A little help from friends: Networking & the female entrepreneur
By the final day of the BNP Paribas Women Entrepreneurs Program (WEP), held in July at Stanford University, an observer would have thought the participants had been friends for years.
They walked into the sessions in large groups, chatting away, and had been posting group photos (see image at right) of each other to social media. The camaraderie of these women, most of whom had just met each other at the event, reflects a crucial (but sometimes overlooked) factor in female entrepreneurs’ success: Women tend to thrive in business when they have the opportunity to network with peers – when they learn from each other, support each other, and know that they’re not alone in their journeys.
Yet the sheer lack of female entrepreneurs sometimes makes finding peers difficult. Although the number of women-owned businesses has been steadily rising in the U.S. year-after-year, still only 35.8% of businesses were female-owned in 2012, according to the most recent Census survey of business owners. From a global perspective, men outnumber women by large margins in each of the four dual-gender entrepreneur subgroups identified in the 2017 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report. Based on the 2,650 elite entrepreneurs surveyed for the report:
- The biggest gender gap was among “Boomerpreneurs,” aged 55 or older. Men made up 72% of the Boomerpreneurs surveyed, while only 28% were women.
- Even among “Millennipreneurs,” a generation usually known for its inclusivity and diversity, men outnumbered women at 63%, compared to 37%.
Statistics such as these reflect the crucial nature of programs that foster networking opportunities among female entrepreneurs.
New outlets for networking
One such program is Women Initiative Foundation (WIF)’s new Transatlantic Mentoring Program, which pairs U.S.-based female entrepreneurs who want to expand their business into the European Union with mentors from France, and also pairs France-based female entrepreneurs who want to expand their business into the States with US mentors.
Another is the BNP Paribas Women Entrepreneurs Program, mentioned earlier. Participant Odile Roujol describes the experience in her article “The power of inclusion. My learnings from one week at Stanford.”
“I spent the week with thirty awesome women from different continents: startups founders, executives in global corporations, nonprofit organizations leaders. All full of energy and eager to learn from each other,” she writes. Roujol managed the Lancôme brand in France and the United States and became managing director/president of Lancôme International in 2006. Today, one of her endeavors is being a Business Angel at Bay Angels, which provides mentoring and consultation for entrepreneurs launching new businesses.
The camaraderie and fun that Roujol experienced at the Stanford event shine through a group photo that she includes in her article. Search for the Twitter hashtag #WomenEntrepreneurProgram and you’ll find similar photos from the event – pictures of female entrepreneurs of all ages and colors happy to be there learning from each other and just generally enjoying each other’s company.
Takeaways from the Stanford program
Furthermore, as the variety of #WomenEntrepreneurProgram tweets shows, different aspects of the program will resonate most with different people. For some women, it may be advice on boosting your confidence; for others, it might be the opportunity to meet likeminded entrepreneurs from around the world. Yet generally speaking, some key takeaways from the event are:
1. Diversity and inclusion: Although gender diversity and inclusion of women is a problem in Silicon Valley especially, it’s by no means limited to a particular region or even a particular industry. Consequently, a major topic of discussions at the conference was how to raise awareness of the benefits of diversity and inclusion to companies. For instance, as a Harvard Business Review article explains, having diversity in a workplace encourages employees to productively challenge each other more, thus leading to innovation, and diversity also helps companies meet the needs of increasingly diverse customer bases.
2. Know (and adjust) your fear: At the early stage of a business, leaders tend to be driven by fear of missing out on opportunities. However, in order to sustain business growth, leaders must shift to fear of making a mistake, so that they can establish policies and procedures and, most importantly, not lose interest when the novelty of the business fades.
3. Need a mentor or be a mentor: A key component of promoting diversity and inclusion is helping other female entrepreneurs succeed. If you’re just starting out in your entrepreneurship journey or expanding to a new region, seek out a mentor. If you’re established in your industry or region, don’t forget to help others by mentoring.
It hasn’t even been a month since the WEP ended and I’m already looking forward to next year’s program. Yet networking with others and helping female business owners succeed should be a year-round activity. Get on social media and find in-person networking opportunities as well. Together, we can promote diversity and inclusion in every industry, every region, every country.