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BEING A WOMAN AND AN ENTREPRENEUR: WHAT ARE MY BIGGEST CHALLENGES?

To be an entrepreneur is a challenge by itself. And it’s not one of the little ones. Most of the time, for those who watch from outside, it looks like a life filled with freedom. I will not deny that the freedom is present, but for many it also becomes a kind of prison. In working hours. In a vicious cycle of wanting to be there for all customers, all the time. There is no pause to breath. After all, your effort has a direct impact on your results. The market is moving on speedy mode. A miscalculated step can have an irreparable effect at the end of the month. It’s a real roller coaster ride. Which cannot be standed by all minds, hearts and spirits. High and low tides. Being right and wrong. Focus and determination. To fall and to rise. Discipline and productivity. To have insecurities, but still look at yourself in the mirror every morning and say: “you can do it.” Get sick, and still show up for work. Every day is a working day. As a great system, each piece that moves has an impact and has a direct reflex on the other parts that are interconnected. Yes, companies work that way too. They are also part of complex systems. I am well aware of the complexity of everything, but somehow I feel there is a little more structure in a way. The free fall of the roller coaster is a bit smaller. At least in most cases. Yes, there are exceptions and all environments have their challenges, but today I can only speak with authority of my own experience – as an entrepreneur – and a woman.

To be independent
To be creative
To be an artist
A WOMAN
To be young
And to walk around by myself…

In coffee places, restaurants, meeting rooms – tête-à-tête – or some filled with executives. To have talks and negotiate with women and men of all ages. Of all disciplines. Of all positions. With friends and family. To stand with determination, but also to be flexible. Be firm and friendly at the same time. To be strong and sensitive.

There is one question though that comes up frequently:
Have you ever suffered from any prejudice for being a woman entrepreneur?

Yeap, for sure.

Although women have been allowed to work for many decades and the number of women  entrepreneur is growing by the day, it is still a mostly masculine – and sexist – ecosystem. In my opinion the general daily behavior of the market is still outdated. How many times did I not enter spaces or rooms, where all eyes turned to me. Some interested in my appearance, others raise curious eyes with that look: “what is this girl doing here? ” No, this is not an assumption, I have heard this many times from them, after they got to meet me properly. They were all judgments at first glance. Others do not even bother to look – or even say hello in a proper  way – unless someone introduces us – and even so, sometimes I’m not taken serious, until I get to prof how serious I am. I’ve been called to meetings just by my looks. Just for being a woman. Interests that went beyond work. I’ve been rejected for jobs because I’m a woman – “she won’t handle it.” Yes, I was the first choice, but sometimes a difficulty in the project asks for “a male option”. Not necessarily, I say. And in other scenarios, I’ve been the choice, exactly for being a woman, or by my looks as it will “draw some more attention, because of that” or for that classic one “ for people to see that we do put women in projects. “ Yeap, I’ve heard that one too.

Moral harassments are present on a daily basis. And the physical ones too. I’ve never experienced anything on this line – and I’m grateful for that, but I do know women who have been through it more than once. I cannot report for them, but these scenarios do exist – and more often than we can imagine. And I must say that this makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I did accept many jobs in such uneasy scenarios, but I’ve already rejected many as well. And when I am able too, I do bring it up, to position myself, to show that I’m not up to those kind of judgements. And nor are other women. I’ve put myself out there. I had to be strong. And today I also know I’ve put a mask on. For a long time I have had a battle with myself to prove to the market that I am an entrepreneur that goes beyond a beautiful face. I have studied, I have built a business, I argued to show that I could be valued by my brain and not by my body. I wore clothes that covered me. I crossed my arms. I walked discreetly so as not to be so perceived. I was serious and very direct – a little too much sometimes. A constant fight for territory. I was accepted. I gained space, until one day I realized that I was fighting against myself too.  And that was devastating at first. I was denying who I really was, because of a sexist environment. I was afraid of my own appearance. I was afraid the harassment would go beyond the eyes and cheap words I’ve heard. But with that, I also unlearned how to be open to compliments. As if I did not want to be called beautiful – but rather a professional. I did not want them to say my smile was beautiful – but I wanted them to recognize my intelligence. I did not want them to look at me as a woman, but as a professional. The armour started building up successfully, but I was rejecting my own instinct. An effective protection system that got me disconnected from my own essence. At first signs of an interest beyond my brain, I closed myself, and just got away. I might have protected myself from some bad cases, but I’m also sure I’ve turned away interesting people, possibilities and opportunities.

I changed my behavior – and even my personality – because of this environment. At the cost of what? Or whom? The comments continued, the looks too, the prejudice is always there. And me? I denied my true essence. I denied my looks. I was hiding. I was afraid.

What has changed?

I understand that I do not need to fight for territory. That I am who I am. That I do not need – and should not – be ashamed of it. That I can actually use this to my advantage. “Uh, I’m going to gamify that!” – was my conclusion one day – after really working on deconstructing my own belief around it. I said that aloud even, jumping up and down in the living room of my house. (Yes, I have a bouncing inner child, and I’ve locked her up for a long time.) The same adrenaline rushed in my blood. Men use their powers for being men. Why can’t we use ours as women?

The prejudice, discrimination, difficulty in being a woman in this environment really does exist, but I have learned not to blame men for it, or rather not to blame anyone for it – not even myself – but to see things from another perspective and to create a new reality.

Yes I am a woman.
I am Independent
Creative
An Artist
Who looks young,
And I do walk around by myself…

I use my smile to open doors.
I use my charm to break the ice.
My sarcasm to get some smiles going
I use elegance to move around in environments and situations.
My strength to position myself.
I use my patience to observe, to listen, before saying anything.
My intelligence to discuss, negotiate and influence situations in my favor.
I use my sensitivity to feel the situations and to put myself in the best position within that scenario.
Hard and loving words at the same time.
A firm handshake, but a hug that softens any heart.
I raise my head.
I look into their eyes.
I do not change paths (unless I really do feel danger in a situation)

I am learning to walk in a confident way.

I’m going after what I want.
And I make it very clear what that is.

I’ve been studying behaviors. And, even if deep down my heart is pounding faster than normal and the legs are wobbly, I gamify my experiences.

And you know what I learned from this?

That men feel intimidated.
Of us  – strong and determined women.
They really do.
And they run away.

An important side note:

Today I have shared the difficulties, but I do need to leave the note that there are incredible men too, who see beyond the genre. Who respect and value who we are. And I do admire, value and respect them in return. These men also give us strength to keep going, to believe in a better scenario, and to not be afraid to be an entrepreneur – and a woman at the same time.

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