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Cultivating female leaders begins at childhood – what we can do better

Every parent has a different style and theory as to raising their children, but girls are often raised to be independent, but that’s not exactly training for leadership. Here are some things we can do better as parents.

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Female leadership

Although the number of female leaders in the business world is dramatically higher than just forty short years ago, the C suite is still male dominated. There are two schools of thought on female leadership- (1) the business world is against women and we need to speak up to change this or it never will change or (2) women must fight for their position just like any other employee.

I’m a member of the second camp and I am personally annoyed when someone complains “there are not enough women speakers on that panel,” yet when you look at the applicants for the panel, there were no women who raised their hands. When people say “men are holding us down,” I think back to one of my first jobs out of college as the Marketing Director at a commercial real estate group, overseeing an entire division and being the only female at executive meetings – I didn’t feel held down and I didn’t get the job because of gender equality but because I was the most qualified candidate.

In conversation, some find my position to be callous, but I argue that it was ingrained in me at a very early age that I was fully equipped to be a leader and it never occurred to me when I entered the business world that I was at a disadvantage. This naivete has benefited me in amazing ways- I didn’t know I was supposed to be “held down” or that the glass ceiling applied to me, so I didn’t let it. My personality has come into question before as overly ambitious, competitive and enthusiastic, and some have claimed those are not very feminine traits. But who says this of me? Mostly women. What a shame that women have found me not to be womanly enough, a position that implies the glass ceiling applies to me- these are the same women that complain that a speaker panel doesn’t have women on it. So very hypocritical.

Ignoring the glass ceiling

Why did I have this inherent refusal to acknowledge the glass ceiling? I trace it back to my upbringing. My grandmother taught me to read before I ever started kindergarten and out of boredom the summer prior to kindergarten, I read the entire Nancy Drew series not because I was told to but because I had this new tool called reading and the only books in my grandparent’s house that looked interesting was that colorful set, so I got started. No one knew I read the series, I did it for me. When I started kindergarten, I was very frustrated that everyone was learning the alphabet and it was everything I could do just to sit still. Tradition was to stay on track with the public school system, but my family didn’t believe in the conventional thinking and allowed me to move forward at my own pace on my personal time.

My grandmother was also the den leader of the local Girl Scouts, Brownies and Blue Bird organization over the years, and when my time came to join, I was ready. I learned crafts, outdoor skills and how to work in a team as well as lead a team. The mission of the Girl Scouts is that the program “builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” While there are a lot more organizations available today to girls, especially those that encourage girls to be interested in STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) careers, in the 80s, the Girl Scouts was the best/only program available in the small town I lived in.

I hated selling cookies as a Blue Bird, and although I was nowhere near shy with strangers, I felt like I was imposing. Why did I feel like that? My dad getting angry at telemarketers calling during dinner- I equated the two and knew inherently it was annoying. I was taught “sales skills” through the program, but I didn’t learn how to negotiate (there was no “buy a full case today and get 10% off”), how to read buyer signs or buyer psychology, rather we had a script to read from and it ended in a yes or no proposition. My grandmother passed away after a year of my being in the program, and I quit. I didn’t quit because our den leader was gone, but because the selling process was boring to me and I had better things to do with my time.

I learned early on how to prioritize my skills and decide what my passion was. I hated sales, so I stuck with writing and was a published poet by second grade (after skipping first grade), which has come in quite handy in my career. Most children don’t know what their passion is, and there is no one around to inspire them. I happened to come from a family of creatives, but engineers don’t think their job is interesting to a child, so they don’t share what they do with their children. Single parents don’t have time to sit down every day with their child and ask about their dreams and then actually go through with shaping them, that’s left to the public school system which barely scrapes by with education since they’re required to focus children on short term memorization for standardized testing.

What we can do better – three things

The three things we can do as a culture to cultivate leadership in women are as follows:

  1. Teach girls how to read earlier than public schools require. Let them enter imaginary worlds and learn about environments other than the one they already know. Reading is critical to the expansion of the mind. Even though I grew up in a small town, I was very well educated about the world by the time I entered it. Reading helps girls to be creative which is a key component to developing leadership skills and helps with problem solving.
  2. Help girls identify interests early and help them develop them into passions. I hated sales, but I was asked what I don’t hate and that was writing, so I pushed forward with what became my passion. Don’t force girls to stay in a program they don’t like, even if it helps them develop other skills. Skills and passion aren’t the same thing, and sometimes parents and teachers tell kids, “don’t doodle” and stifle their creativity and teach them to ignore their own passions which can limit their ability to lead later on in life.
  3. We must teach our daughters that the glass ceiling doesn’t apply to them and that they can lead no matter what society says. This allows girls to become entrepreneurs if they end up in a field that is not female friendly, or helps them to have the confidence to sit in an executive board room without feeling self conscious. Telling girls that they have to fight to get to the top gives them an inherent sense of self consciousness as if they don’t deserve a leadership role when they actually earn one. Teach girls to work hard and bust their butts on anything they pursue.

There are many more things we can do as Americans without having to reform the school system, an impossible undertaking. Business leaders are great independent of their gender, ethnicity, age or religion, and some day, our culture will not teach girls that from day one they are at a disadvantage because that is one of the biggest things holding so many women back.

Business Entrepreneur

If you’re easily distracted, you’re more likely to thrive as an entrepreneur

(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work- well bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.

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When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.

Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.

According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.

For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.

Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.

“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.

Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.

Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.

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Business Entrepreneur

How can a small business beat a large competitor moving in next door?

(BUSINESS) How do you stand out when a big competitor moves to your neighborhood? Reddit has a few suggestions – some obvious, some not so much.

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Small businesses, especially restaurants have been hit hard by lockdowns. Many closed for good this year, and those that are still hanging on are in a precarious position as their local economies shift.

Last week, a user on r/smallbusiness asked a timeless question that is especially relevant right now. Reddit user longbottomjr writes: “We have a strong competitor moving in next door in a few months. Our restaurant is one that pays the bills but […] I feel that if this new competitor takes up enough market share we will lose our restaurant. Can anyone chime in with resources/ideas I can use to help put together our plan of action?”

Comments quickly pointed out what common sense would dictate.

First, ensure the basics are covered. Being clean, quick, friendly, and high quality will take you far, no matter what competition you’re up against. And as u/horsemullet said, “Customer service also happens before someone walks through the door!” So make sure that your online hours, contact info, menus and social media accounts are up to date and accurate.

Another point emerged that is less intuitive: Competing businesses will naturally gravitate towards similar locations. This is a well-established phenomenon known within game theory as Nash’s Equilibrium. In the restaurant industry, this is actually a good thing. It brings entirely new customers to the area and ultimately benefits all the other nearby businesses, too.

Take advantage of the attention by offering something other spots don’t, like loyalty rewards, specials, unique offerings, or meal deals.

Speaking of the area, a great way to stand out from larger competitors is to build relationships with the community you serve, as u/sugarface2134 emphasized. “In my city there are two Italian restaurants in the same location – just across the parking lot from each other. We always pick the smaller one because the owner truly makes you feel like a member of the family.”

That’s an advantage of being a small, local business that all the money in the world couldn’t buy. Get to know your customers personally and you will not only create loyal regulars, but friends as well.

One of the top rated responses, from u/seefooddiet2200, made an often overlooked but critically important point.

“Talk to your staff and see if they have any ideas. These are the people that are working every single day and may know one or two ‘annoying’ things that if they were switched would make things easier. Or maybe they see that there’s specific things people ask for that you don’t serve. Every single [one] of your employees is a gold mine of insight, you just need to be open to listening to them.”

That is applicable to any business owner who wants to improve their practices.

Ask employees what they think, especially the ones who have stuck around a long time. Not only do they know the ins-and-outs of their jobs, but this builds rapport and trust with your staff. A good boss realizes that employees are more than their job descriptions. They have valuable thoughts about what’s working and not working, and direct access to customer’s opinions.

Good luck, u/longbottomjr! We’ll be rooting for you.

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Business Entrepreneur

How a newly funded coffee delivery startup is thriving during COVID

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) Seattle’s Joe Coffee finds successful funding in hyper specific clientele and operations even mid-pandemic. But how did they do it?

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Joe Coffee delivery

Amidst a pandemic, you might not expect a small company with limited clientele to thrive. Yet, Joe Coffee, a Seattle-based delivery service, is doing just that.

Joe Coffee, an aptly named coffee runner, has received millions in funding, a large chunk of which was raised mid-pandemic. Their mission is simple: to bring coffee from smaller shops to local consumers, especially without endangering either party.

There’s a lot to be said about Joe Coffee’s valuation and mission, but what’s more intriguing is their unlikely success.

A food delivery service that focuses on coffee may not seem that niche, but when you look at Joe Coffee’s determination to stick to the Seattle area, coupled with its staunch resolve for frequenting smaller shops (e.g., not Starbucks), the service begins to look pretty specific–and, in an economy that honors sweeping solutions, this is a welcome change of pace.

The way their service works is fairly simple: Joe Coffee provides shops with signs and information on how to order through the Joe network, then consumers are able to download and order through a mobile app on all of the usual platforms. Joe Coffee takes a nine percent cut of the order total, credit card fees included.

In return, customers are able to order from their favorite, local, non-chain coffee shops, both supporting them and sustaining their caffeine addiction at a time where alertness is paramount and grouchiness is all too common.

What’s truly interesting about Joe Coffee’s example is that it demonstrates an availability for small services with extreme specificity in terms of operating capacity. By sticking to unique businesses in a relatively small metropolitan area (as opposed to, say, multiple cities), the service is more likely to be successful in execution and delivery, thereby solidifying its relevance to both consumers and businesses alike.

And, by playing into the need for curbside pickup or home delivery these days, Joe Coffee only furthers the perception that its service is necessary.

If the country begins to reopen–whenever that happens–it will be no surprise to see Joe Coffee maintain a relationship between consumers and smaller businesses in the Seattle area. For anyone offering a similarly niche service, this is a perfect example of a company to which you should pay attention.

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