At the recent Entrepreneur and Microsoft Accelerate Your Business event, I participated as a resident expert in a speed-mentoring activity. The participants at each table rotated every 10 minutes, and at more than half of my tables, there was at least one participant that asked me the same question -- a question that I have received hundreds of time before.
“What is your best advice for women entrepreneurs?”
I responded to each with the same reply that I always give:
“Stop calling yourself a ‘women entrepreneur’.”
Here’s the reality: Your chromosomes have nothing to do with your ability to be successful as an entrepreneur.
I have never once thought of myself as a woman entrepreneur, a women investor, a women author or a woman anything. I am an entrepreneur or any of the other roles that I play, period -- without any qualifiers. And, as I told each woman that asked the question, so are they.
The constant segmentation of everyone by gender, race, age or other qualifier beyond their control does nothing but create self-doubt from those who have been categorized as well as others around them. Those things are out of each individual’s control and frankly have zero to do with determining their success. Preparedness, drive, perseverance, ability to learn from failure, ability to pivot, ability to delegate and a bunch of other qualities do determine success -- but labels do not.
The only difference between a male and a female entrepreneur is that the women are more likely to be doing business in an uncomfortable pair of shoes until the time when someone creates comfortable high heels, but that’s really a personal choice, too.
Now, there are other things that entrepreneurs who also happen to be female sometimes face. They often don’t charge enough for their goods and services. They tend to take on less risk. They raise less capital. However, none of these things are because they are women. It’s because somehow, along the way, our environment and interactions haven’t given enough women the confidence to ask for what they -- and their products and services are worth, or try something big and potentially fail.
And, I think it’s quite likely that the constant categorization ultimately leads very qualified individuals to ask me -- and people like me -- for business advice related to their gender instead of related to business tactics and strategy.
A few months back, I was at a “women’s entrepreneurial dinner” held the night before a “women’s entrepreneurship conference." I was asked what I hoped the future held for women entrepreneurs. I told the organizer that I hoped in ten years that his conference would be put out of business.
After seeing some shocked expressions, I explained that while I understand the current need to support women who lag their male counterparts in some of the ways I outlined above, I also hoped that sooner rather than later, we could focus on entrepreneurship without the need for that kind of demographic segmentation.
In the meantime, if you see young girls or women, be sure to encourage their abilities. Push them to think big, be bold and to take risks. And don’t bring up their gender, because it just isn’t relevant.
And ladies, if you are pursuing an entrepreneurial endeavor (or other endeavor), keep the focus on what you can control and go out there and get it done in a big way. No qualifiers. Ever. Period.