Women Entrepreneurs Look to One Another for Role Models

A new study from Ernst & Young (EY) found that America’s most successful women entrepreneurs are finding financial success through building communities of support and becoming the role models they never had.  According to the 2014 Annual EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Impact Study:

  • Most women report not having positive female role models in the entrepreneurial world
  • 60% of women entrepreneurs don’t have advisory boards to provide guidance

Yet, the report points out that a recent Canadian study found:

  • 83% of women entrepreneurs believe access to role models makes a difference

Research has shown that working collaboratively is a strength for women. However, when it comes to the entrepreneurial world, women don’t lean on their broader networks the way men do. Women entrepreneurs have substantially smaller networks and rely far less on mentors, role models, and advisory boards than their male counterparts. This is a big disadvantage the folks at EY are fighting to change through their Entrepreneurial Winning Women (EWW) program.

The program is a competitive nominating process in the US and Canada where 12 successful women entrepreneurs are selected by a group of independent judges to come together as a cohort and participate in an executive leadership program. According to Kerrie MacPherson, EY Partner and Executive Sponsor to EWW “our program helps bridge the gap for an area we call the missing middle – those second-stage women business owners whose companies have emerged from the start-up phase but face a crucial inflection point in their growth journey.” MacPherson strongly believes that “by providing the right information, networks, and guidance, we’re able to help these talented women access capital, identify strong business advisors and put the processes in place to radically expand their companies.” As an advisor to the program I’ve had the opportunity to witness the process first-hand. From a psychologist’s perspective I’ve observed two very powerful outcomes that any entrepreneur or business owner should take note of: Creating role models and building communities of support.Role Models to Show You the Way As I noted at the outset, there is a dearth of role models for women in the entrepreneurial space, particularly at the highest levels. As the program has been running for seven years past winners have naturally evolved into becoming the role models they never had. Alumni of the program frequently return to serve as mentors and role models for the latest winners, which has had a positive impact. Consider that after completing the program:

  • 70% reported thinking bigger and setting higher growth goals
  • 88% reported an increase in their self-confidence as a leader The fact is being exposed to positive role models does make a difference even for those who have already had a lot of success.

Peer Support is Key… to the Bottom Line The report points out that “hand-in-hand with role models, women entrepreneurs need peers… As much as top-tier advice and direct access matter, so do relationships with true entrepreneur peers who share your goals, challenges, rewards and values and are ready to counsel on a problem or celebrate a big win.” Let’s face it, it’s lonely being the boss. Knowing that someone has your back can alleviate a lot of the stress that goes along with being a business leader. For decades research has shown that social support is one of the greatest buffers to stress and the EWW program is a great example. Consider that:

  • 79% felt they were able to expand their professional networks
  • 85% felt the program made them feel more supported

Building communities of support isn’t just a feel good exercise. The participating entrepreneurs from 2012 reported 63% higher total revenues the year after going through the program. No small feat in any business.