Highly successful female entrepreneurs used to be a fairly unusual phenomenon. Thankfully, things have changed, and today there are plenty of examples of women entrepreneurs excelling in their chosen fields. From Harry Potter author JK Rowling, to Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg, to Spanx inventor Sara Blakely who became the youngest self-made female billionaire in history, the domain of successful entrepreneurs is no longer only occupied by men. This is true in South Africa too, with female entrepreneurs like Basetsana Kumalo (executive chairman and CEO of Basetsana Woman Investment Holdings) and Khanyi Dhlomo (founder of Ndalo Media) making waves in their respective industries.
While these women have all found their success in very different areas, there are certain traits that all successful female entrepreneurs have in common. Here are five:
They take risks. This is probably the one trait that sets all entrepreneurs (both male and female) apart from other people. But female entrepreneurs in particular have an appetite for risk that may not come as naturally to them as their male counterparts. SME finance company Finfind’s founder Daelene Menzies says, “For me, entrepreneurship is not so much about the money, although money is great, it’s more the thrill and adrenalin rush that risking big as an entrepreneur gives me.”
They have a sense of self-belief. Traditionally, women weren’t raised to have an unwavering sense of self-belief as many men were, particularly in the business world. In her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg says that men usually attribute success to themselves, whereas women are more likely to attribute their success to other external factors such as their team or luck. Successful female entrepreneurs have learned to own their success by cultivating a strong sense of self-belief. As Phuti Mahanyele, Chief Executive Officer of the Shanduka Group, one of South Africa’s largest investment holding companies, says, “People treat you the way you treat yourself. If you come in feeling at a disadvantage – you are already at a disadvantage.”
They’ve dealt with their tendency to self-criticise. Just as women often aren’t raised to have a sense of self-belief that’s as strong as men’s, they are also much more self-critical when faced with failure, with a tendency to internalise it and blame themselves. Successful female entrepreneurs, on the other hand, have learned to be more self-accepting and forgiving of themselves if something goes wrong.
They’re passionate about what they do. All entrepreneurs, whether male or female, love what they do. This passion for the subject matter is where they source the energy it takes to handle the long hours, late nights and hard work, not to mention the various challenges along the way that come with establishing a successful business.
They’re persistent. Women are often raised with the notion that they should put other people’s needs ahead of themselves, and that it’s not fully “OK” to build something for themselves from the ground up. For this reason, it can take more effort than their male entrepreneur counterparts to pursue their goals with single mindedness. All entrepreneurs will face difficulties and challenges along the way – successful female entrepreneurs have learned to accept these and carry on regardless.
Increasingly the world is seeing more and more female entrepreneurs achieve incredible things. While all these women are unique, they have certain traits in common – a strong sense of self-belief, persistence, and an appetite for risk among others – that create the stepping stones for them to achieve that success.