What’s Her Story Got to Do with Me?

by Patricia Frame on March 16, 2011

Women's History Month Display 2011
A key ingredient in being a successful entrepreneur is resilience.

Folks who grow a successful business do not do it in a nice, upward curving seamless success pathway. They have to adapt, overcome obstacles, revise their plans, and keep on going.

Resilience is critical; better yet, it can be learned.

Often some of our earliest lessons are from our elders.

How did my grandmother, orphaned at 12, gather up the courage to immigrate to the US alone later in her teens, leaving her brothers behind? Who are your childhood role models for resilience?

What do the women of the Depression or of WWII – women who faced huge challenges and dramatically changing gender roles – have to say to us today?

How did Madame CJ Walker, born of slaves just after the Civil War, and orphaned before she was 8, build a huge national beauty business? Her granddaughter’s book and, later, PBS, told me a fascinating story of entrepreneurial smarts.

Women entrepreneurs’ ranks have grown significantly in the past decade.

Although even so, we are only a third of all entrepreneurs. And we face larger problems with capital, credit, and equity – in part discrimination, but also because many of us shy away.

Research shows entrepreneurial women ask for less from their banks and use fewer financial advisors, just as women academic researchers ask for less grant money than men in the same areas.

Ask WGB columnist Marissa Levin how critical her bank relationships are to her success; she gave a great “how to” talk on this at the 2010 Women Grow Business Boot Camp.

Specialized support and services to help women succeed in business are big business themselves.

Lots of terrific free resources exist:

But when you hear of small businesses being the job engine of the USA, they are referring to “gazelles” – the small businesses that grow big and fast – like Google.

While those are rare in any case, women are far less likely to build successful organizations than to be solo businesswomen or have very small companies. Many women start businesses for lifestyle reasons – moms especially, and those are less likely to scale.

But many of us are also constrained in our thinking – often by a lack of role models, without even realizing it.

And too few of us are in the vital areas of innovation, science, engineering, or technical start-ups. Is this really a gender difference or still based in how we think of our options?

Does some lack of visible women entrepreneurs’ success also come from our common tendency not to “blow our own horns” as most effective men do?

What are the awards and honors in your field?

Have you ever applied for any of them?

Why not?

Do you, at least, brag about your achievements and demonstrate your value to your clients?

Did that very sentence make you a bit nervous?

Recognition by others is a great asset to any entrepreneur! And if you are fearful, ask within our own WGB community – like founding editor Jill Foster – how they garnered recognition that has helped grow their businesses.

Women’s history was long ignored – thus much of it is clouded in earlier history.

This loss of role models led to a push in the 1970s and since to document women’s history, which has made some real strides in our shared knowledge.

But the documented history of successful women entrepreneurs through the ages, despite all those jokes about the world’s oldest profession, is still slight. And far less such research has been published in the last decade.

I remember when job ads were posted by gender and, yet, was still surprised recently to see how few federal jobs of that era were open to women.

Think of the implications…. I was lucky that my aunts, in traditional jobs all, supported my wildest dreams. And while I could tell you stories of male chauvinism all night, men have also helped me grow, develop, and achieve. But it was women role models who gave me courage to try.

This is Women’s History Month and knowing the history of women who have succeeded can help us all. They offer us hope as well as role models.

We see in their success, our potential. We find in their struggles, our strengths.

More from Women Grow Business:

Image: Carmichael Library via Flickr, Creative Commons

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced Human Capital issues speaker and management consultant. She founded Strategies for Human Resources to advise organizations facing organization and people challenges. Previously she designed and managed human resource functions for GE, Software AG, Maxwell Online, and others. A Wharton MBA and an Air Force veteran, she actively supports the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Check out her website, SHRinsight.com, for management and development articles.

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