LIFESTYLE – Is it a fear of taking risks that holds back female entrepreneurs?

It is well known that women can be less prone to taking risks in business and according to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor; the fear of failure is the main concern of women who set up their own businesses.

Another study by RBS Group that found 42% of women surveyed were reluctant to start their own business because they were worried that it would fail. Women were also less likely to apply for external funding and if they did approach a bank for a loan, they would apply for lower amounts.

Indeed, one of the reasons for Santander Breakthrough setting up its recent mentoring scheme for female entrepreneurs is to look to overcome some of these barriers. Some of the learning from the scheme confirms that females can often not do as well as men in attracting finance and investment, often because women are simply more honest in front of investors than men!

Of course the fear of failure isn’t just specific to females, most entrepreneurs start a business without any idea as to whether it will succeed or not, and in fact, it’s the fear of failure that is usually the number one reason why most aspiring entrepreneurs don’t get started at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure recently. Over the years, I shudder to think about how much time I have wasted worrying about whether I have failed a test or haven’t done ‘well enough’. And when I did fail something, like my first driving test for example, it undoubtedly only served to make me a better driver in the end. The angst of worrying about the failure was pointless.

In the UK’s education system, we are often conditioned to fear failure. Indeed, according to Start Up Britain Founder and entrepreneur Michael Hayman, it’s this very fear of failure that unites the UK’s Entrepreneur community. Why else would entrepreneurs put in the relentless hours and make the sacrifices that are part and parcel of life as a start-up founder?

What is interesting in the psychology of entrepreneurship is that even when a business is thriving and has successfully made the move from start up to more mature business, the founding entrepreneur if they’re honest, is usually still beset by a fear of failure, and the anxiety is often more acute for females than for men. This conditioning starts in school, with a 2012 report commissioned by Dove and led by the Future Foundation stated stating that only a third of 11- 17 year-old-girls feel confident that they will go on to have success in any chosen career. According to the report, this means that the UK could be deprived of 42,000 successful female entrepreneurs by 2050.

So as we deal with the gloomy statistics that over half of new businesses in the UK fail in the first five years, what can we learn if we encourage entrepreneurs to be more open about failure and to encourage more of a risk-mindset for females as well as males? Some ideas are as follows:

  • Learning – My very wise coach said to me that rather than beating myself up when things go wrong – I should instead focus on what I’m learning. It’s a remarkably simple trick and makes sense. If as female entrepreneurs we constantly focus on the cup half empty then we lose the positive energy and focus that might in fact help us succeed.
  • Mentors – Finding a mentor that has been there and done it, and especially a female role model can be invaluable. I have a business coach, a personal coach and a mentor and in turn I mentor three other emerging female entrepreneurs – overkill perhaps? But all brilliant learning and support.
  • Considered risks – It’s a myth that entrepreneurs need to be very risk savvy. Of course, being able to take risks and deal with ambiguity are core entrepreneurial skills, but in fact most successful entrepreneurs are adept at taking considered risks – so encouraging females to be able to fully analyse the risks and to be confident in the opportunities is key.
  • Know your worth – I often find that females are rather embarrassed at charging properly for their services. It’s all too easy to feel not worthy or too embarrassed to charge properly and this is definitely a female trait! So some support to encourage females to know their worth is an invaluable part of encouraging entrepreneurship.

It seems that the strongest determinant for success for an entrepreneur is not about never failing, but being able to take considered risks and be resilient and learning quickly when things go wrong.

Women especially need to just get on and do it, ignoring the naysayers and the confidence killers and taking the approach ‘to just do it’. After all, what is the worst that can really happen? If you fail you can just do something else.

Guest Writer, Michelle Wright, CEO and Founder Cause4

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