The first time I heard Hip Hop/dance song “Sexy (Bleep)” by David Guetta ft. Akon, I sat in my car for a good 10 minutes afterward, having put the car in park. I just stared out the windshield and squinted, attempting to wrap my mind around the lyrics of the song. If you’ve never heard the song before, all you really need to know is the hook, which is “I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.”
That sentence is going to serve as the crux for today’s blog post about women running small businesses.
I generally like Akon as a musical artist and find many of his songs to be pop-y, catchy and fun. But, I think many women would have varying degrees of difficulty listening to Akon’s lyrics. In the modern world, where women everywhere are fighting to be as respected by their superiors, colleagues and employees, it’s pretty much a slap in the face to hear a guy groping for the right words to express “respect.” On top of that, after I had Googled the song, I found out that its real title is “Sexy (B-word)”—not “Sexy Chick,” which is the clean version played on the radio. So, here we have a song that professes to be treating women with respect, while simultaneously being offensive to women.
The Effect of Expectations
What does all of this have to do with running your business? The answer is expectations. Akon’s song sets up a positive expectation about the woman he’s infatuated with. And it is contrasted with a negative expectation about other women: “She’s nothing like the girl you’ve ever seen before, nothing you can compare to your neighborhood who’e.”
Expectations are the focus of Ch. 9 of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, which refers to an experiment on common stereotypes (by Shin, Pittinsky and Ambady) about Asian-Americans and women. The experiments focused on a group of Asian-American women, half of whom were reinforced by the positive stereotype about Asian-Americans excelling at math, and half of whom were reinforced by negative stereotype about women performing poorly in math. The outcome of the experiment showed that both groups were influenced about perceived stereotypes about themselves. (That is, the group that was reminded that they were Asian-Americans performed well at math, and the group that was reminded that they were women performed poorly.)
Staying Positive about Running Your Business
What both Akon’s song and the predictably irrational experiment show is that, even though we hope and believe that stereotypes don’t exist, they do. And worse, they are powerful and can be difficult to overcome. In the face of negative perceptions about your ability to do the job–coming from people who say they respect you but have no real faith in you–it’s important to stay positive about yourself and your business in order to succeed.
As a small business owner, you’ve got enough to worry about—how to fund your business, how to expand and grow your business, how to market yourself, how to maintain your quality of service or product, etc.—and the last thing you need to do is compare yourself to what male CEOs or entrepreneurs are doing.
What you need to do is be like the group who were reminded of a positive stereotype, instead of a negative one. A simple way to stay positive is to spend some time thinking about your advantages, both personally and professionally. What you do well? (In business, this is your competitive advantage.) And what do you have to offer? (In business, this is your value proposition.) It’s especially important for both employers and employees of small businesses to believe in the mission, in the goals of the company and in your leadership as well. As corny as it might sound, you’ll find that spending some time psyching yourself up will have a positive effect on the success of your business.
Why Women are “Less Profit-Driven, More Risk Averse”
According to a survey taken by the nonprofit Count Me In (for Women’s Economic Independence), 94% of Americans believe that women are more focused on “contribut[ing] to their families and not grow[ing] a business.” The survey also found that 84% of Americans believed that women in business were more risk-averse than men, and that over 75% believe that women don’t care as much about profit than men do.
Why do the majority of Americans overwhelmingly believe that women are less profit-drive and more risk-averse? I don’t know. Does that widespread belief make any of the so-called differences between businessmen and businesswomen true? Yes and no. There are probably quite a few businesswomen out there who don’t fit the stereotype. And yet, there are probably a few women who buy into people’s negative perceptions about themselves and actually do shy away from taking risks and maximizing profit.
Whether you actually are averse to risk or uninterested in profit or not, the important thing to recognize that it’s the stereotype. You can do one of two things with this information: You can prove the stereotype wrong and push yourself to take more risks with your business to get more profit, or you can keep saving money and not taking risks. In fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being conservative about your spending—which could be the smarter option for you and your business. Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s right choice for you and your business, not just the popular thing to do.
Trust your instincts, which you have in abundance. Otherwise, you would have never gotten into business in the first place.
Owning It—Your Business and Your Sexiness
After all is said and done, you’ve got to be able to let negative perceptions about you roll off your back. If you don’t, you’re going to be stressed out and constantly obsessed about whether you’re doing things right or not. You own your business; you know better than anyone what you need to do to make it successful. You’re sexy. And, it’s really the “sexy” that matters, not the b-word. (At least, that’s what I tell myself in order to be able to continue listening to Akon.)
So, be yourself and act like the savvy businesswoman you are. And delete that Akon track from your iPod.