news & events

Oct25

WOMEN NEED TO THINK BIG, BIGGER PICTURE

That’s a major take-away from my recent participation in the Clinton Global Initiative.  Thought-leaders and organisational icons, from Cherie Blair to President Bill Clinton himself, returned to a shared theme: that women who begin small businesses may not think big enough. The fact that women entrepreneurs tend to get hung up in the hands-on details limits their success in taking their small business beyond the dreaded “cottage industry” scale into the big leagues.

Is this a girl thing? In some cases, yes, I think it is.  Whether it’s oestrogen, culture, or a blend of both, women entrepreneurs may get stuck in a caregiver role. This is hardly surprising. Worldwide, we see that women in business, especially a tiny business in a struggling economy, especially in the developing world, tend of emphasise the nurturing and care for others. They usually put the money toward the education of their children and other immediate needs. They are not speculators, and they tend to want to put the money into concrete assets where it will yield immediate ROI. This practicality, which we recognise as primarily being as asset, may also be a limitation.

Are men more selfish? Again, a loaded question. Based upon men’s treatment of microloans, the answer seems to be yes. For instance, women repay their microloans more faithfully than their male counterparts—because women are always worrying about other people, including their creditors. This means that they are putting less energy into the next big venture.

But here’s the downside: while globally women are initiating new businesses at twice the rate of their guy counterparts, women often aren’t able to take it to the next level. Their small businesses tend to stay small. Why?

Speaking for myself, the reason that Dermalogica was able to take flight is because I let go. It wasn’t easy. There are days when, even 25 years later, it still isn’t easy—I get hung up in the nits and grits of the day-to-day business.

But let me tell you, sisters (and brothers): letting go is the only way to go big. It doesn’t mean that you no longer care. It does require, however, that you hire really excellent people to run the ship while you’re up in the crow’s nest above the galley, spying for new lands to conquer.

Here’s a really specific point, too, from Bill Clinton himself. When he was interviewed by Jon Stewart just before CGI, President Clinton talked about the need for new businesses to build ecological and environmental safeguards and policies into their strategies “from the git-go”, as he likes to say. His visionary approach is more economical, and more effective than trying to fix things later down the line.

If you’re a woman entrepreneur, your challenge has to go beyond solving today’s problems if you want to make your business grow, thrive and bloom. This means being able to not only imagine, but also map out and plan a finite business strategy beyond paying next month’s rent—thinking big as well as dreaming big.

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