Four years ago Sheryl Sandberg challenged women to “lean in,” but we are leaning into the wrong career path if our goal is power and happiness. While the concepts from her book are valid, they should be applied beyond the realm of corporate America to female entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is a better pathway to control and happiness for women. Applying many of Sandberg’s initiatives to the entrepreneurial world, instead of Corporate America, will yield faster and more rewarding results for women in every nation. I enjoyed my time working for a large corporate company for two years, but it wasn’t until I became an entrepreneur that I felt the power and freedom of controlling my company, my career, and most importantly, my life. With almost a decade as a female founder under my belt, I have watched my working peers make tough decisions as they juggle their family and careers. I have also watched my stay-at-home peers raise their children and wonder what they will do as their children grow older and need them less. Both examples support why entrepreneurship is an ideal vehicle to create and achieve success as a woman.
Women are needed in top positions in all companies, but there are far fewer obstacles and stigmas to overcome when you are the CEO of your own company. For example, if you founded your own company, there is no chance of your gender negatively influencing your authority to run the company and make tough decisions. Also, your business ideas will be taken seriously from the get-go, and you can comfortably state them in a direct fashion without fear of unwarranted criticism. Female entrepreneurs will still need to handle tremendous responsibility and pressure to succeed, and “lean in” as one should, but the work they do is for themselves and therefore the stress and hurdles are well worth ultimately controlling their paycheck, working hours, and definition of success.
Female entrepreneurs have more control over their job security and fulfillment than their corporate peers, which leads to higher levels of happiness. A study from the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report, found that not only are women business owners ranked twice as happy as their non-entrepreneur, non-business-owner counterparts, they also have a higher level of well-being over that of men entrepreneurs. Taking a hard look at my peers, as an entrepreneur and mother, I am grateful for the flexibility in my life. Entrepreneurship is the great equalizer that allows women to have control, determine how much they make, make decisions about their working hours, and have power. Taking control of your life and job through entrepreneurship is quite possibly the best way to foster happiness as a woman.
Sandberg makes an excellent point that women shouldn’t limit their professional aspirations in anticipation of balancing a family. I agree, but the way the world of business is structured oftentimes creates cognitive dissonance in working women. For example, even Sandberg revealed that she worried she would lose her job and credibility by taking maternity leave. In her book, Lean In, she shared “When my son arrived, I wanted to take the three months of maternity leave Google offered, but I worried that my job would not be there when I returned.” I do not believe Sandberg would have experienced the same anxiety if she had founded her own company. When I took two months maternity leave after the birth of my son I had concerns about my company, which is smaller than Google, but experienced zero worry about being replaced during my absence.
To be sure, there are plenty of challenges and stresses facing entrepreneurs. They are responsible for the success of their companies, their paychecks, and their employees in an ever-changing market. They face the task of balancing the needs of their companies and families. Entrepreneurs also face social and ethical responsibilities that come with engaging in the process of continuous innovation and adaptation, and will need examine various levels of accountability with every new product iteration created.
Yet despite the challenges, being a female founder gives women the power to make their own rules and choices with less guilt or anxiety. The company they are pouring so many of their resources into is something they can pass on to their children. Women entrepreneurs are building a future of opportunities for themselves and their families, instead of just building a bank account. Women need to realize that they have the opportunity and ability to engineer their own future. They do not have to climb the corporate ladder or “jungle gym” to be successful. More and more women are shattering the glass ceilings of “big business,” but if women build their own businesses, they can omit a ceiling of any material and then hire more women to grow with them.
Danielle Tate, Entrepreneur and Author of Elegant Entrepreneur: The Female Founder’s Guide to Starting & Growing Your First Company, is on a mission to get more smart women to start-up and scale up companies. ElegantEntrepreneur.co