The question that left this female business owner “speechless”

Melissa Browne

Recently I was asked a question I was incredibly surprised by. I was attending a workshop with some other highly successful male business owners I’m in a forum with and one of their employees asked me a question that left me speechless (and that doesn’t happen that often). I wasn’t stunned by the question itself but rather because when I wondered whether she would ask any of the male business owners that were around the table the same question, I knew the answer would be unequivocally no.

The questions she asked was whether I ran a home-based business.

Now if you run a home-based business I applaud you and I’m certainly not deriding that. I know some highly successful business owners who are running businesses from home. However, I was stunned that this girl knew I was part of the same successful business forum as her boss but presumed that because I was female, I must be running a home-based business.

What was even more puzzling to me is that I knew she not only hadn’t asked the same question of the male chief executives at our table but she wouldn’t dream of asking it. Plus when I brought up the subject with the my male colleagues a few days later they were all stunned and a tad incensed that the question was asked of me.

What I wondered that day and days later is whether the questions we’re asking each other as females are designed to keep us thinking smaller rather than thinking bigger. And what questions we could be asking instead?

Better questions could be around what target market we’re reaching, whether we’re doing something different as a result of being female or how we’re embracing technology? Better questions could be around cashflow and pricing, or how we’re delivering on purpose and profits and perhaps questions relating to outsourcing, capacity and hiring employees. Better questions could be what it’s like to run a business in an industry where the businesses are primarily owned by men and how we’re differentiating as a result of that. Questions that are designed to get us talking, thinking and challenging rather than simply asking if we’re home-based.

I mean, really.

So the next time you meet a female business owner at a function, a workshop or a networking event, don’t lead with whether they’re a home-based business or not because whether you mean to or not you’re making a judgment call. Instead, ask curious questions, challenge assumptions and let’s make the dialogue an interesting one.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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Liam Shorte
Liam Shorte
3 years ago

Melissa, I think you would find that men (under 50) would rarely ask you this question as it is not on their radar. However many women are looking at their career options and yes some are looking for an option to become an entrepreneur and juggle more family time as well so are often trying to see how other women managed to set up successful businesses.

I don’t believe they are making a judgement call, just genuinely interested in how you manged to get from A to B in your journey but with the blurred lens of their own circumstances qualifying the question.

Buy your business acumen is not questioned and congrats on doing so well.