all challenges to take in your stride as a business owner! Be encouraged by the fact that the number of female entrepreneurs is thankfully growing all the time, and add yourself to that list!

 

About Zoe

Zoë runs her business, Positive Orange, helping small business owners banish overwhelm and achieve their income goals by taking care of their admin virtually. She is passionate about supporting female-owned businesses and is working with AISE to provide administrative and project support.

References

A.I.S.E.

AISE provides and contributes to ethical and sustainable solutions to development and health system reforms in low- and middle-income countries. We do this by providing our clients with opportunities to co-create interventions, drawing out evidence-based solutions through evaluations and implementing them in a sustainable manner.