Three ways to take down the barriers preventing women from launching startups

This winter I facilitated a sellout event with 70 women called “ditch the daily grind and leap into a career you love”. The audience was full of highly experienced, bright and talented women who had brilliant business ideas, but were just missing the confidence to get started.

The more I inquired, the more apparent the challenges to start up became. Common to most women was the belief they needed absolute clarity on the path before they could take even one step forward.

Kaitlin Tait of Spark International believes that:

“…many women have big dreams and sometimes have trouble breaking those down into the small achievable steps that will get them started. Women need to back themselves, to start small and focus on the wins and what they are learning along the way.”

Ayala Domani, acting Director Innovation at Telstra and startup mentor perceives some of the biggest barriers to women starting up lying in self-doubt and fear of failure, the financial risk involved and balancing workload with family life, especially for mothers with young children.

In further helping women unpack what’s holding them back from taking the next step, I’ve seen consistent themes emerge. All of these factors inhibit them for taking just one step forward:

  • women don’t start because they don’t believe in their ability to make things happen
  • they don’t fully appreciate the true value of their skills and experience,
  • they care too much what others think of them
  • they believe that if the path to success is not clear, it’s not the right time to start

Take Helen, for example. Forty years old, with extensive executive experience in commercial and supply chain, for one of the biggest companies in Australia. Still, she believed she needed a few more years of skill-building before she could chase her own business dreams.

Or Jai, who six months earlier had stepped out of a global giant as a joint venture negotiator on multi-billion dollar projects. She wanted her own business, but when the right idea didn’t emerge, she felt like a failure and was ready to return to the corporate world.

According to Sheree Rubenstein, co-founder of One Roof, the first co-working space for female entrepreneurs in Australia:

“Women get stuck in the how. With so many unknowns around starting a business, they allow fear to paralyze them.” Sheree presents an interesting concept, “What if the people around these women said just go for it, just start, don’t seek perfection, seek progression. How would this impact their mindset and motivation? Why don’t we encourage each other to do crazy and reach for the impossible?”

How much untapped female start up potential exists out there?

Can you imagine the impact if it were unleashed and realized? Even on a small scale? We must ask ourselves, what more can we do to empower these women to take just one step forward? That single step could generate unstoppable momentum, act as inspiration to others and perpetuate positive societal impact and economic growth.

The possibilities are limitless.

So, how can we encourage and support women in their journey to start up? I believe these three ways are a great place to start.

1. Get among people who are making things happen

There is something profound that happens when you surround yourself with people who are making things happen. It’s infectious, inspiring and makes you want a piece of it.

There are two cheap and effective ways to do this:

  • Co-work for free: Most co-working spaces are bursting with entrepreneurial types who are testing, trying, failing and succeeding. The best part is these spaces often offer free trial days or weeks. Take them up on the offer and get among it.
  • Take advantage of free or relatively inexpensive events focused on helping you take action on your startup idea. Start by searching on Eventbrite for startup and entrepreneurial events or subscribing to the likes of General Assembly’s mailing list for a world of curated access.

2. Take just one step

Stop waiting for absolute clarity and perfection. Just start. Challenge yourself to just take one step forward. Any step forward. Even if it’s only one a week to begin.

I haven’t met one startup to date that had the right plan and set of actions from day one.

What they have in common is the ability to just start, trusting in the belief that the path to delivery will unfold by doing, learning, failing and resetting.

Every problem has a solution and that solution is often found in doing.

The likes of Elon Musk and the founders of Thankyou Group are solving problems many thought impossible to fix. How do they do this? They accept the journey to success is going to be unclear and uncomfortable, but they keep moving. They know they will fail along the way, but they learn from their failures, get up, dust themselves off and push on.

3. Learn to love failure

In the startup community, failure is the new black of learning, evolving and taking an idea to the next level. So much so that co-working spaces are now hosting F.ck Up nights in an attempt to normalise failure and encourage risk taking.

If like me, you come from a corporate background, failure is so often ingrained in your DNA as taboo.

However, my experience in the startup space has taught me that failing is the best way to learn and grow. It shows that you’re putting yourself in uncomfortable spaces. So consider attending a fuck up night or start your own.

Bring together a couple of like-minded peers and share one risk you have taken in the last month that didn’t go so well. Share what happened and what you learnt. This will enhance your problem solving ability, relatability and your confidence in a supportive environment.

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