Do you often feel that there aren’t enough role models to help you see what you can be? If you answered yes to this question, I’m guessing you may be an entrepreneur and most likely a woman in entrepreneurship.
Calling All Role Models
Women consistently state that lack of female role models is a core barrier for deciding to launch or grow a business. According to the Kauffman Foundation, it is one of the top reasons holding women back. This makes perfect sense, since the number of women with high-growth businesses is still small. It is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. If you have no one to look up to, how can you learn to lead?
Not only do we need more role models, but we need them to maximize their value by sharing experiences fully, not just the shiny successes. Successes are realized from the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly.
I wish I could say that I had a mentor with talents like Oprah Winfrey, and that without this role model I never would have built a successful company. But I can’t, because that didn’t happen. The reality is that I never found the needle in the haystack. To this day I do not have a female role model who has been instrumental in showing me the way.
Choosing Entrepreneurship Means Riding Into The Wild West
We are early in the evolution of women in entrepreneurship. We have reached parity in college education and hold over 40% of management positions in the U.S. However, women comprise only 27% of MBA students, and although women now own 35% of U.S. businesses, most have revenue of less than $50,000 and do not have employees. We are early in the evolution of business ownership for women, and progress will be aided by women like me who raise their voice and help others see what they can be. Progress will also be impacted by your ability to embrace that you are as talented as the next entrepreneur and that there is power in being your own hero.
When I co-founded a company in the mid 1990s, there was a swell of women entering entrepreneurship. By 1997, 44% of new entrepreneurs were women, compared to the 36% today. I had a lot of female camaraderie. However, these were my cohorts and not my mentors. As the business scaled past the $1M mark, to $5M, and then $10M, not only was I lacking role models, I began to have fewer cohorts as well. It was truly the Wild West.
I was fine with the loneliness, because years earlier I decided I didn’t have to be in a position of weakness without a role model. If I could recognize and embrace the confidence and wisdom that are derived from being your own hero, I could fill the gap and emerge stronger.
This is not about ego or feeling superior. It is about recognizing that you most likely will achieve progress a little more slowly at times without a role model to show you the way, and that you may have to work harder than the next male to achieve the same progress. But when you have this recognition and dig in to do the extra work, your confidence, skills and depth of experience often surpass those who did not have to emerge from a deficit. It isn’t always easy, but success is absolutely a byproduct of being your own hero, and that is immensely empowering.
Choose To See The Role Models You Do Have
We all have role models who have helped craft our skills and talents. They may not look like you and may not have traveled the same path, but their impact should be used to their fullest. My dad left corporate America after a 15-year career to purchase a small business and then to grow a startup. He was very traditional and did not encourage his daughters into business ownership. Nonetheless, I am the child of a small-business owner, and I take advantage of the memories, conversations and culture that were a part of my daily life. I had a female teacher in high school who treated each student equally, which was not common in the early 1980s. I was under her influence for only a year, but I draw from the liberating feelings of that experience even to this day. My husband and business partner, Bill, are my most valuable role models. Yes, he is male, but his vision and encouragement are gender-neutral. You have role models in your past and present, who provide what you need. Recognize this and utilize it to your advantage.
Be Your Own Hero
Being a woman in entrepreneurship means being your own hero, and starting and growing a business to maximize your success. Silence your inner critic by focusing on the rockstar skills you possess that got you to where you are today, and which will take you where you want to go. Realize you are not alone. We are all figuring it out as we go. Embrace the power of being your own hero for building businesses of growth and scale, and participate in the efforts to make it easier for heroes to be found.
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.