Anyone that has been in a position that requires managing others or running a business can tell you that if there's one thing that will never go away, it's challenges. They show up when you least expect them bringing uncertainty to your career, testing your abilities (and your patience), but more importantly challenges help you grow.
I personally used these difficult times to reflect and use the obstacle as motivation to accomplish things that seem impossible. That's just me, though. Today, I've highlighted seven incredibly talented ladies that overcame challenges during the early phases of their business. These ladybosses illustrated how hard work, passion, and determination go a long way in making your dreams come true.
So how do they do it? Keep reading as female leaders explain the challenges, and lessons learned along the way.
1. Avoid isolating yourself from others.
“Throughout my career, my biggest challenge has been learning to deal with criticism--especially negative Yelp and Amazon reviews. When someone posts a 1-star review about the restaurant (or one of my books).... ouch. Even if it doesn't happen very often, it still hurts!" —Alexandra Franzen, Author, Copywriter, Writing Coach/Consultant, and Co-owner of pop-up brunch restaurant HunnyMilk.
Alexandra overcame this challenge by avoiding isolating herself. “Sitting alone in my bedroom, sobbing into my laptop, obsessing over the words that someone has posted online... nope. That doesn't help. I need to reach out to my community--friends, clients, colleagues--for encouragement, humor, and a healthy sense of perspective," Alexandra shares.
Reaching out--not drawing inward--is what helps Alexandra to move forward. She discusses this a great deal in her new book, You're Going to Survive, which is about how to deal with stressful, discouraging experiences at work.
2. Set specific office hours
Even though you run a business to have a flexible schedule, and to have the freedom that an office job can't provide, that doesn't mean that setting office hours won't work for you.
Especially if you have other obligations, for example, if you are a caretaker, you have small children, or your business is a side hustle. Any of these are going to require just as most time and attention as your business does. You'll have to master time management to make it work.
A gal that knows about this is Ashley Mason, owner of Dash of Social a social media consultancy for ladypreneurs, since a few months before launching her business, Ashley's mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma, grade IV brain cancer.
“These past 20 months have been a rollercoaster, and her doctors did tell us in April that she has less than a year left to live. I'm her caretaker three days per week, which is difficult to juggle with client calls and client work," said Ashley.
Ashley overcame this challenge in her business by having custom office hours to accommodate both her mom's schedule and her clients. Also, Ashley's clients are aware of her situation and support her 100 percent.
3. Trust yourself and your instincts
“One of the biggest lessons I've learned as an entrepreneur is to stop second guessing myself. My co-founder Christine and I never encountered any sexism while growing our business, and anytime us being women comes up it is always between us personally." —Helen Lee, Co-founder & COO, JOANY
Helen points out that sometimes we second guess ourselves and then look at our male counterparts who just say “yeah, let's do it" and they don't have that tendency to second guess. “In that way, it almost feels like sometimes we put the females stigma on ourselves. When that happens, we just need to look at each other and say “we've got this, we did our homework, and we know what we're doing."
“It's all about getting out of our own heads and trusting our instincts," Helen suggests.
4. Hire the right people
Paige Arnof Fenn.
When the time comes to expand your business take this new step slowly. “I started a global branding and marketing firm 16 years ago, and I learned that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you." —Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder of Mavens & Moguls.
She wished she would have fire people that were not a good fit for her business a lot sooner. “I spent more time managing my employees than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff, but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have," says Paige.
If you hire employees or freelancers to help you and you feel that's not working out, then let them go. Write down your own job description of your ideal (not perfect) employee that includes qualifications, the day-to-day tasks she will perform and the must-have skills to be successful.
Paige shares, “it is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so I learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!"
5. Not everyone is going to like you (and that's ok!)
“I have worked really hard to be comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to like me. As women, we are taught that we need everyone to like us and that we need to be pleasing to others." —Katie Willcox, CEO of Natural Model Management
Katie feels that model doesn't work for business. “It takes time to be ok with the fact that there will be plenty of people who dislike you and even want to see you fail. The challenge is to not give those individuals power by wasting your time worrying about what they think," shares Katie.
Katie's takeaway: “I have learned that when you are dealing with other people, every person has a reality that is very different from your own. We all see things from our view, and we tend to believe that view is the correct view. I have learned as the boss, understanding where others are coming from is important, but at the same time you have to do what is best for your business."
She has the following advice for other fempreneurs, “have the uncomfortable conversations, hold others accountable, and you always have to keep evolving and growing as a business, regardless of what people say or think about you."
6. Work-life balance, the struggle is real
Many women struggle with the concept of work-life balance and know that cracking the code on finding work-life balance while running a business is difficult, but even more so when you also have to take care of children.
“Explaining to my seven-year-old why I can't be there for every school event, volunteer activity and birthday party can be a challenge. I find myself torn between doing my best for the company, my team, and my customers versus the best for my family. While this family/job dynamic affects both genders, it hits females (especially females in positions of power) especially hard." —Dasha Moore, Owner and Chief Operating Officer of Solodev.
Dasha thinks that if anyone can do it, it's us, ladies. “I use the elements traditionally relegated to my gender to help me balance the unceasing hurdles of the work-life balance. Women are notoriously trustworthy planners, organizers, multitaskers, and negotiators – more so than our male counterparts," Dasha shares.
“Every morning I rise to the challenges of both womentrepreneurship and motherhood, wearing both hats with pride and embracing the challenges thrown my way as gifts rather than burdens," says Dasha.
Merin Guthrie. Photo Courtesy of Akil Bennett
7. Keep a positive attitude
“I think the biggest challenge is staying positive in the face of the everyday grind." —Merin Guthrie, CEO of Kit.
Merin points out that as an entrepreneur, you're always facing steep odds and you spend a lot of your time problem-solving. “At first, every little challenge seems like a major failure. You develop a thicker skin as you go along, but the real way you overcome that feeling of being slightly overwhelmed at all times is by developing a relentlessly positive attitude and always looking for ways to fix issues efficiently and then keep moving forward," says Merin.
When you're feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk. Something as simple as that can help you see things more clearly. Another option is to jot down everything that's overwhelming you.
“It took me a while to figure out what issues were major issues and not get bogged down by the little things," shares Merin.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.