A 2017 report commissioned by the Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship (WIE), which mapped the representation of women in the Australian entrepreneurial landscape, found that “while the start-up ecosystem in Australia continues to grow, businesses founded by women are still underrepresented, with fewer female-led businesses starting, scaling and securing finance.”
Yet in harnessing the very essence of what differentiates us from our male counterparts, traits such as our intuition, mindfulness, resourcefulness, and let’s face it, our ability to effortlessly juggle a hundred balls at once (or at least look like we can!), the female-lead entrepreneurial movement is thriving.
On the cusp of International Women’s Day 2020, let’s consider some of the key characteristics of successful female entrepreneurs. Are we born with them?
Can they be taught, or even learned? Or is modern entrepreneurship a combination of both, accompanied by the cumulative power of one’s life experiences – good, bad, and otherwise?!
On getting started
As Founder and Managing Director of a successful startup, I know first-hand what it’s like to start something from scratch; to have an ambitious vision and to bring that vision into reality.
After nearly twenty years climbing the ladder in top tier law firms in Australia and abroad, I realised that the legal model was broken. I became convinced that there had to be a better way of practising law, one which improved the dynamic between both clients and staff.
I also recognised that by creating a truly flexible workplace, one that fostered a culture of collaboration, professional and personal support, and mentoring, it would be a ‘win-win’ for both client outcomes and the well-being of my team
So, I took a leap of faith and launched Peripheral Blue in 2016, a fresh new style of firm that provides clients with top-tier legal and consulting advice in a dynamic and flexible way.
Maybe she’s born with it
Was my spirit and drive to succeed innate? I had always wanted to be a lawyer, absolutely. But I certainly never imagined I’d be an ‘entrepreneur’!
Did I always have what it took?
I do believe that you are inherently predisposed to particular traits which might make you more (or in some cases, less) suitable to be an entrepreneur or business leader. But what I also firmly believe is that it’s your life experiences, including (importantly) overcoming set-backs and roadblocks, which can be the trigger for thinking outside the box, seeking and imagining solutions, and deciding to take risks you might not have otherwise.
Doug Richards, founder of School for Startups and former investor on the TV show, Dragon’s Den, wholly rejects the premise that entrepreneurs are ‘born’, insisting instead that there is a “significant amount of information that can be learned through lessons. ,” Richard explains.
You are ‘only human’, but you have an incredible capacity for transformation!
Female entrepreneurship – the top 10 characteristics
Here are the top 10 attributes that I believe characterise female entrepreneurship – traits that can be nurtured and developed in all entrepreneurs.
Ambition. Ambition drives you to excel at everything you do. Successful women in business quickly become adept at pushing through the inevitable set back(s) and have enough self-belief in their influence to affect change.
Positivity. Successful entrepreneurs see the upside of every situation – a vital skill to cope with the stresses and challenges which go hand in hand with entrepreneurship. Studies have also shown that positive thinking can improve resilience and improve your capacity for learning and problem solving.
Mindfulness. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t just interested in building something for themselves. Women tend to thrive on knowing that what they’re doing makes a real difference beyond their business. Building Peripheral Blue’s profile has gifted us an important platform from which to advocate for change, that we never take for granted.
Gratitude. When you’re busy building a business, and practising your craft, it’s easy to lose sight of all you’ve achieved and have. Women have come a long way! Practice gratitude every day – it changes your perspective and brings happiness. Be ready and generous with your appreciation of others and their positive impact on your journey.
A commitment to growth. Commit to a life of constant learning, and personal and professional growth. Keep evaluating your progress and be willing to make the changes necessary to succeed. Take advantage of networking opportunities and continue your education. Volunteer your time and travel the world. Look after your own wellbeing and lead by example for your team.
Self-awareness. Recognise and celebrate your strengths and be willing to identify the areas outside your skill set that are holding you back. Upskill in those areas which will add value and outsource the rest to your A Team.
Risk tolerance. You need to be prepared to take calculated risks to achieve success. Everyone’s risk appetite will be different – in our firm it’s one of the first things we seek to understand in a new client – but a carefully considered decision is usually better than not making one at all!
Lean into failure. Making decisions won’t always result in success. You will fail – repeatedly. But even small failures can be converted into learnings and, ultimately, into improved patterns of operating or behaviour. How quickly or well do you overcome obstacles in your life?
Flexibility. One of a woman’s greatest strengths is her ability to adapt readily to change. As a business leader it is vital that you remain open-minded and flexible in your thinking, a trait which will benefit both your staff and clients, and improve your business in the long-run.
Vision. Vision is the vital force that drives the entrepreneur. I founded my business with the aim of disrupting the legal and professional services industries by giving clients access to top tier, responsive legal and advisory services flexibly, and affordably. So, while I and the business have evolved considerably since then, our commitment to the overarching vision has never wavered.
The WIE’s report concluded that “[w]ith the rapid growth of the startup culture, Australia has the opportunity to be a global leader in gender diversity in this industry.”
As women, we need to back not only ourselves, but each other, striving for recognition and support – in our local communities, online, within our industries, influencing decision-making and systemic change as much as possible.
* Mellissa Larkin is the Founder and Managing Director of Adelaide-based law firm Peripheral Blue. She was recently named as a South Australian Finalist in the Small Business category of the 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Awards.