The workplace was designed for men, and the last several years have only reinforced that notion. That’s why women are leaving corporate America and opting to be their own boss — and why it’s important for allies to educate themselves on the reasons why.
It isn’t news that women are leaving their jobs at vastly higher rates than men. Many are flocking to entrepreneurship for better flexibility, deeper purpose and to be in control of their own legacies. However, women face unique challenges as entrepreneurs. This is where men can step up as allies for gender equality.
It is important for well-intentioned allies to consider:
- Why entrepreneurship is appealing to women
- What unique challenges do women face as entrepreneurs
- How allies can help women entrepreneurs
It is impossible for men to fully understand the lived experiences of women in the workplace — but that’s not even what a male ally does. Allies do not rescue women or make it about themselves; rather, they meet women where they are and provide the support they need.
Why entrepreneurship is appealing to women
There are many reasons why women are leaving corporate America, and this is creating a ripe opportunity for entrepreneurship. The more allies understand why women are starting their own businesses, the more empathy they can offer as support. Women are pursuing entrepreneurship often because of the lack of inclusion in corporate settings.
Reason #1: More flexibility
In the U.S., 66% of primary caregivers are women. This means that the burden of household tasks largely falls on women. Women do on average six hours more a week in household labor. While this warrants a conversation about fair play, the reality is that women need more flexibility in their work.
Entrepreneurship is a way that women can create a schedule that works for them, but that doesn’t mean they work fewer hours — they work when they’re available. That might mean working after school drop-offs, on the weekends or late in the evening once the kids have gone to bed. Owning your own business and being in charge helps women achieve this flexibility.
Reason #2: Not having to play corporate politics
Workplaces were largely designed by men for men to succeed. Until the recent shift during the pandemic, the workplace very much resembled the Mad Men era of the 1960s. The ideal worker who’s always on, says yes to everything and answers emails right away is revered in corporate America.
While these behaviors might be important sometimes, actual work production and results are far more important than these behaviors. Yet, data shows that promotions tend to fall on those that we believe to be fully committed and put their professional lives before their personal lives. Not only is this unhealthy, it definitely doesn’t work for women or any humans for that matter long-term.
Reason #3: Work with purpose
In our research, women often say the No. 1 attribute of what they’re looking for in their work is purpose. They want to feel compelled by the mission of the organization and understand that they’re helping make the world a better place. This might seem universal to humans, yet women are less wavering in doing work that doesn’t matter to them personally. What better way to align work with purpose than to create your own mission through entrepreneurship?
What unique challenges do women face as entrepreneurs
Allies understand the unique challenges women face in corporations. As a society, we are 136 years from gender equality. As women move from corporate jobs it is important that allies consider the lived experiences of women in the workplace before starting their businesses. According to the McKinsey Women in the Workplace report:
- While women represent 47% of the workforce, they represent only 24% of C-suite positions
- Women are still paid $0.82 on the dollar for comparable work to their male counterparts
- Women are promoted at a 14% lower rate than men
One of the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs face is gender bias. Women experience more microaggressions or non-inclusive behaviors in the workplace. Here are some examples that happen all too often to women:
- Having their authority questioned when the woman is clearly the decision maker
- Not being invited to social outings because people assume women are not interested in sports, drinks, etc.
- Being interrupted while speaking
- Having ideas hijacked by someone of a different gender
- Being mistaken for administrative support instead of the leader
- Not getting credit for their work
- People assume that they’re not interested in promotions or travel
- Being labeled as aggressive when the same behavior from another gender would be accepted
How allies can help women entrepreneurs
Rather than ignore these microaggressions, allies keep their radars up for these non-inclusive events. Male privilege is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that men didn’t work hard to where you’re at. It doesn’t mean men don’t deserve the achievements they’ve had. It simply means that those hardships did not have to do with gender.
Acknowledging male privilege is a chance to be an ally for women.
Allies also do these things really well:
- Listen to women, rather than make assumptions about what they want
- Share the load in household labor and office housework (taking notes, organizing social gatherings, etc.)
- Refrain from advising and making the relationship about them
- Ensure women get credit for their work
- Interrupt the interrupter if a woman interrupted
- Call in other allies when they make mistakes
- Seek out other men as allies to join the conversation about gender equality
- Mentor and sponsor women entrepreneurs
- Invest in women-owned businesses
Now is the time for allies for women entrepreneurs. With women entering entrepreneurship often because of their adverse corporate experiences, men can accelerate their success and create more inclusive environments for women to thrive. Allyship is a journey, not a destination. Centuries of gender equality will not be solved overnight, so our everyday actions matter.