One of the ways in which women are able to reach self-fulfilment outside of the male-dominated corporate life is to choose a life of entrepreneurship and build their own businesses. However, even here the struggle for women to be treated as equals is ongoing.
This is according to Rene Botha, Stellenbosch Area Manager for Business Partners Limited, one of Africa’s leading risk financiers, who says that while a female co-owner may be in a slightly better position than a corporate employee, there is no guarantee that the power relations between the co-owners are immune to society’s deep-seated male orientation.
Botha lists ten pointers for female business owners to ensure that they are treated fairly within their own companies:
Claim your seat at the boardroom table: Too often, the female partner in a business gets stuck in the mundane day-to-day management tasks, and relinquishes the strategic role to the male partners in the business. Make sure you remain involved in the strategic leadership of the business, even if it is not your inclination. When the time comes for the big strategic decisions to be taken, you would want to be fully part of it.
Don’t get stuck with mundane tasks: The stereotypical domestic and secretarial support role of females somehow inhibits their impulse to outsource or delegate mundane tasks so that they can get on with the role of business leadership. Review your daily activities and identify those that you can easily delegate.
Prepare to be seen as a pushover: As the female partner in the business, you will be seen as vulnerable to persuasion from time to time. This can come from an obnoxious client who wants to change payment terms, a worker making unreasonable demands, or a partner wanting to bend the rules. Be ready for this and work on a firm, clear response to get any such illusion out of the way. If you do tend to be overly sympathetic to special pleading, work on a tougher stance that puts your interests and the interests of your business first.
Stand up against bullying and discrimination: As a co-owner, you are in a good position to help create a culture of fairness in and around your business. However, this will require you to assert yourself against any form of discrimination and bullying that you come across in your business dealings. Whether it is between management and workers, clients and staff members, or among the co-owners themselves, do not to let bad behaviour slide.
Cultivate an attitude of calm assertion: One of the perversions of gender inequality is that male outrage tends to be seen as passionate and righteous, while female anger is easily dismissed as hyper-sensitive and hormonal. No matter how justifiable your anger, it is often strategically better to keep a lid on your emotions, and to lay out your disagreement in a calm and forceful manner. It is not always easy, but it can be learned.
Become tech savvy: Even in non-technical industries, the modern office teems with technical equipment. Don’t hobble yourself by leaving all the technical issues to your male partners to solve. Learn the basics and stay up to date with the latest technical developments in your industry.
Don’t let guilt rule your decisions: Business is hard, and there are going to be times where you have to spend extra hours at work away from your family. There are also times that you will have to step away from the business to spend time with your loved one. Both your life partner and your business partners have to accept a certain degree of flexibility. Focus on getting the balance right, manage expectations both at work and at home, and take care that your decisions are not driven by feelings of guilt.
Work on your business network: Social interaction between men can easily develop into acquaintances that are useful for business. Among women, not so much yet. At this stage of society’s development, it seems that networking among women has to be more of a conscious effort to translate into useful business alliances by organising specific business-focused gatherings.
Get your paperwork in order: Make sure that your co-ownership of the business, your partnership agreement and the division of roles are formalised on paper, and that essential formalities such as key-worker insurance is in place. This goes for any business partnership, but especially for those between husband and wife, where formal business arrangements tend to be neglected. It can become a major headache when circumstances change.
Involve your life partner: If your business partner is not your life partner, make sure they get to know each other, as well as the needs of the business. There will be days when you spend more time with your business partner than with your life partner. Good communication and understanding can prevent resentment from taking hold.
“Bearing the above in mind, there’s no reason why women business owners can’t experience as much success in business as their male counterparts,” concludes Botha.