Heading up a business is incredibly stressful for anyone. You work long hours, you need to retain oversight and whatever happens, the buck stops with you.
It’s no surprise that entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to experience burnout. However, these challenges are often exacerbated for women.
Whilst more of us than ever are running companies (45% of US businesses are women-owned, according to recent reports), the story doesn’t end there.
Whether it’s the additional physical and emotional toll of running a household, or the extra effort that goes into being taken seriously in the workplace, it’s hard to ignore the added pressures many of us shoulder compared to our male peers.
There’s the chronic under-funding of women’s businesses (average loans given to female-owned companies is 31% smaller than those afforded to male ones).
And growth unarguably continues to a challenge for women’s businesses – they own only 32.6% of businesses with four employees or more.
It’s not conjecture to suggest that having overcome some initial obstacles, many women drop out at an earlier stage of the process than their male counterparts. This is likely down in no small part to the mental burdens we face.
So, what’s to be done about it?
Building a network
Creating effective support networks for myself in and out of the office has been one of the keys to helping me maintain the mental equilibrium to run a growing company.
It’s important to cultivate connections with people in your industry, especially with female mentors who have faced similar challenges and are well-placed to understand where you’re coming from on an emotional as well as practical level.
A problem shared is a problem halved. This is exponentially true in business: the more people you can turn to in times of trouble, the more specific you can be in seeking advice.
It’s undoubtedly true that women entrepreneurs will find a noticeably smaller pool of potential female mentors, recruits, business partners – but even in the most male-dominated industries, they do exist. Find them and leverage what they’ve learned.
If you’re struggling, look to the growing number of co-work spaces, business groups, and events aimed at women. Consider reaching out to female leaders on social media, via email, and at industry conferences.
Naturally, it helps to have your house in order too. In your domestic and personal life, it’s vital to surround yourself with people who understand, nurture and support your ambition.
I’m lucky enough to have a true partner in my co-founder, who listens and tries to understand the specific challenges I face.
Achieving that balance
Most women in business would agree that ensuring a healthy work/life balance is one of the biggest struggles we face. It’s important to find breathing room to cultivate your personal interests and practice a little self-care.
In practice, this means different things to different people.
Let’s face it, entrepreneurship is no mean feat, and there are times when you have to selectively choose what you can afford to put down. It’s all about striking a balance that works for you and keeps you fulfilled.
If you’re trying to re-balance after a period of intense work, it’s essential to set aside time to explore different options and really decide what helps you keep the stress at bay.
I personally find maintaining a baseline of weekly exercise a powerful tool for helping me process the struggles of my working week.
Studies have shown again and again that exercise is a panacea to anxiety and depression. In my case, getting out into one of London’s lovely green spaces for a run works wonder.
I try not to be too rigid about it (time is a limited resource when you’re a business owner!) but finding a few moments in the week for yourself can make a world of difference.
Less multi-tasking, more focus
Expanding a little on the previous point, part of not burning out is choosing what to prioritise or delegate.
Of course, we all know women are usually natural multitaskers and when you’re an entrepreneur, you often end up doing a million things at once.
However, doing too much at the same time will hinder more than it helps. Instead, try to create an effective system of triage for your workflow and allocate time towards prioritising your day-to-day tasks.
Hiring, firing, perspiring
When it comes to managing your own stress-levels, there’s a lot you can do on a personal level. But in the long run, you want to create a company culture where people are valued for their insights, not their gender (or their ethnicity, class background or physical capability).
One of my favourite business maxims is that many of the best businesses don’t try to outdo their competitors, they try to do things differently.
What better way of doing this than by putting a premium on recruiting women and priming them for leadership roles?
In the marketplace of ideas, unlocking the valuable insights of underrepresented groups isn’t just a moral aim – it makes all the difference to your business’s success.
Room at the top
Female under-representation at the top of the food chain persists. But for aspirational women, this also means there’s a wealth of opportunities.
Many amazing female-led businesses have been built out to fill gaps in the market left fallow by traditionally male-dominated sectors.
I always think of the example of former UK apprentice contestant, Bianca Miller, who spotted a gap in the market for skin-tone tights for women of color.
She was met with a lack of enthusiasm from traditional executives and nonetheless managed to launch her range to huge success and acclaim.
There’s another lesson there: don’t be disheartened, be determined and always back yourself.
You’re bound to have some push-back. But if you can hold steady, find your people and focus, you’ll be that much less likely to burnout.