Image Lic. from GL Stock
Image Lic. from GL Stock

For centuries, women have been leaders in many countries around the world. Despite this, in the USA women still haven’t quite managed to completely shatter what some have called “the glass ceiling”  when it comes to leadership and entrepreneurship. But the gap is decreasing rapidly.

According to an article in the April 15, 2013 issue of Forbes:

  • Women entrepreneurs lead one in five startups around the globe.
  • The ratio of female founders to male soared 30% over the last year and a half, reports Gust, the Manhattan-based global platform for early-stage investing, which collects data on more than 200,000 companies, angel investors and venture capitalists.
  • The percentage is slightly higher than one in five (22.8%) in the U.S.
  • Led by BelgiumFrance; and Spain, even sclerotic Europe is producing women-run companies, now 16% of the total but a 45% jump in the overall ratio during the last 18 months.

Until things slowly changed over the last century women were thought to be “too emotional” to be of any use as leaders. Today’s research often suggests that women now make better leaders than men. The problem with most of these polls, including those conducted by Pew Research and The Zenger Foundation, is that they appear to rely almost exclusively on opinions and perceptions, which are often at odds with the facts.

But a recent study by the University of Rochester, originally published in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, appears to have debunked both perceptions that either men or women are superior when it comes to most things. In summary, the study found that:

  • No matter how strange and mysterious your partner may seem, gender is probably only a small part of the problem.
  • Sex persists as the most pervasively used to distinguish humans characteristics.
  • It’s not at all unusual for men to be empathic and women to be good at math.
  • Variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes is so extensive that the authors conclude it would be inaccurate to use personality types, attitudes, and psychological indicators as a vehicle for sorting men and women.
  • Although emphasizing inherent differences between the sexes strikes a chord with many, such simplistic frameworks can be harmful in the context of relationships.
  • Gay and lesbian couples have much the same problems relating to each other that heterosexual couples do.
Image Lic. from GL Stock
Image Lic. from GL Stock

The qualities of great leadership have never depended on feminine or masculine traits, but on having various qualities including tenacity, ingenuity and vision. I’ve worked with many people over the years, and while certain traits appear to be dominant between the sexes, many women who have no issues parking or reading a map, and many men (including myself) find their way using landmarks and (also like me) are excellent multi-taskers.

In short, gender doesn’t matter; ability does. Men are from Mars and women from Venus? Bah. Far more impressive and useful is the work being done by DDI when it comes to leadership, leaders and those who support them.

The facts are that there are many more females pushing the entrepreneurial boat these days than ever. The more women come forward, the more they’ll be noticed and the more their businesses will become invested in. That’s how 2014 can be a true breakout year.

According to a recently published report from the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the world’s entrepreneurs—both male and female—have more life and work satisfaction…

A Man’s World? Maybe Not…

Sabine H. Schoenberg
Sabine H. Schoenberg

Sabine H. Schoenberg, author of Kitchen Magic and founder of SabinesHome, a company which provides in depth information on home design and home goods, can easily speak to the importance of being assertive and not being taken advantage of in what has and perhaps to some extent still is a man’s world. Schoenberg was born and raised in Germany, moving to the USA at age 19. She was in for a few surprises.

“From my experience of being raised overseas, the question of leadership and whether or not women can do it well is, to a great extent, an American one. Many countries have had women as leaders over the course of thousands of years and never thought much about it.”

A quick look at history and it’s easy to see that Schoenberg is right:

  • Sappho, one of the first published female writers, c 570 B.C.
  • Hatshepsut, Queen of Egypt, 15th century B.C.
  • Cleopatra, last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt, 69 -30 B.C.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine, first Queen of France, 1122-1204.
  • Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 1533-1603
  • Catherine the Great, Eighteenth Century political leader, 1729-1796.
  • Emily Murphy, first women magistrate in the British Empire. 1868-1933.
  • Tzu-his, Empress of China, 1835-1908
  • Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, 1898-1978
  • Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, 1917-1984

“As a woman,” says Schoenberg, “one of the things I discovered from orchestrating male work crews was that, somehow, many contractors mistake a woman owner’s kind, and perhaps more personable treatment of them, as exploitable weakness. It sounds counter-intuitive, but as a women builder, I know it is best to keep your distance and be unyielding; a job site runs better with clear, unwavering and firm direction. If you stray from this advice you can never reset direction.”

Schoenberg also discovered that one of the best ways to earn solid respect is to know what you’re doing. When contractors insisted things couldn’t be done, Schoenberg took the opportunity to dive in and do what they claimed was impossible. Very soon, word of her abilities and single-minded tenacity spread like wildfire and provided the credibility all entrepreneurs want and need.

Sindi Landman and Lisa Shapot
Sindi Landman and Lisa Shapot

Sindi Landman and Lisa Shapot, long-term friends and co-founders of The Think Tank, a design hub offering ways to update, renew, build or rebuild living spaces, have also gone down a similar road as Schoenberg. Landman has been building custom specialty homes for over a decade, while Shapot has been decorating homes and designing kitchens and bathrooms. During these years, each of them faced the challenges of being the only women in a sector where men have dominated and had little if any contributions from women.

“My biggest challenge,” says Landman, “was being taken seriously as a builder. I found women to be supportive, but in general it took a lot of convincing to get men to take me seriously and to realize I had just as much to bring to the table as they did.” Landman’s business oriented personality and ability to focus, not to mention never allowing the attitude of others to get her down or make her mad, enabled her to create and grow South Mountain Restorations, extending it to include her partnership with Shapot with Think Tank as an outgrowth. “We can build an entire house, start to finish, as fast as if not faster than any man I’ve met!”

For Shapot, the challenge was more along the lines of showing people that her designs could make a serious difference. “I’ve always had an ability to walk into a space and re place things and re-create it in such a way that it becomes new just by virtue of a re-think. What I had to work for was the chance to prove myself.”

Capitalizing on the fact that they have eclectic tastes and expertise in the home design market, Landman and Shapot used this and their ability to “jump in and out of each other’s heads” to build a successful lifestyle business.

What Does It Take?

All three women share common leadership traits which are essential to being an entrepreneurial. I asked them to share their thoughts as to some of what it takes to be a strong leader (whether male of female) and an entrepreneur:

1 – Strong Leadership Qualities
Leaders are not only born but made. They find solutions to problems (yes, we can), ask others for opinions and develop the learned skill of listening.

“There’s no such thing as a follower or a leader being more important,” says Schoenberg. “One cannot survive without the other. And strong leaders will often push people beyond their perceived limits in order to create something new or better. Some people will follow you along that path while others won’t.”

2 – Self-motivation
Successful people go out into the world and invoke change through their actions. Overall, not only do you have to deal positively with the world around you, you have to think positively about yourself.

“We both like a challenge,” says Shapot. “If we’d sat back and waited for challenges to find us, we’d have never made any progress. Whenever we’ve faced difficult tasks, we learned to adapt to the situation and find creative solutions for our clients. We’re both also very passionate about ideas and concepts. That drives you past any road blocks and keeps you on track.”

3 – Ethics and Integrity
I shared a story with Landman and Shapot about my paternal grandfather, who built many custom-made homes during his lifetime. He also built a solid reputation for keeping his word and never cheating anyone when it came to quality work.

“Without credibility, you have nothing. Reputation is essential in pretty much any business—certainly in ours,” says Landman. “Although in the short term cheaters and thieves may win, in the end they lose. We’ve sustained our businesses over the years because of our solid ethics and practices.”

4 – Learning
Being able to admit what you don’t know is just as important as being confident about what you do know.

Says Schoenberg: “I’ve always had a desire to learn from everyone I’ve ever met. If someone was using a piece of equipment I’d never used, I’d learn how to use it. I’m never afraid to ask questions when it means the answers will provide insight I can make use of later.”

5 – Teamwork
Working together with others is to a great extent “a stretching journey.” It’s incumbent upon leader to make certain that those who join them on this journey do it wholeheartedly.

“No one gets anywhere alone,” says Schoenberg. “We all need people to serve certain functions for us. That’s why it’s so important to nurture your relationships and surround yourself with people who can help make them more effective. When my team looks at their tasks as their own challenge and take ownership of their work, I know I’ve found the right people. We’re only as good as those who support us.”

6 – Networking

The ability to effectively network is as important a skill as tenacity and talent.

Says Shapot: “For both Sindi and I in all of our various job experiences networking has always been an a key element to success. in the Fashion industry, the building industry and the decorating world using feelers and getting input from other experts and people you respect gives you a perspective you would not get on your own.  In our experiences one door usually opens another and leads you down the most educated path of decision making.”

7 – Innovation

Innovation is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Not everyone can compete on price, which means you’ll need innovative products and ideas.

“Most contractors seem to want to do things quick and fast and be done with it,” says Schoenberg. “But, for those of us who want to provide a high level of craftsmanship and detail, you wind up pushing people to their limits and beyond. I could create generic versions of things and have an easier life, but I prefer to make the effort to create something a little different and perhaps, reach for something more interesting.”

8 – Tenacity, Street Smarts & Resiliency

The truth is being an entrepreneur is gritty, tough work,” says Landman and Shapot. “There may be times when you’ll be filled with self-doubt, but the best of us are survivors. If you’re going to start your own business you have to be willing never to give up. Without that, you probably won’t make it for very long. I also think that getting out and understanding customers is very important.”

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. But learning how to be a successful leader is a first step. The time is ripe for women to become every bit as successful and profitable in the world of business as their male counterparts. Instead of focusing on superficial reasons why women or men are better, we’d do well to concentrate on what it takes to be good at running a business regardless of being male or female.