Consciously, I know I’ve had a fairly easy time as far as being both a woman and an entrepreneur goes. I know that a lot of women have to struggle to be taken seriously in business and that there is a lot of discrimination out there. Personally, I’ve never run into anything like that. I’ve never lost out on a client due to my gender, as far as I know. And while I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with both clients and vendors, I’ve never heard so much as a comment on my gender. I know that other women have found themselves in far less pleasant positions.
Subconsciously, though, it’s a different matter.
There’s a part of me that, deep down, struggles with the idea that anyone would ever make a business decision based on gender. I’ve caught myself thinking about anecdotes that other women have told about discrimination in business, wondering if that really was the whole story. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’m willing to be honest about it. That’s because I believe that honesty is the only way to create a new norm — a new understanding of what it means to be a female entrepreneur and to earn money independently as a woman.
Working From a Basic Assumption
On the most fundamental level, I don’t expect discrimination to come my way — ever. This has lead to some harsh surprises, more often based on religion that anything else (being the only ‘out’ Jewish kid at a high school mostly populated by Christian fundamentalists can make for some colorful experiences).
But it’s also one of the keys to why I don’t see more discrimination in other ways. I knew growing up that people might take objection to me on the basis of my religion. My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor; that is enough to make a person assume that she’s going to face religious discrimination at some point. But I never had any understanding that there was such a thing as gender discrimination when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time with both of my grandmothers — women who would never have taken crap from anyone, especially on account of the fact that they had two X chromosomes. So, for a large portion of my life, I wasn’t even aware that I should be worried about that sort of problem. Even now, it isn’t a fact of life for me. At most, it’s something that happens to other people.
That sort of attitude does protect me. I firmly believe that the way a female entrepreneur acts and presents herself can send subtle signals to the people she deals with — signals that can effectively say, ‘This woman is not going to tolerate any idiocy, thank you very much.’ It may lead someone not comfortable with dealing with a strong woman to take his business elsewhere, but it also means that, subconsciously, many people will modify their own behavior.
We Have the Right to That Assumption
I want to clarify that this not the same thing as saying that women without that sort of attitude deserve to deal with discrimination. Discrimination is stupid and no one should have to deal with it.
Rather, I’m saying that we need to work on our own assumptions, and perhaps a little self-righteous anger. Always expect to be treated not only as a human being but as a professional, if you’re a woman in business. And if someone does otherwise, call them on it. Easier said than done, I know, but discrimination (and worse) happen when good people say nothing.
I can and have refused prospective clients due to ideological differences, though not something that aligns with this sort of situation. I’m confident that I would turn down a prospective client or fire a current one if any sort of discrimination occurred. In my mind, the best way to deal with people who make snap judgments on the basis of some antiquated thought process is to dig in my heels and refuse to deal. It’s always just that simple to me.
The New Era of Female Entrepreneurs
Women entrepreneurs are common place, especially if you start thinking about the number of women who freelance or work from home as contractors. Are economy is shifting away from employment for many people. Many young women graduating from college or even high school these days entirely skip going to work for someone else, preferring to go into business for themselves.
That’s an incredibly good thing.
As more and more female entrepreneurs are of an age where they can’t even remember a time when there weren’t women CEOs in the Fortune 500 (along with the many other benchmarks of women in business), there are going to be more women who don’t understand that discrimination is even an option. There will always be idiots in the world, but not even allowing for it is the best way to make discrimination mostly go away. That doesn’t solve all gender equality issues, but it does move us in the right direction.
Image by Flickr user Julian Fong
This post is a part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about entrepreneurship and making money, see womensmoneyweek.com.
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