By Jania Bailey, CEO of FranNet
When I was first entering the loan business back in Paducah, my bank president at the time suggested that I shadow a woman in Nashville who had made a name for herself in the banking industry. Observing her during that time, when the business culture didn’t dictate the same level of respect from male peers that women in business are afforded today, provided a clinic in how to handle myself in a business environment.
From her example, in those early days of my career I learned the importance of not just talking the talk, but of walking the walk. I absorbed not only valuable lessons and skills on what to say and how to say it, but I also learned how to use body language, how to dress, and how to have a larger presence in a meeting. She commanded respect by the way that she acted, the way she treated others, and the poise she maintained while in a meeting room.
During Women’s History Month, it’s important to look back at the pioneers who paved the way for many of us to excel in the business world. However, our heroes don’t need to be those vaunted legends of the female business movement. For me, it was the example set by this woman I learned from during my nascent years in business that had the biggest impact on my career. I’m sure many of my fellow business women can point to a similar unsung hero of the movement whose example was enough to inspire them to achieve and succeed.
The improved environment that exists today for women in business is not surprising to me. My generation is one of the first where women are regularly found occupying the C-suite. I started my career as a secretary, and that’s where a lot of women from prior generations stalled. Don’t get me wrong, a secretary is a very important role, however it didn’t always put women on a path to business ownership. I grew up hearing about the glass ceiling and how limited our opportunities were. In fact, when I was first promoted to a loan officer in Western Kentucky, they told me that I was an “experiment.” I was the first female commercial loan officer in that part of the state. I used to walk into meetings and hear, “Where is your boss?” But I learned not to listen to that noise. You have to prove to that you deserve to be there. I think that same determination and mindset is what has led women to be more confident in the business environment.
In my role as CEO of FranNet, I oversee a team of franchise consultants who are helping entrepreneurs become business owners across the country every single day, and many of those are women who are taking that first step towards becoming their own boss. The franchise industry has provided women an avenue to become a business owner and make a difference in their communities with the support of a corporate team and proven model. It’s my pleasure to hear success stories of those women opening their own businesses every day due, in part, to the work of our FranNet consultants matching them with the right franchise opportunity that fits their personalities and goals.
In my role as a member of the International Franchise Association’s Board of Directors, it’s also important to me that women have the opportunity not only as a franchisee, but to create and manage their own company as a franchisor. We’ve seen a tremendous and encouraging increase in female founders and co-founders over the last few decades. In various publications, on the news networks, and in my day-to-day conversations with fellow industry leaders, there are countless examples of women who are following their dreams and building brands that are making a positive impact on the world.
So, how do we continue to make progress in the workplace? Simple. Keep walking the walk.
We need to assume that we’re equal instead of demanding to be equal. The best strides we can make are in creating and running successful and impactful businesses, and continuing to improve the work we’re doing.
If you’re a woman considering your options in franchising, play to your skill set. Know what your strengths are and choose a franchise opportunity that plays to your strengths. The type of franchise you pick will be important. Trust yourself and be confident. You’ll be surprised at how important those skill sets are.
My advice to the emerging generation of female business owners, executives, and employees is to first of all, believe that you can. Learn and absorb everything that you can in your chosen profession. Make yourself an expert in that profession. Get involved. Raise your hand. If it’s franchising, get involved in the International Franchise Association and other groups that provide networking opportunities and the chance to learn from those who have more expertise and experience.
Be seen. Be heard. Reach out and network. Be proactive. Those are the things that will put you miles ahead of the competition – whether male or female. Set goals and a path, and then be assertive in the effort to walk the walk down that path in order to achieve your goals.
Jania Bailey is the CEO of FranNet and on the Board of Directors for the International Franchise Association (IFA) and serves on the IFA Membership Committee and the IFA Supply Forum Board.