Over the last few decades, women have made serious headway in the business world. In fact, women now run more than half of all small businesses in the United States. This rate of ownership, however, falls once the business has more than four employees as only one-third of businesses with five or more employees are owned by women. Back in 2006, the Center for Women's Business Research told Businessweek that it was actually more common for women to run home-based businesses part-time, rather than traditional businesses, so they can stay close to their families. And while that is a perfectly fine option, women unfortunately do not have the same network of mentors that men do when it comes to entrepreneurship. For tomorrow's entrepreneurs especially, this makes finding a female mentor even more difficult because there aren't enough women working as heads of major companies. Lacking guidance, many would-be entrepreneurs can feel discouraged about how far up to the glass ceiling they'll be able to climb, so it's up to us women that run successful businesses to make ourselves available as mentors in the following ways.
1. Making Ourselves Visible
I will be the first to admit that when you run a business, you are usually dead tired at the end of the day and the last thing you want to do is attend a three hour conference or meet-and-greet mixer at the nearby college. But if I have seen anything during my time as a regent at California Lutheran University, it is the impact we can have on future entrepreneurs. Many college students don't have a lot of opportunities to network with a successful, female business owner one on one -- and, honestly, how would they even find one to talk to? It isn't like there is a catalogue of successful women in business that are willing to answer questions. But by being active in the local community, or even volunteering to talk to a Business 101 course at the nearby community college, you are setting yourself apart and creating a prime opportunity for those interested to ask you questions. Most of all, you are making both yourself and your business visible in the process.
2. Managing Expectations
A mentor is not a fairy godmother. It is highly unlikely that your advice will lead tomorrow's batch of female business owners to untold riches. Rather, a mentor is someone who has lived through the experiences that you expect to go through, and who can answer questions and provide guidance. Many would-be mentors tire out quickly because the impact they have isn't immediately apparent so it's important that you know in advance what to expect as a mentor. Not everyone will be able to engage your advice, but if even one young woman in a room filled with bored faces feels it is possible for her to run a business because of what you are saying, and takes your advice to heart, you are doing your job as a mentor.
3. Being Honest
I have a family, and my husband and two young sons are the center of my world. I am not going to parade on stage and pretend like running a business and building a family is the easiest thing in the world because it isn't. It takes years of hard work and sacrifice. It has, however, been the most rewarding experience of my life. Many young women I talk to are concerned about balancing raising a family and running a business, and I can honestly tell them it is possible - the struggle, while daunting, shouldn't be a deterrent. But being honest about that struggle will create a much stronger mentor/mentee relationship.
The 2010 Gem Consortium Women's Report disclosed that, in societies where women perceive they are capable of entrepreneurship, only 47.7 percent of women, versus 62.1 percent of men, believed they had the ability to run and start a business. That is a very disheartening statistic, and shows the need for female entrepreneurial mentorship on a global scale. And while it can be difficult to make yourself available as a mentor, it is vital that you do starting now, instead of putting it off or assuming someone else will do it, so we can show tomorrow's generation of women that they are more than capable of running their own business.
Follow Deborah Sweeney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mycorporation