Posted: Tue 16th Oct 2018
Building your business as a female entrepreneur can means facing barriers which your male counterparts don't have to deal with.
Ashleigh Hinde, founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer contact lens brand Waldo, shares her experiences and recommendations on how to tackle these barriers head on.
There has been progress
We've made serious progress in recent years. However, there's no denying that there are fewer female entrepreneur role models in business today than there are male. It's an undeniable fact.
Personally, I've experienced the difficulties of growing a business as a female entrepreneur first-hand. But I've been sure not to let it stifle my success as a founder.
Co-founders: yes or no?
One recurring issue I experienced in the early days was the recommendation from many influential, successful business people that I should consider bringing onboard a male co-founder.
While I respected the advice of those around me, I couldn't get my head around the idea that someone's gender could influence the success of Waldo.
Had I succumbed to pressure and opted to bring on board a co-founder, this could well have formed a barrier for the company as it would have meant the entire long-term business plan changing. So, I stuck to my guns and went it alone – a decision I'm very confident was the right one for Waldo.
Finance for female business owners
Another issue is the alarmingly low amount of funding that is awarded to female founders as opposed to male ones. I've noticed that external factors (such as family issues and the potential for maternity leave) often casts doubt in the minds of investors when considering investing in young female entrepreneurs.
I'm constantly encouraging any female founders I speak with to fight for their funding if they truly want it, but this is a worldwide issue that can be very frustrating for those who experience difficulty.
Networking and business support
When it comes to building a business in a fairly male-dominated industry, I've got very used to being the only female in the room.
I'll admit, this felt intimidating to begin with. Fortunately, there are more and more female entrepreneur support groups starting up to help with this, and although I haven't felt the need to use them, I'm grateful to have them so widely available.
Due to the old-fashioned stereotype that females are the weaker gender in a corporate situation, we often subconsciously feel less confident when asking for help, as we don't want to seem weaker than our male counterparts.
The reality is, though, that everyone needs help. Never be afraid to ask. Get a group of people together who can grill you on your business, people who you trust and who would have a sense of what questions to ask.
Since we launched Waldo last year, I've called upon friends, family, mentors and other external bodies for advice. When making business decisions, it's important that I gain a well-rounded overview of all options and take into account various viewpoints that I might not have considered otherwise.
Calling on a variety of different people from different working backgrounds helps me to do this. Never underestimate how willing people are to lend a hand.
Overall, my one overriding piece of advice to other female entrepreneurs starting out on their journey would be don't let any of these issues become barriers. They might be tough to overcome, but they are absolutely solvable.
I've learnt over the past year that I'll continue to weather major ups and downs as a founder, more than in any other job. I need to take it in my stride and know that the process of building a business isn't always plain-sailing. But that's what makes it fun and rewarding.
Seeing the progress made in recent years by female entrepreneurs rising through the ranks is exciting and reassuring. It's clear that it's only a matter of time before we're truly on an equal footing with male founders.