Women leaders and entrepreneurs are increasingly benefiting from structures that give them access to volunteer mentoring to “break the glass ceiling”. This is a notable fact that the ecosystem tends to boast about. This progress is far from sufficient.
Mentor was a man who accompanied a young boy
I have an issue with the very term “mentor“. This antonomasia (Mentor was the precept of Telemachus to whom Ulysses entrusted his son, because Penelope was too busy with her tapestry, no doubt) is often used to describe a white male in his forties, who has sold or put his company on the stock market with success and a lot of financial gains, who deigns to give advice to young padawans in the making.
So we have a very paternalistic understanding of the term. And many young women are led to believe that the truth comes out of the mouths of these men who have not experienced a quarter of half of what they will experience. They will (often, let’s not generalize too much) not know how to read between the lines of the interactions they will hear about. Not seeing the biases of others – which they share, by virtue of their upbringing, society, and their status as men, quite simply.
Of course, women’s networks of all types are intended to replace the white male with the not-systematically-white woman, with some success. We could fill entire pages with highly structured and beneficial networks, intra-company for female executives, or entrepreneurial for female founders. But the very concept remains imbued with the Epinal image of the “knower”, or the female knower in this case.
Mentoring is supposed to be a partnership of equals. And the misinterpretation of the subject, coupled with the general free volunteering that accentuates it, has an even more perverse effect on women who have been taught from an early age to be the good student who does what the teacher says. Because, you know, a girl does not rebel.
But that’s not the worst of it.
Cash is King
According to the latest BCG – Sista – CNNum study, in France, 100% male teams account for 84% of startups funded in 2020… and more than 90% of the total amounts raised. Moreover, the larger the amounts, the worse the situation becomes: female founding teams are disappearing from fundraisings over €100 million.
Yes, the problem starts with the fact that women ask for less money less often. Yes, women are less likely to ask until the product, the service, the company is “perfect”. Yes, women are more often creating socially responsible companies on subjects that interest investors less. But investors are evolving, and who better than the “impact” companies created by women to meet the criteria of the new funds that are springing up everywhere? Because in ESG there are 3 letters, not only Environment.
More than a mentor, an ecosystem
To prepare women for these fundraising events, or to bring them to profitability despite all the obstacles – bootstrapping is also good – a complete ecosystem must be put in place.
Not just mentors who have been there, but a whole network of “resource” people to advise them, support them, listen to them… In Sparring Partner mode, like a high-level athlete.
Beyond the purely “technical” skills needed – fractional COO, lawyer, financial, come immediately to mind -, soft skills are essential to accompany women entrepreneurs in the acceleration of their company, whether it goes through a raising or not.
Listening, first of all. About doubts, pitfalls, questions, strategies, team management, and life balance, too.
The exchange, then. Because giving them a fish will only make them eat for one day.
The role of the members of this support team is to open the field of possibilities to solutions that the woman entrepreneur did not think of before. It is not to dictate the path but to shed a light on it, to detect opportunities and pitfalls.
Co-construction, finally. Because women are educated to be more open and more “round” than men, women entrepreneurs are more likely to benefit from such a network of people by their side.
They just need to realize it and dare to implement it. Like grown-ups.
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash