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Women VS. Men in Business: Is There a Difference?

Kathy Steele Red Caffeine Marketing + Technology WGN

I have never felt that being a woman in business has hindered my success. Actually, I consider it an advantage. I have been the lone woman in the boardroom on many occasions, and instead of feeling like the odd “woman” out, I have always been treated respectfully. Men have played a big role in my career—encouraging me, giving me some of my first breaks and mentoring me through difficult situations.

In a recent interview for WGN’s Tomorrow’s Business Today, I was posed the question “Do you think it’s different for women and men entrepreneurs?” My immediate answer was yes. I followed that yes by saying men are typically more aggressive, but as I left the interview, the word aggressive seemed so cliché.

Why did I say that?

My answer really started to gnaw on me. Aggressive means pursuing one’s aims and interests forcefully, sometimes unduly so.

I am fortunate to know many amazing woman business owners. Some are ultra successful, but most confide that while their businesses are growing or perceived as “good” they cannot seem to break into the million-dollar club—and these women are definitely aggressively pursuing growth.

Statistics from The 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express “OPEN” say:

As of 2013, it is estimated that there are over 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating over $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.8 million people.

Those numbers seem great, but women-owned firms only employ 6% of the country’s workforce and contribute just under 4% of business revenues—roughly the same share they contributed in 1997.

Click to Tweet: Only 4.2% of all women-owned firms have revenues of 1 million or more—why is that?

I wish I had the answer. For many years I let business just happen. I loved what I was doing and I did not establish goals or have a solid purpose. That’s changed—I am now pursuing Red Caffeine’s aims and interests forcefully.

Here’s How:

Financial Literacy and Playing Games

I have to admit, for years I attended meetings with my accountant and marginally understood financial reports. When I decided to open the books and play the Great Game of Business with Red Caffeine, I, along with my entire team, went through Financial Literacy Training. I was definitely not at the top of the class! Now understanding and regularly reviewing income statements, balance sheets, sales forecasts, billings forecasts, expense forecasts, and production forecasts has become part of our entire business process, not a closed door meeting with my accountant. The great thing about The Game is it is a team effort. We make decisions by the numbers so the entire company works together for financial growth and success. We love to win!

Business Purpose, Values, Vision and Mission

Building an exceptional workplace is key to growing a business. The culture of your organization can make or break you. Everything starts with creating a blueprint of the type of business you want to run and work in everyday: establishing a purpose – not what you do but why you do it; values – the guiding principles of how you work with your team and customers; vision – a three-, five- or ten-year written plan that you envision for yourself and team; and mission – clarification of your offering, customers, partners, goals and competitive advantage. This is not easy stuff to accomplish. It takes time and team collaboration, and I highly recommend getting guidance from an outside source.

Having it All – Work / Life Balance

This is a tough one. Entrepreneurs tend to be overachievers so their expectations of themselves are typically a bit unrealistic. Having a great team and incredibly supportive husband make it very easy for me to focus on our growing business and still get some personal time. Learning to let go, empower others, exercise and getting some outside help around the house help keep me sane.

Be Aggressive

I still believe men and women lead differently but that doesn’t make one sex superior. When it comes to being aggressive I don’t know if I’m that much different than my male counterparts – I see the end zone and I am going for it.

So is there a difference? I would love to hear your take in the comments section!

I highly recommend the following resources and training:

Ari Weinzweig – Amazing speaker, trainer and author on business visioning
Zingtrain Business Visioning
Zingeman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business
Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader

Tom Walter – Incredible mentor, author and speaker
It’s My Company Too

The Great Game of Business – Makes finances fun
The SRC Experience
The Great Game of Business

Nick’s University – Building a business with purpose
Leadership Training
A Slice of the Pie

Strategiz – Consulting support for early second stage women-owned businesses
Visit website

About The Author

Kathy Steele
Kathy Steele - View more articles

Kathy Steele is the President and CEO of Red Caffeine. She loves the crazy ride of being an entrepreneur, building brands, simple user experiences and happy employees. She is married to manufacturing, literally. Connect with Kathy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

  • Becky Davenport

    The stats on women-owned businesses tell the true story of the differences in men and women entrepreneurs. Understanding the financials and building a strong team are key to success for men and women. We at Strategiz see risk-taking as one of the biggest differentiators between the sexes with men much more comfortable taking the plunge….or appearing to take do so! Women can build the confidence to take that next step and scale their business. It takes knowledge, experience, a strong network and that passion that Kathy embodies for Red Caffeine!

    • Becky thanks so much for your kind words. I would agree about risk-taking. Especially when it comes to things like hiring and accessing capital for growth.

  • Kathy,
    Thanks for the thoughtful piece! You’ve got a double whammy going…the stats on the ‘revenue ceiling’ for women owned businesses, plus the fact that only 7% of employees get access to any kind of financial data…how can they help you grow? You are far more likely to succeed by opening up the books and teaching your people how Red Caffeine makes money and generates cash. It’s powerful.

    I worked for nearly 10 years in a woman-owned business, and we had it all – innovation, creativity, passion, strategy – the only thing we lacked was financial transparency and acumen. In hindsight, I now have the objectivity to see how limiting financial knowledge to only a few people in an organization can be self-limiting. Your choice to open things up and tap the intellectual capital that lies within your organization will make all the difference.

    The tenacity and determination you exhibit is exactly what you’ll need to build a growing and sustainable business. Playing the Great Game of Business takes discipline and courage. It takes a special leader to build a business of business people…and having fun along the way. I think you’ll do great. Good Luck!