There is little more exciting than launching our own business. From sharing the first conceptions of the idea with friends; to spending hour upon hour, finishing up that massive business plan; to picking out a name and getting that first business license, the process has a lot in common with pregnancy and childbirth. And, like raising a child, caring for our business-baby is a long term investment.
A Growing Trend
As a female entrepreneur, you are definitely not alone. As of 2017, there were over 11 million businesses owned by women, generating an employment growth rate that outperformed other businesses by at least 14%. Minority women make up almost half of this number of entrepreneurs, with new businesses being created at a rate of 71%. Reports indicate that women-owned businesses generate nearly two billion dollars in revenue, annually.
A Unique Opportunity for Stress
Some of the stresses involved with the process of creating and running a business are universal. Entrepreneurs characteristically take on several roles, at once, to make the dream a reality. We can find ourselves acting as the accountant during one phone call, and then switch into marketing like a pro, during the next. Balancing production factors and employee needs, while staying mindful of the ever-present bottom line, can become quite the act.
For many women, this juggling act is right up our alley. Females are often credited with being able to switch quickly between tasks, while maintaining a calm and poise that the males of the species can find enviable. Just because we can do it, though, doesn't mean that it always comes easily. The following is a list of some common stressors that plague all entrepreneurs:
- Lack of vision and clarity of roles
- Managing of conflicting demands
- Work overload
The stress generated by these factors can diminish the joy of our creation. Not only can it take a toll on our mental health, it can also impair our physical health. Symptoms of stress include headaches; insomnia; depression; frequent colds; and digestive issues. Females, in particular, are found to be susceptible to the stress that comes from taking on too much responsibility.
As an entrepreneur, there are no real days off. There is no one to cover for our unique role, should we feel the need to call in sick. It is of upmost importance, then, that we do what we can to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy. Not only do we deserve that, our business depends on it. The following are some tips for reducing your entrepreneurial stress, and for keeping yourself in top business shape.
Keep Your Goal In Sight
The concept of being an entrepreneur has traditionally garnered the image of the “self-made man," who – through hard work and ingenuity – has managed to economically dominate the competition. There are many stories of men who sacrificed their home lives in order to make a name for themselves in the professional world. Success simply meant making money.
While modern women have that option, as well, we also have the luxury of freedom to not put that pressure on ourselves. Deciding what is important to you is the crux of a successful entrepreneurship. Are you seeking to be the next big thing? Are you launching your business as a means to pay the bills, while having more family time? Are you putting the business into practice as your creative outlet?
Whatever the spark that drives you, make sure to keep it in the forefront in your mind as you conduct your daily business. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to the achievements of others, and keep your eye on your prize.
Successful time management results in more flexibility. More flexibility is one of the most cited desires of an entrepreneur. If you aren't one who is blessed with the ability to discern the vital from the trivial, there are many resources available to assist you in building the skill of prioritization. Key points include starting the day with a brainstorming list, which can be rearranged and whittled down before beginning your work day.
Prioritizing can mean more than tasks and time. It can also apply to values. The multiple roles of the entrepreneur can lead to conflicting demands, which can bring stress to the unprepared. Pay heed to your business vision statement when deciding how to approach a situation involving values.
Does it suit your style to market your product emphatically, with the hope of it resulting in a better bottom line?
Or, will you sleep better after providing your clientele with a conservative estimate?
Learn to Delegate
Having the feminine ability to perform many, simultaneous, roles can result in the temptation to do everything, ourselves. This can quickly lead to mental and emotional fatigue, and can leave us without enough energy for the important tasks. Learning to delegate tasks effectively can result in more time and freedom. For some of us, though, letting go of the reins is a Herculean feat.
When learning to delegate, make sure that your needs are communicated clearly and simply. Like sending a hapless partner to the store for groceries, the likelihood of the surrogate returning with the wrong item is high. Unless the specifics of the request are made apparent, prepare yourself to graciously accept a bit of disappointment with the result.
Make Time for You
The term, “self-care," has become a buzzword, but the concept has been practiced by women, for ages. There is more to a box of chocolates or a bubble bath than meets the eye. While some recharging methods are healthier than others, both laypersons and experts agree that they are a vital aspect of healthy functioning.
With the extra time gained through staying focused on your goals; prioritizing and planning ahead; and delegating tasks, make sure to invest in nurturing your own mental and physical wellness.
As women, particularly, many of us have been conditioned to give of selflessly of our resources. While giving our energy to others is certainly worthwhile, there is a danger of giving too much. Without a set of tools for recharging our batteries, we risk being drained to the point of becoming ineffective.
Symptoms of stress appear when we have depleted our personal energy store. Develop the practice of not waiting for disaster to strike before indulging. Making a weekly – or daily – date with yourself can mean avoiding discomforts such as lack of focus; irritability; and anxiety. Spending time in some form of meditation or cardiovascular activity can not only reduce stress symptoms, but can also contribute to gaining new insights and solutions to your entrepreneurial challenges.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."