Even if you’re an accomplished, successful woman, business communications can be a minefield–especially when it comes to gender-based encounters. I’ll never forget being at the home office of one of my mentors and getting the once-over from one of his male clients.
Once my mentor left the room, this accomplished male entrepreneur delivered a one-two punch: a combination of leering looks and sexually charged remarks. I blushed and mumbled a half-baked retort.
On another occasion, after I had told people at a networking event that I was training for a half marathon for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a male business owner said he wanted to watch me “bounce across the finish line” in front of a whole group of people.
Happily, most male–and female–associates and business leaders pursue appropriate behavior. But for those times they don’t, here are some tips that’ll help you counteract, avoid or effectively deal with some of the most pernicious offenders, including toilet humor, macho swaggering and sexually charged interactions. First, here are some typical scenarios you might relate to:
Misdirected Verbal Banter
In terms of inappropriate behavior, the “old boy’s network” mentality got to Stacie Francombe, CEO and founder of Get Married, a TV program and website, and Reel Creative, a video production company in Georgia. “Sometimes when I’m with a male counterpart not as high up on the food chain as myself, the owner, male clients tend to direct their conversations to the [male] counterpart, instead of me.”
Susan Kullmann, managing director of DoctorGeek.biz, a web development, consulting and training firm in Claremont, Calif., encountered an overtly sexist slight. A male associate dean told her, then the director of academic technology, that he didn’t think it was a good idea for a woman–her–to talk to his engineering faculty about computers.
This remark was made in front of three other faculty development colleagues. And Kullmann says the associate dean had no clue he was out of line.
Rude and Unprofessional Conduct
What do you do when a male competitor literally drags a prospect forcibly away from you? This unbelievable scenario unfolded at a conference where Jennifer Connelly, president and founder of JC Public Relations, a New Jersey-based PR firm, was attempting to speak with a newly introduced prospect.
Connelly says a competitor saw she was chatting with the prospect and one of his sales reps at a networking break. The male competitor walked up from behind her, grabbed the prospect by the arm and dragged him away from the group.
“I didn’t know how to handle this. My face turned beet red and I felt like crying. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever consider doing anything like that,” she said.
According to Michele Hanson, an active gender diversity specialist based in Austin, Texas, women, in general, don’t do well with women who are above them because we’re socialized into believing that everyone is equal. According to Hanson, women will do things to keep that equality, usually indirectly, through comments to co-workers or by withholding information.
“Several women bosses were totally threatened by me,” says Hanson, who is now CEO of ExecuInsight, her own executive mentoring and training firm. “The more I performed, the more intense the sabotage; they made life tough for me.”
So what’s an entrepreneurial woman to do?
Recognize that preparedness is half the battle. Whether it’s in the form of an e-mail or during a water-cooler chat, if you’re at the ready with an on-point remark that deals with the discussion at hand, not necessarily the actual remark that was made, you’ll score major points for presence under pressure.
Try not to take it personally. Instead of getting ruffled feathers, stay focused and forward thinking. Count to 10, put a smile on your face and move on. Try to devote your energy to what you need to do during the meeting or networking event, voicing your frustrations to a trusted peer after the fact. If the offender is a colleague, vendor or client, you might want to consider discussing the situation later on, in private, to avoid a repeat offense.
Silence is sometimes the most effective weapon. Cloddish behavior will always be around, no matter how far up the ladder you go. By not creating a scene, you can actually win. Like Connelly, I’ve found that silence can be deadly for the erring party.
After the initial shock of what happened at the conference, Connelly composed herself and rallied brilliantly–by not saying a word about what happened when the prospect returned. “We ignored what happened and continued to talk about what we do for our clients.” The result: She got the account.
Take charge. Since you’re running your own show, you can choose whom to do business with and whom to circumvent entirely. “For me, one of the joys of running my own business is that I can now avoid individuals and environments where inappropriate sexist comments are made,” says Kullmann, who happily serves a variety of professionally minded firms.
Inform the clueless as necessary. Lots of times words tumble out before the person considers their potential impact. While, sadly, sometimes this is done on purpose, there are scads of situations when it’s an accident. When you find you need to deal with inappropriate behavior or comments, approach things directly and swiftly, and with tact.
One example of how to begin this conversation could be, “I wasn’t comfortable about the way things went at the meeting. I’d like to talk to you about we can work together in a constructive way, to our mutual benefit.” Or try, “I’d like to talk about what happened a few days ago.
It was an uncomfortable situation for me. I’d like to hear your side and see how we can work through this.” Whether you do business across the globe or in your own hometown, part of your success depends on your ability to communicate around potentially uncomfortable verbal and written encounters.
Use these tips and practice your approach, staying true to your own comfort zone, and you can improve the odds of winning in any communications scenario.
From Buffy To Business: Sarah Michelle Gellar Opens Up About How Hollywood Helped Prepare Her for Launching A Company
Sarah Michelle Gellar and her co-founders share lessons learned and how acting helped her deal with rejection and how being a celebrity in the startup world can have its drawbacks.
Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. With a turbulent economy, companies cutting jobs and employees fearful they’ll be replaced by robots, people of all backgrounds are looking to take control of their financial future and pursue their passion, including celebrities.
Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney and Victoria Beckham are just some of the stars who decided to transition from La La land to entrepreneurial land.
And now Sarah Michelle Gellar, best known as the star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is also part of the startup world. The actress-turned-entrepreneur joined forces with friends who are also parents, Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman, to launch Foodstirs in 2015. The DIY baking company, which sells kits and mixes, wants to provide parents fun, yet simple desserts for their children, with a focus on organic, ethically and sustainably-sourced ingredients.
“We’re determined to help bakers around the world take pride in their pantries, joy in their treats, and time together in the heart of the home,” is part of their mission.
After raising a reported $5 million, the company has expanded beyond just ecommerce; Foodstirs is now in approximately 7,500 stores, including Whole Foods.
We caught up with her before the event to chat about finding success, her journey and lessons she learned.
Before you got into the world of entrepreneurship, you were best known for your acting. Why did you decide to jump into this world?
I always knew I wanted to do more than just be an actor for hire. I thought producing might be enough, but I realised I still desired more. That’s when I realised I could utilise my great existing platform and actually be a part of creating something tangible. It’s been such an interesting process, learning how much of my existing skill set is applicable to being an entrepreneur.
Why did you decide to have a focus on food?
Food has always been an important part of my life, as it should be for everyone, but that magnified once I had children. Our kids were so interested in baking, yet there was no readily available brand that had the attributes we would want and expect – organic, ethically sourced, easy and affordable that also tasted amazing.
What has been the mantra that has helped you find success as an entrepreneur?
The one thing being an actor prepares you for is rejection. I spent the better part of my life facing and dealing with rejection, and I have never let it stop me from achieving something I was passionate about. When it comes to business, for me the word “no” is just the first step to yes. That rejection inspires me to work harder, and prove those no’s to be a mistake.
What is something that would surprise people about your entrepreneurial journey?
I think people assume that being a celebrity makes it easier to raise money and achieve mass distribution and that is not the case. Maybe it gets you in a door, as a novelty, but then you have so much more to prove.
What is one piece of advice you will share ?
This piece of advice came from Galit Laibow – one of my two amazing partners along with Greg Fleishman. Always surround yourself with people who are smarter and know more than you do. We have such an incredible group of advisors with vast experience in all areas of business that we can call on at all times. Their knowledge is invaluable.
What is on the horizon for you?
We just achieved wide retail distribution (in over 7,500 stores) so our main focus at the moment is supporting our stores through quarter four and at the same time dialing in our innovation pipeline for 2018.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Farah Fortune Of African Star Communications On Choosing The Right Clients
Publicist extraordinaire Farah Fortune of African Star Communications built her business not by courting big clients, but by backing young up-and-comers, and growing her brand right alongside theirs.
- Player: Farah Fortune
- Company: African Star Communications
- Established: 2008
- Contact: +27 (0)79 826 1955, email@example.com
The 36-year-old publicist launched her celebrity PR business in 2008, with R1 000 in her pocket — she spent R589 of that on registering a CC and the rest on business cards.
From working on her bedroom floor and sharing two-minute noodles with her daughter as she struggled to survive, today African Star Communications represents high-profile rappers such as K.O and Solo, and stand-up comedians Loyiso Gola and Jason Goliath.
She has an office in Nigeria and plans to open two new offices in Botswana and Ghana.
You pulled yourself up by your bootstraps. How did you overcome the hurdles?
I lost my first business to a crooked partner in 2006. I was determined to try again and I went in search of funding, but no-one would give me money.
When the last thing I had to feed my child was a mouldy piece of cheese, I went back to work for a PR company, earning R12 000 a month, managing accounts worth millions. I hated every minute of it. In June 2008, when my CC registration came through, I walked out the door.
My first pitch was for a small charity day that AIG hosted for Manchester United in Johannesburg. I was the only woman in the reception area, but my offer to do the job for R10 000 was irresistible and I signed my first client. That was just the beginning of a long struggle. I was broke for the next three years.
Friends bought my groceries, and I would feed my daughter and have her leftovers for dinner.
I couldn’t afford petrol so I walked from my house in Randburg to do pitches in Sandton in my takkies, and then changed my shoes at the client’s office. The only thing that kept me going was the belief that I could somehow make it work.
What was your big break?
In year three rapper AKA was about to release his first album. He pursued me for four months. Initially, I didn’t want to work with him, but his ambition won me over.
I’ve never regretted the decision. We signed a contract, and shortly after that more clients came my way, mostly for small events.
Working with AKA made me realise that my passion was for music and I decided to channel my energies into promoting South Africa hip-hop stars. That’s how I ended up specialising and finding my own niche in the crowded PR sector.
Our team convinced 8ta/Telkom to look at AKA for their ads and it worked. I branched into corporate PR after the celebrity side took off.
What made your business stand out from other PR companies?
First was affordability. Publicists do not come cheap. I signed up many young artists who had not yet hit the big time, and charged them as little as R4 000 a month to manage their publicity and help make them famous.
Taking on lots of small clients meant that I could spread the risk. We still structure our packages according to what clients can afford and I’ve kept the overheads low. To this day, I’ve never advertised.
Second was my focus on hip-hop. Before 2011, corporates were not interested in rappers and the scene was very much underground. I convinced Vodacom to sponsor a big hip-hop party with AKA as the star attraction.
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After that, many other corporates woke up and took advantage of the popularity of the local rap scene. I like to think I played a part in mainstreaming South African hip-hop.
How have you stayed relevant in a fickle industry?
Once the business was pumping, I built my own brand. I never planned to be in the spotlight, but the more I appeared in the media, the more I was able to build my clients’ profiles, and get bigger accounts.
I focused only on doing business-related interviews and people started to take me more seriously. I could not believe how many corporate contracts I did not win because I refused to sleep with the client.
It’s a disappointing reality of this business when you are young and female. Developing my own brand helped me to build a career based on respect and professionalism.
Ezlyn Barends Of DreamGirls On Igniting Passion
According to Ezlyn Barends of DreamGirls, great leadership is about finding and fostering passion in others. That’s how sustainable organisations are built — and grow.
- Player: Ezlyn Barends
- Company: The DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme
- EST: 2012
- Visit: dadfund.org
‘Lead from the back.’ That’s one of the leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela, and it’s an approach that has worked for Ezlyn Barends, a social entrepreneur and all-round high achiever who is passionate about empowerment.
Through The Dad Fund, launched by her father Lyndon Barends in honour of community leader Daniel Arthur Douman (DAD), she started the South African chapter of a US-based girl education and empowerment initiative, the DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme.
DreamGirls aims to increase the number of girls who complete high school and enter tertiary education. A total of 450 girls have participated so far, and all beneficiaries do community service, which extends the benefits of the programme even further.
Barends describes DreamGirls as a sisterhood of young female professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders who mentor and guide teen girls from poor communities to gain an education that will enable them to achieve success, so that in turn, they too can contribute positively and meaningfully to society.
What happens when you let go?
“One of most important things I have learnt is to let other people in your organisation take the lead,” says Barends. “That has been an important realisation for me as I am involved in many initiatives, which makes time a very precious resource.
“Teaming up with people who have the same values and vision as you do, letting go of the need to control — which is common among entrepreneurs — and empowering others in your organisation is key to success. That is how DreamGirls has grown and developed into a successful social business.”
It also means Barends isn’t alone in her passion to change lives, but has been instrumental in creating and fostering a group of individuals with the same goal.
Every entrepreneur has a finite number of hours in each day. Being able to spread the load amongst trusted individuals is key to growth — and growth is Barends’ ultimate goal, as it means more lives are touched and changed.
The power of passion
Barends has proved just how powerful a passion for helping others can be. When DreamGirls was launched, there was no budget, but her desire to do good and her commitment to the cause were so all-consuming that everything somehow fell into place.
It helped that a range of corporate donors came on board to help fund the programme. Since then the programme has received significant support from corporate South Africa in the form of funding and in-kind donations, facilitating workshops and events.
The ability to encourage and inspire others to take ownership has enabled three branches to flourish in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Polokwane, with further possibilities for growth in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban and Kimberley.
In the first two years, Barends ran DreamGirls full time, together with a team of women. Because of the passionate assistance of her team, she was able to complete an MBA in the UK in 2014, bringing valuable skills and insights back to the organisation.
“We have developed our own culture, which we call the DreamGirls way of doing things,” she says. “Because the organisation has been built on a specific set of values, it is about so much more than merely helping girls to get a tertiary qualification. The essence is about being helpful and supportive of everyone involved.”
With her team firmly in place, Barends has taken on a full-time job in business development at Microsoft. Being able to rely on others to run DreamGirls’ daily operations means she has more time to focus on strategic growth and creating greater financial sustainability for the programme.
“It has brought fresh perspective, and that’s one of the reasons why we have now decided to go the franchising route — simply because I had the time to step back and look at what we were trying to achieve a little differently.”
Applying the franchising model to a social enterprise
Equipped with an MBA, Barends has used the knowledge she acquired through her studies to continue improving the DreamGirls business model.
“Part of the process of letting go was to create a social franchising model that we are now in the process of rolling out,” she says.
Franchising the DreamGirls concept required her to systematise the business model first, to ensure that it can be replicated successfully.
That process in itself can be a real game changer for a social enterprise as it elevates operations to the next level, with the operating manual becoming a day-to-day ‘how-to’ guide for the organisation.
“We have documented and put together all of the training materials and tools required to run a branch of DreamGirls. Now we are seeking franchisees who are committed to becoming social entrepreneurs. The franchise system will enable us to cover our operational costs, which is necessary because corporate sponsors are understandably keener to fund the programme than its running costs.”
Franchising is certainly a quicker and more cost-effective way of scaling up when it is difficult to access capital, and the legwork has already been done.
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