Statistics tell a stark tale about women in the workplace: it’s still a man’s world. White women are still paid about 80 cents to a man’s dollar (and it’s even less for women of color). Only 2% of female founders receive venture capital for their businesses. Many women entrepreneurs grapple with the reality that success means learning to navigate male dominated environments. However, two women entrepreneurs weigh in on how they have survived and thrived in male-dominated spaces.
FIND WORK THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
Since challenges abound in any business, and women will likely have to work with men who don’t make room for them, women should choose work that fulfills them and makes them happy, according to Traci Timm, a career coach and human capital advisor in Dallas, Texas, and founder of Nth Degree Career Academy, which helps stuck professionals find their purpose.
A graduate of Yale, she was highly sought after by executives in Wall Street—which she calls a “negative and toxic culture”—and lured to work there against her own judgment by the high salary and prestige before finding her true path. “I had literally set myself up for failure,” she said.
After several years of challenges, and a break from that work, she took inspiration from colleagues who taught her that what she’d seen as liabilities in Wall Street “could be leveraged for something more positive that would allow me to be successful being myself,” Timm says. Out of that came Nth Degree Career Academy, a proven methodology she created from her own trials and tribulations along the way.
CUT OFF DISRESPECT AND DRAW CLEAR BOUNDARIES
An unfortunate part of the dynamics between men and women in a culture that prizes men’s voices and discourages women’s is that men may treat women colleagues with disrespect or derision. Timm says it took her a long time to realize when a conversation shifted from stern to abusive, and it took practice to put a stop to it. “In the moment you don’t know any better but if your spidey sense goes off that you’re being disrespected as a woman, listen to it.”
Ladan Davia, founder and CEO of the Newport Beach, California-based company Beeya, a metasearch engine for jobs that matches job seekers with over 11 million jobs using AI-based data points, has also learned the art of putting up strong boundaries. Particularly when taking funding meetings, men often have an ulterior motive to get to know her personally. “Now, when I get even a hint of that, I say ‘Just so you know, I’m only interested in having a professional meeting. Sorry if that comes off as abrasive but I just wanted to let you know that’s where I’m coming from.’” This saves her from uncomfortable meetings that don’t lead to productive outcomes for her business.
SEEK OUT LIKEMINDED WOMEN
Timm suggests that women should seek out strong women leaders to align with. She recommends a mentor and a sponsor, who should be different people. The mentor is someone you can go to in difficult times when you need a shoulder and can encourage persistence and resilience. A sponsor, on the other hand, is someone to whom you’ll show your best self, “someone who’s there to give you a seat at the table you would not have otherwise gotten,” Timm says. She adds, “Men are good at leveraging strategic alliances with senior people so that their names get brought up.” Women entrepreneurs need to learn to do the same.
BE GOAL ORIENTED
While there are always going to be men and women who break the stereotypical molds, on the whole, Timm says, “I think men respect goal oriented people more than women generally do. If you can articulate where you see yourself, where you want to go and how you’re hustling to get there, that confidence lends itself to more positive interactions in the workplace.”
Davia feels that success is more likely to follow when women develop a hearty confidence in themselves and their work. “For women especially you need to know your worth and how much power you have. There’s nothing wrong with coming off as confident and successful, but we feel that we’re not supposed to [act] that way.”
Davia, who was only 22-years-old when she started Beeyah, has learned a lot of lessons in acting more confident. This has involved not apologizing so often, practicing saying no and setting hard limits when needed, and not excessively thanking people for partaking of her services—it is, after all, an exchange of money for service.
“Do you hear men saying ‘Oh I felt so bad that I had to say no to that person? I have never heard a man say that, but I constantly hear my female peers say it,” Davia says.
She recounts a situation where she met with a venture capitalist and asked for an investment of $3 million. He reacted in a shocked manner, and Davia felt momentarily bad, as though she’d asked for too much and had the urge to apologize. “I should not be saying sorry. That’s [the sum] I’m raising. You’re either interested or not interested.”
She has learned to value her service and her time and her business has grown tremendously in just four years since she founded it.
Whatever approach a woman takes, Timm recommends, “You have to go in with clarity, confidence in what you do know, humility in what you don’t know, and the willingness to learn.”