Women-owned businesses have become a powerful economic force. It is estimated that they generate nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue and employ nearly 7.7 million people, according to 2010 studies based on the most recent census data. While the following five tips are geared toward female entrepreneurs, male small business owners can also benefit:
1. Do not stick to stereotypical gender roles. Societal norms have discouraged women from being too aggressive or authoritative in the workplace to avoid being viewed negatively by employees and peers. However, being able to turn assertiveness and confidence on and off depending on the social circumstances has been shown to serve women best, according to a recent study from Stanford University. Although personal vision, technical skills and industry contacts can be important components of authority, the most important thing for any leader, male or female, is to feel comfortable and non-apologetic in the role.
2. Reframe your thinking. When office issues arise, sometimes small business owners need to have difficult conversations with employees but find it challenging. There are several things business leaders can do to make it easier not only on their employees, but themselves, according to the Clayman Institute for Gender Research:
- If you are saying something authoritative, it may be best not to smile. However, if you feel someone is inordinately intimidated by your position, a brief smile may be a good way to keep the conversation natural.
- Use difficult conversations as “teaching moments,” in order to empower your staff to act with confidence on your behalf in the future.
- Step outside yourself and think in terms of safeguarding the needs of the management team as a whole.
3. Cast a wider net(work). It can be empowering to associate with and seek the counsel of other successful business owners. You will find it valuable to tap multiple perspectives on everything ranging from pragmatic financial and tax decisions to matters related to the greater good, such as corporate philanthropy.
4. Lead by example. Female leaders are often particularly tuned in to how their demeanor and behavior influence their staff. If leaders practice what they preach and live their work lives according to the values they espouse, they will have an easier time gaining staff commitment and passion than if they rely on formal authority. Admit that you are human and fallible, engage in small talk and demonstrate an interest in employees’ private lives.
5. Resolve conflict effectively. Business owners who are good listeners will have a better chance of resolving conflict among their staff or between themselves and their employees. It helps to consider the personal biases and triggers that led to conflict in the first place. Using active listening skills shows that you understand how someone is feeling. Be sure that the tone of the conversation remains calm and respectful, and stay engaged with the process of coming to agreement for as long as it takes.