Entrepreneurship is not for all women, but employers are losing the PR fight | Women's Agenda

Entrepreneurship is not for all women, but employers are losing the PR fight

Fashion entrepreneur Samantha Wills speaking in Sydney last year.

Employers are losing the PR battle when it comes to entrepreneurship. They’re on the backfoot, especially on social media which is a haven for female entrepreneurs promoting their lifestyles, their creativity, their glamour, their flexibility and their freedom.

Indeed, no amount of marketing dollars can counter the influential profiles of women who’ve made a name for themselves by building their own successful businesses. Even the most social media savvy of employers will fail to emulate emotion that can be garnered from a single post from an individual sharing an edited version of her entrepreneurial lifestyle.  

But despite these success stories, entrepreneurship is still not always the best option for women. Those who do pursue entrepreneurship will not all land on the winning ticket, and the brutal realities and mundane tasks required of a startup can be easy to overlook – even amongst those who are open to sharing their so-called ‘failures’.

That’s a reminder that’s come up from a number of our clients over the past week, expressing a desire to look at 2017 a little differently to what they did in 2016. The story shouldn’t be about continuing to tell women to leave, they said, but rather to tell employers to do better at providing a great and supportive workplace for women, so that women actually want to stay.

While entrepreneurship is an excellent option for many women, and it’s fantastic to see an increasing number of women who’re taking a big gamble on going it alone, it’s not the only option, nor is it always an option at all.

A good majority of women do still work for an employer: and many such women are just as ambitious, just as determined, just as passionate, and hard working as those who work for themselves. Not every woman has the choice to work for an employer – some see no other option but to freelance or start their own business. And not every woman has the choice to pursue entrepreneurship, their own startup or even a freelance career. We all have different circumstances enabling us to chase different forms of ambition.

The goal is ultimately to create as many choices as possible for a diverse range of women – and employers can and should do more to make that possible.

In 2017, corporates – particularly large employers – need to not only work harder at promoting the benefits and opportunities of working within their metaphorical walls, but also at actively demonstrating their commitment to supporting the lifestyles and ambitions of their talented employees.

It’s not enough to have great ‘work life’ and/or parenting policies, if your employees don’t feel they can actually use such opportunities without their careers being hindered in the process. 

It’s not enough to have flexible work, if only a segment of your workforce (often ‘working mothers’) feel they have the right to pursue such opportunities without it hindering their career progression.  

It’s not enough to be encouraging your employees to work from home or from cafes, or from wherever they can, if your culture is so stifled or unwelcoming internally that your staff are avoiding entering the office at all.

It’s not enough to have a handful of great managers across your leadership team, if another handful are responsible for creating toxic team cultures elsewhere in the business.

Nor is it enough to be simply talking about having an inclusive workplace or using distant targets and metrics to prove you’re committed to supporting a diverse workforce, without proving you’re already making the difference that’s required. An employee cares about how they’re being treated right now, not how they might potentially get treated in the future.

Every day employers need to actively demonstrate how they’re supporting the ambitions and the lifestyles of their staff – and they need to market this message internally as much as they do externally. 

It’s also up to the media (including Women’s Agenda) to highlight good, sustainable opportunities and ways of working that are not limited to entrepreneurship and freelancing alone.

Entrepreneurship will always be a factor and an opportunity (for many women), but it’s not the only option for a satisfying career. 

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