Here’s a fun exercise: Type “top entrepreneurs” into Google and watch which names show up on your screen. Any guesses? You probably won’t be surprised to see Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos and Larry Page atop the list. All, of course, are savvy, well-known entrepreneurs. But you have to scroll a long way down before the first women — maybe Vera Wang and Sara Blakely — appear.
Why is this?
It’s certainly not because women are in any way less smart or capable than men. But in addition to the standard challenges of growing a business, women are often faced with stereotypes, discrimination and their own self-doubts. As Salesforce’s vice president of SMB marketing, I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of startups and growing businesses, plus meet hundreds of successful female entrepreneurs along the way. It’s always interesting to share our wins and failures.
So, in honor of Women’s Day, I’d like to offer some of the strategies that have worked for me and the women I’ve met.
Fail fast and often. It’s a fact of life: women are more risk-averse than men. According to the Harvard Business Review, when faced with a risky decision, men will think more about the strategic implications of a choice, while women will think more about the people affected by the outcome of the choice — which makes them less likely to take the risky decision. While it’s true that at any business you can’t just wait around for someone else to come up with the next big idea, this is especially true at small companies with limited resources and a small customer base. When you have an idea, don’t wait for permission. Run with it! If you don’t risk failing, you’ll never have the opportunity for success. It’s an oft-heard Silicon Valley mantra, but we also use it for our team at Salesforce: “Fail fast and often.”
Embrace your inner bulldog. A senior executive at our company recently told me that although he doesn’t always agree with me, he always trusts me. He said, “That’s because you’re not afraid to be a bulldog about the things you care about.” I wondered to myself, “Is that a good thing?” Ultimately, I’ve decided that it’s a good thing to have strong opinions and stick with them. My coworkers know that I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. Many women worry about being perceived as being too pushy or too aggressive. But the reality is that if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will. To be successful at a business of any size — but especially a small one with limited resources — you need to have a clear point of view and be laser-focused on getting there.
Make your own “boy’s club.” The days of doing business over a three-martini lunch and a round of golf are mostly gone, but you can still reap the benefits of being in a “club” of like-minded people. For me, this happened organically when I was invited into a program designed to help high-potential women develop the skills they needed to move up at Salesforce. As it turned out, the most important things that I got out of the program were the relationships I built with the other attendees. It wasn’t just learning that there were other women facing the same problems I face; rather, it was building a mini-community of people I can trust to give me honest advice when I need it. You don’t have to work at a big company like Salesforce to create this kind of trust circle. In fact, it may work best when your “club” includes people from other companies. Visit the SBA website to find local groups for women entrepreneurs that can give you the support you need along the way.
Make work fit your schedule. For as long as women have been in the workplace, they’ve been challenged to balance their work and home lives. Many have struggled with the myth of “having it all,” but today it’s easier than ever to be fully engaged in both. Many businesses do their work in the cloud, so you have the flexibility to access mission-critical applications from almost anywhere. And tools like Google Hangouts make it easy to keep the lines of communication open. But being totally connected doesn’t mean that you should be working 24-hours-a-day. It means that you can intermingle your work and professional lives in ways that let you hit all the important moments. I can spend the morning working at my daughter’s school, and the afternoon running a team meeting from my laptop. (And at night I can take a spin class from my Pelaton bike). This lets me focus on the activities that matter — both personally and professionally — and not just the ones that fit in my schedule.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most parents — especially moms — will tell you that they don’t have enough hours in their day. Many learn to be terrific jugglers, but from time to time they’ll drop the ball on something important. Not having enough time is also one of the top things that keeps small business owners up at night. It’s no wonder, because they and their employees are often stuck doing menial, repetitive tasks — like paperwork — that take them away from more strategic, customer-oriented work. New automation and artificial intelligence tools are now available that let every business — even small ones — automate repetitive tasks and work smarter than ever. Focusing on what moves the needle is also a helpful philosophy in your home life.
Try out these tips and see if they can help you be more successful, not just on Women’s Day but all year long. Please let me know how it goes, or if there are other tips that work for you.