Over the past two decades, women have made remarkable strides in the world of business. According to a report by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), more than 11.6 million firms in the U.S. are owned and run by women, generating about $1.7 trillion in revenue. Also, there has been a considerable increase in the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. However, these statistics only make up part of the story.
The business world has been and is still dominated by men. Women in business environments are limited by social, political, family, and economic challenges – from difficulty in maintaining work/life balance and fear of failure to gender discrimination and lack of investor confidence.
The rest of this article will take a deeper dive into the most common challenges that women in business face. You will learn about how some of the most powerful businesswomen and entrepreneurs have achieved success in the corporate world. And you will also understand how you can face these challenges and rise above them as well.
Fear of Taking Business Risks
In business and entrepreneurship, risk-taking and success go hand in hand. Most successful people in business, including men and women, take calculated risks regularly. This helps them to distinguish themselves from their competitors and better position their business.
However, studies have shown that men are more confident and more likely to take risky actions than women. Unfortunately, this character can also reflect in business and when making key decisions. For example, more than half of the businesses in the UK are run by men, despite the population of women being greater than that of men by 1 million.
Women may also be afraid of potential failure. According to a survey, women don’t apply for jobs because they believe they won’t be hired for the job. In other words, they are afraid of putting themselves in a position to fail. This could also explain why women are less likely to take on competitive and risky tasks than men. Rather than engaging in challenging activities and seeking big opportunities, they prefer to remain holed up in their comfort zones.
Gender bias and discrimination against women can also increase the fear of failure.
Women may be unwilling to take on certain roles because their mistakes and failures would be criticized more and remembered longer than those made by men. This makes them avoid both the role and the potential failure altogether.
Also, women may unintentionally downplay their worth as revealed by a study. Women who eventually find themselves in entrepreneurship, especially young women, often doubt their abilities and set the bar too low for themselves. This can be a real problem for women just starting in business.
The risk may not always involve money. Sometimes, it’s the fear of what family and friends will think, hesitation to quit a job or ask for a salary raise, or lack of confidence in a business idea.
For women who already own their businesses, a 2019 survey found that they may be lacking in optimism and confidence compared to their male counterparts. According to the survey, female entrepreneurs are 21 percent less likely to feel confident about business than men. This lack of optimism in women can affect key business decisions and impact their success.
Limited Access to Capital and Funding
This is one of the most difficult challenges female entrepreneurs and women in business face. For a business to be successful, it requires some form of capital or investment. However, research and studies have shown that women-led businesses are less likely to win funding than businesses owned by men.
An article published by Forbes in 2017 revealed that only 3% of venture capital funds go to female entrepreneurs. While these numbers may be high because of the lack of women in the business world, other studies have continued to show this male domination.
Generally, investors are more inclined to take men more seriously than women.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms that investors and financial institutions prefer business pitches from men. Another reason is that men are judged more on their potential, while women are judged solely on their achievements and performance.
In a Small Business Credit survey report, 22% of women-owned firms, compared to 15% of men-owned firms in the survey admitted to being discouraged and not applying for funding for fear of being turned down. This, in turn, can discourage women from venturing into business or achieving success in the business world.
It has also been observed that women in business are more likely to be denied loans and credit. While some loan applications are eventually processed, they may require certain assurances not required from men. A study released by Biz2Credit revealed that women-owned businesses receive 45 percent less money than male-owned businesses.
As a result of the challenges in securing funding, many female entrepreneurs use their personal finances to fund their businesses rather than business finances. This may be due in large part to the fear of being turned down for capital or investment.
Lack of Mentorship and Support Network
Most business leaders would agree that the lack of mentorship and connections can negatively impact an individual’s professional growth. The business world typically revolves around the saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” From being able to find venture capitalists to getting connected with a good lawyer, having the right connections and support network can help women in business in big ways.
However, because of the few numbers of women in business, the number of women who can mentor upcoming female entrepreneurs and businesswomen is consequently small. As a result, it’s harder for women to learn about proven women-specific success strategies. This can prevent a business from thriving and surviving, especially if it’s still in its early stages.
According to data by NAWBO, more than 48% of female business owners report difficulty in finding advisers and building healthy support networks. Some women may give up the pursuit of a career or business if they’re unable to get the support they need. Even when they’re able to find mentors, some are likely to be more informal relationships.
Not only can mentors and networks provide business supports, but they can also provide emotional support and better access to funding. Being a business leader or entrepreneur means constantly making decisions, so a mentor can serve as a guide for learning about real perspectives and experiences to be able to make profitable decisions and avoid pitfalls.
Sexual harassment against women exists in business and the workplace, as it does in other settings such as academics, politics, and entertainment. It has been happening for decades, and although it has been brought to the mainstream spotlight in recent times, it still exists on a large scale. The consequences of sexual harassment can be very serious.
In the workplace as well as in business, women can lose their jobs or business opportunities for refusing to give in to the sexual demands of a person of higher authority. In industries dominated by men, women face biases, opposition, and oppression. This can be a major challenge for women just entering these fields and industries.
They also experience physical and verbal sexual conduct and get messages and comments related to sexual harassment. According to the Equal Right Advocates, more than 90% of sexually harassed women suffer from depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, and other reactions from the pressure.
In some cases, the sexual advancements and requests for sexual favors of a co-worker or business partner can hinder women from successful advancements in their business or careers. When they don’t leave their jobs or abandon a business, the hostile and intimidating conditions created by sexual harassment can affect them emotionally and make them unable to perform properly.
Additionally, women in leadership positions may face more sexual harassment than employees.
According to a study, women in their thirties who had reached leadership and supervisory positions are exposed to a higher rate of sexual harassment. This is because female business leaders who hold a higher power over the men under them, directly challenge the societally accepted male supremacy.
Female leaders are also seen as incapable of managing high positions and are deemed undeserving of such positions. All these factors make female leaders potential targets of sexual harassment. This highlights the struggle of women in gaining entry into top-level business and management positions.
Apart from the individual being harassed, sexual harassment can also negatively affect those that are not directly involved. Women especially can be discouraged from asking for salary raises, seeking promotion, or even starting a business.
Gender and Social Discrimination
This is another gender-based discrimination that generally affects women in business. Although things have improved over the past decades, a lot of people still believe that men are more capable of handling businesses than women.
Gender discrimination is the main reason why women are taken less seriously by investors and are more likely to be denied loans. Also, mistakes made by women are likely to be judged more harshly than those made by men.
Because society and politics are built on patriarchy, women have to work their way in the business world, going through all sorts of stigma and discrimination. To change the long-held assumptions and stereotypes, women in business have to perform outstandingly and this can be difficult given the working conditions.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 42% of women working in the United States say they have experienced gender discrimination in one form or the other. With only about 22% of men reporting similar experiences, gender discrimination is one of the major challenges for women in business.
Even women who become leaders face the challenge of the general belief that leadership positions are better suited to men. This can cause employees and associates to take them less seriously and be unwilling to surrender to their supervision and leadership. During board meetings, women can find their ideas and input being dismissed.
Female leaders are also more likely to be seen as bossy and aggressive. This is especially true for young women and women of color leading male-dominated teams or more experienced workers. Many would prefer to work under a man rather than with a woman. Such attitudes are very common in industries traditionally dominated by men.
Difficulty in Maintaining Family and Work Balance
Achieving and maintaining a work-life balance can be a challenge for both genders. However, women may find it more difficult due to cultural and social norms. While progress has been made in gender equality and balance in family roles over the past decade, women continue to bear a heavier role, especially women with children.
Even those without children have to juggle between personal life and work. Add in one or two kids, and it becomes a real challenge. From packing school lunches and managing your child’s sick days to attending parent-teacher meetings, it’s often a daunting task.
The difficulty in maintaining work-life balance may also be one of the reasons why some women are less likely to start a business. Managing family responsibilities can often be like managing an organization. In an organization, she is expected to be a leader and show commitment. At home, she is expected to be a wife and a mother. This requires resilience, planning, and the ability to make certain compromises.
For women already in business and entrepreneurship, the demands from family and work commitments can make them abandon either.
Results from a survey made by the Pew Research Center found that women with kids are three times more likely to say that parenthood made it difficult for them to move forward in their careers or businesses.
It is even more difficult for mothers without social support who have to carry the burden all alone. Some women have more flexibility and control over their time and can balance their careers and work with personal life. For others, it can be emotionally fraught and extremely overwhelming.
Now, considering that some women have to bear with lack of mentorship and connections, limited access to funds, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and many other challenges, it becomes even harder to manage the stress.
Lack of Business Education and Training
For any business to continue growing, training and education are very important. However, due to gender discrimination in society, women are starved of access to top information on the business development, financial matters, and daily operations of a business.
Lack of training and difficulty in accessing such information can make it hard to start or grow a business.
Apart from the limited access to training and information, women are not well-represented in policy-making bodies and there is limited access to policymakers. This can make it hard for female-owned businesses to thrive as these policymakers are influenced by male-dominated companies and the focus is largely on their needs.
How Women Can Overcome Their Challenges in Business
Despite the staggering number of challenges women in business face, some have been able to rise above the challenges of gender discrimination, fear of failure, lack of funding, and difficulty in managing work and family responsibilities. They were able to overcome these obstacles with dedication, persistence, and hard work.
Taking cues and inspiration from some of the most successful women in business today, here are some ways to rise above your challenges.
Coping With the Fear of Failure
Ask any successful female leader and they’ll tell you that they have failed at one point or the other before arriving at where they are now. Businesswomen and female entrepreneurs need to understand that failure is part of the journey to success. As a woman in business, you need to put yourself out there.
Failure and mistakes allow you to learn lessons and revise your strategies along the way. Even when you start a business and you fail, it doesn’t always mean you don’t have a chance to reach your goal; it’s just a setback and is part of the process. While it can be a painful experience, it allows you to unlock your potential.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the remarkable women who have gone through significant challenges, including economic hardship, fear of not being good enough, sexual abuse, and several others. She refused to be limited by her challenges and what people said about her. Oprah’s strength and resilience gave birth to the phenomenon she is today.
So, take action and stay confident and rise above your fears and self-doubt. Whether it’s starting a new business, applying for a job, asking for a promotion, or standing up in front of a crowd, never let the fear of failure limit you. Be passionate, believe in your dreams, and don’t be afraid to fail.
If you’re in the middle of a failed plan or business, have strong determination, stay the course, and don’t lose sight of your goal.
Dealing With Lack of Access to Capital and Funding
First, it is important to understand that investors are mostly looking for scalable businesses or businesses with the potential to scale. They are ready to invest large sums of money in a business with the potential to increase revenue without necessarily increasing its costs. So, before pitching to investors, ensure your business model allows you to stay competitive and also supports your growth goals.
Also, you won’t be able to get capital and funding for your business if you don’t have a good business plan. It is also a good idea to have a management team in place. This improves your chances of being taken seriously by potential investors. You should also ensure that your business provides value and is specific and concrete.
If you can’t get funding from venture capitals, apply to loans. And if one isn’t available, look for credit card grants if you have good credit. You may also tap into your personal savings. Ask for help from family and friends, or locate female angel investors.
Microlending is another possibility that offers you the option of a small loan if you can’t get a traditional business loan from the bank. Other options include Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, government grants, female angel investors networks, and Kickstarter campaigns.
Handing Gender Discrimination in Business
When it comes to gender bias and discrimination, the best thing to do as a businesswoman or female entrepreneur is to stay true to yourself and let it strengthen you. While it can be easy to get discouraged, being your authentic self is key to rising above whatever label you’re being given.
Unfair bias and discrimination can be a means to step things up and work harder to achieve your goals. It presents you with an incredible opportunity to make a lasting impact on those around you and for future generations. Instead of pulling back in fear, step forward, and make yourself heard and seen.
Even Oprah Winfrey faced gender discrimination while working at a news station in Baltimore. Oprah requested a pay raise when she found out that she was earning less than her male co-host. However, her boss denied her request citing the differences in the expenses that each person was responsible for, rather than their contributions and achievements.
Oprah wasn’t intimidated by the idea of walking up to her boss. Instead, she stood up for herself. This experience made her leave the organization and begin to plan the next move in her career. Winfrey is now worth $2.6 billion, according to Forbes, and her success is an inspiration and message to all women currently holding their own in the business world.
Coping With Business and Family Responsibilities
It can be exciting when you’re growing and thriving in your career or business, but it can also be difficult to manage the dual responsibilities of a business and your family. To attain a balance between work and family, you need to have a plan and adhere to it.
Your plan should clearly differentiate your work life from your personal life so you can manage the demands in both settings.
If you run your own business, it’s not necessarily supposed to be a one-man show. Put a good team together and make effective use of your staff. Hire quality staff and those that share similar beliefs and style with your business. This will allow for easy delegation of tasks and faster completion of projects.
As a businesswoman or female entrepreneur, you have to work harder and smarter. Use your time effectively for your business and your family. Set achievable day-to-day goals and be ready to make sacrifices to attain a high level of achievement.
You’ll also need to be mentally strong and prioritize your family. Ensuring the happiness of your family benefits you in other areas of your life, including work. However, keep a clear line between work and family. Say no when you really need to. Also, take care of your physical health as it is important if you want to remain productive at work.
Finding Mentors and Support Networks
To advance in your career or business, you need the right mentorship and network of supporters. If you’re a business owner, you can explore supportive networks and communities such as The National Association of Women Business Owners, Ellevate Network, and the International Association of Women.
You may also attend women-oriented networking events such as Bizwomen events, EWomen Network, and WIN Conferences. Ensure you’re involved in these groups and events and be specific about what you need from them. You’ll be able to share and gain valuable insights from members of the group.
Also, build connections with successful women leaders and seasoned professionals who can offer great support and advice. You may also be able to find potential partners and employees in support groups.
The knowledge and industry experience are some of the things you should consider when choosing a network. But finding one isn’t always easy. If you can’t find a mentor or form a relationship in your immediate network, having an external mentor can create a more in-depth relationship and be very rewarding.
In addition to supportive networks and events, consider getting involved in local community events. You may also use professional networking sites to form business relationships and find mentors. LinkedIn is the most popular professional networking site, but there are other great alternatives such as Xing, MeetUp, LunchMeet, and Opportunity.
From being denied investments and loans, difficulty in achieving work-life balance, and having to deal with sexual harassment and gender discrimination to more personal problems like fear of failure and lack of information and training, a woman’s journey to success in the business world is full of obstacles and challenges.
While these challenges can be hard to overcome, the key is to tackle each problem directly and remain focused. Don’t be afraid to fail, but take action and learn from your mistakes along the way. If you’re dealing with limited access to funding, be better prepared before pitching to investors or look for alternative funding options.
Lastly, don’t be fazed by gender discrimination. Step forward and play to your strengths. Have confidence in yourself and follow your dream.
- USA TODAY Classifieds: 5 Unique Challenges Facing Women Entrepreneurs
- The Balance Careers: The Challenges Facing Women Entrepreneurs (and How to Overcome Them)
- Ondeck: Challenges Facing Women-Owned Businesses
- Forbes: 8 Major Challenges Women Face In Business
- Business News Daily: 7 Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face (and How to Overcome Them)
- The Telegraph: The five barriers to women in business