Women business owners who encounter gender discrimination from investors, customers or others often are taken aback initially. But over time they develop strategies to deal with painful and awkward situations.
There's no set formula or one right answer for handling bias. Those who have been on the receiving end of discrimination or who advise women owners say responses depend on factors, including who displayed the bias and whether an owner believes pursuing or continuing a relationship with them is in her best interest.
Here are five things a woman owner should do:
— Don't show your anger. Show your power. Alicia Syrett, CEO of the investing company Pantegrion Capital, responds to a biased statement or question by asking in a friendly way for clarification. "They end up babbling; they realize it doesn't make sense," she says. Another approach is to say, "Ouch. That hurt," in a matter-of-fact way that calls out biased behavior, says Barb Smith, director of Key4Women, a network for women in business created by KeyBank.
—Consider it a blessing. Someone who's biased is revealing their character, and that helps a woman owner decide if this is a person she wants to do business with. "They're doing your due diligence for you," Syrett says. She notes that some owners might want to go ahead and work with someone who's biased if the long-term gain is worth it. "You have to judge for yourself, weigh the pros and cons," she says.
—Marshal your facts. When making a pitch or presentation, begin with market research and company financials and successes. "That gives you power and more strength," Smith says. And be ready to come up with more facts if your audience is dismissive because you're a woman.
—Be and act confident. Gender discrimination involves assumptions and prejudices about women and their abilities and in business, it also denigrates their roles as mothers. Smith recommends women owners present themselves and their lives in a positive way that "strips away gender excuses." For example, an owner who worked part-time while caring for children shouldn't apologize for not working full time. A better approach is to say, "I was able to have a part-time career while raising my family."
—Get some support and training. Women's business groups and networks help owners deal with gender bias. Attending forums, discussions and programs about discrimination can help owners formulate their strategies. Even asking, "what do you do?" during a one-on-one conversation with another owner can help.
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