By Judith Nowlin
If I had a dime for every time someone told me “you can’t do this” on my entrepreneurial journey, I would be swimming in a pool of coins like Scrooge McDuck from DuckTales, my favorite after school cartoon from the late 80’s.
I had every reason to listen to the naysayers. I never paid my dues at a corporate job. I didn’t register for a single business class in college. I had nothing to go on but a gut feeling that I was wired to do this.
I had every reason to fail. I started my healthcare company in 2009, at the height of the recession. I was the mother of three children aged 4 and under, one with a debilitating health condition. I had a husband who was gone more hours than he was home, working at a technology startup while getting his MBA at night.
But I didn’t listen, and I didn’t fail. Instead I took these challenges and used them to spur my determination.
Less than ten years later, I had taken my healthcare tech company from a concept to a business–a business that someone wanted to buy. Without venture capital, without external loans, I bootstrapped my business and brought it to acquisition–in a field traditionally dominated by males (16% of male entrepreneurs are in the tech industry, compared to 4% of females). Now I’m working on the leadership team, continuing to propel the mission forward.
The start-up culture has a 90% failure rate, and the chips are stacked even higher against women. Consider the types of questions fielded by entrepreneurs in pitch meetings: about two-thirds of women are asked questions related to loss-prevention, compared to the same percentage of men who are asked about the future promise of their company. The disparity is so obvious that it inspired a study published by the Academy of Management Journal titled “We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose,”
How did I beat the odds? I listened. But not to my doubts, and not to the negative statistics, and not to the detractors. I listened to those who had been there and done that.
Females face a particular challenge in the business world. Society has forcibly placed a chip on their shoulder, and there is an expectation that they act accordingly. They can’t take help from anyone, they have to jealously guard their successes, they can only move up by being cut throat, etc. Above all, they need to act more like men.
These are the lies that the business culture projects onto us, and they will not help us. We need to empower women to tap into their strengths and work within community, relying on and learning from each other. Turns out, women-led companies regularly outperform men, starting with 50% less capital and having 13% higher revenue than their male counterparts.
My advice to amplify your impact as a woman in business? First, receive. Walk through the world around you with a learner’s mentality. Every time you brush up against something that feels offensive to you, make an effort to reframe it. Ask yourself, “Where’s the golden nugget here? What’s being brought to the surface that I can use to continue to build something of value in my work?”
Second, give back. We women have a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and obstacles, and success for one woman can mean success for all if we share our experiences and build off of each other. That 25% difference in success rates between male and female startups? It virtually disappears when female investors or VC’s with female partners are the ones investing in women-led companies.
American Business Women’s Day marks the 1949 founding date of the American Business Women’s Association, the mission of which is “to bring together businesswomen of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow personally and professionally through leadership; education, networking support and national recognition.”
This mission emphasizes the importance of community and mutual reliance. Learn from those women who came before you. Be the one who encourages the others around you toward their passions in business. Together we can continue to normalize the culture.
Judith Nowlin is the Chief Growth Officer for Babyscripts. Judith created iBirth™, a mobile care companion for pregnancy, birth and postpartum, to help healthcare practitioners deliver better health outcomes for women and children in the United States and beyond. The original idea for the app was born out of her prior decade of service in maternity care. The technology platform she and her team built has since impacted nearly 1 million families on their journey toward optimal health and wellness during one of life’s most precious times. iBirth was acquired in June 2018 by Babyscripts, Inc., the leading virtual care platform for obstetrics. You can find her on LinkedIn.