Even though women repeatedly show their potential in the business world, women-owned businesses are still a minority. Women face many handicaps that are often very different from those experienced by their male colleagues when embracing entrepreneurship. Here are some of the challenges women encounter – and some of the female entrepreneurs who overcame them.

Struggling With a Lack of Support

Women deal with many challenges in various occupations. Business is yet another department where women face gender discrimination. Women entrepreneurs often find themselves in a male-dominated industry or workplace that doesn’t want to acknowledge their leadership role. Unfortunately, old-fashioned ideas follow women in most fields, even if they are successful enough to know the ins and outs of their subject.

Alison Gutterman exemplifies such challenges. In her interview, Gutterman, CEO and president of Jelmar, said, “As a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, earning respect has been a struggle.” She faced presumptions that she was using her father’s and grandfather’s reputations because Jelmar is her family’s business.

“I was more than willing to put in the work to create my own reputation for being a hard-working, honourable businessperson in my own right,” said Gutterman. “To overcome this, I have had to learn to build my confidence and overcome my negative self-talk, and those negative comments that have built up in your head are stopping you from reaching your full potential.” She has joined multiple women entrepreneur groups to fight her self-destructive thoughts.

“These groups have provided me mentors and peers to inspire me, hit me with reality checks on my capabilities and successes, and help me grow and learn from their outside perspectives and experiences,” she said. 

Building a new business is difficult, so losing inspiration and facing biased attributions must have taken a toll on Gutterman. In any case, this example shows how support affects a person’s well-being and productivity.

Handling Social Expectations

No One Takes Them Seriously 

Here is how it goes for most female business owners who attend networking events. They walk into a crowded seminar and can count the number of women there on one hand.

Many women with great ideas are in the shadows because of the lack of resources and opportunities. Most don’t even want to come to light because talking about business with male-dominated executives can be exhausting as female business owners have to work so much hard to earn their credibility. 

For example, while many male counterparts can build on their family’s legacy, this is perceived as piggybacking when a woman does it. This is largely in part because the male-dominated business world expects women to earn their respect due to socially ingrained gender roles and presumptions.

Women Are Told to Hide Their Confidence

When taking the lead and trying to prove themselves, such confidence from women is frequently viewed as aggressive. Though, due to the competitive, aggressive, and sometimes harsh behaviour men present, women may feel the need to adopt a stereotypical “male” demeanour. 

But, what is “male demeanour” exactly? Is it having so-called alpha traits such as self-confidence, outgoing and enterprising? 

Alpha males are usually men who are the macho guys, that exude confidence with a tad bit of aggression, who are outgoing and demanding and very sexist. So, this unusual pattern that women have to go through is nothing but a sexist idealization where society tries to wipe out feminine characteristics. 

Although, successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to themselves and finding their voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations. Follow the advice of Hilary Genge, founder and CEO of Trunkettes,

 “Be yourself, and have confidence in who you are. You made it to where you are through hard work and perseverance, but most importantly, you’re there. Don’t conform yourself to a man’s idea of what a leader should look like.” 

Unstoppable Women Entrepreneurs

Factors such as increasing supportive practices, demographic developments, urbanisation, and educational opportunities around the world create a positive impact on women entrepreneurs. For instance, providing free education to oppressed girls from cultures in many African and Asian countries allowed new future women entrepreneurs to come to light. Thanks to these developments, many women are happy to start their own businesses and join the world of entrepreneurship. Many of them also serve as inspiration for future women in business.

Economic Contribution of Female Entrepreneurs

Female entrepreneurs contribute significantly to the global economy and society. According to the countries included in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring Organization (GEM) 2020/21, there are 139 million resident business owners and managers worldwide and 144 million female unregistered investors. Plus, an estimated 274 million women worldwide are involved in new business activities.

GEM notes that 30.2% of surveyed female entrepreneurs are expected to employ six or more employees over the next five years. They revealed that this rate would only be 18.7% over the next five years.

Although male-dominated, women play an important role in the business world. This has been true throughout history and in modern times. In fact, many of the highly influential women entrepreneurs have left their male counterparts behind. Despite the obstacles they face, they still managed to succeed.

Successful Female Entrepreneurs

Almost every woman, from powerful leaders and media bosses to tech entrepreneurs and sales professionals, faces more challenges when compared to men. Yet, as the following names state, it is impossible to stop a woman who is focused on success:

1. Rebecca Lukens: CEO of Brandywine Iron Works and Nail Factory

Rebecca Lukens is a woman who has studied chemistry. She took over the management of the family legacy, called Brandywine Iron Works and Nail Factory. She is one of the most successful businesswomen of her period and is the first female CEO in America. 

In 1852 Rebecca’s father and husband died. But instead of drowning in suffering, she had turned the steel mill into a major icon. She saved the company on the verge of bankruptcy by making it the country’s main producer of boiler boards. In the process, the company took another big step by selling some of the first railway locomotives to the United Kingdom. Rebecca retired in 1847, and her daughter and son maintained the continuity of the company for a while. After that, successful companies became shareholders, and the factory continues its activities today.

2. Madam CJ Walker: First Women Millionaire

She made a great fortune by developing and marketing a range of cosmetics and hair care products for black women through the Manufacturing Company. Walker has made financial donations to many organizations. She was known for her philanthropy and activism, as well as achievements in business.

In 1981, the Manufacturing Company of Mrs C. J. Walker ceased operations. As of 2020, Sephora has been bringing products back to customers with a series called “Sephora Madame CJ Walker Beauty Culture” for a short period.

3. Hattie Moseley Austin: Hattie’s Chicken Shack

Moseley Austin opened Hattie’s Chicken Shack in 1938 with a total investment of $33. Her speciality was a simple fried chicken recipe. But later she added other elements of New Orleans food to her menus, such as shrimp and barbecue.

During the summer, Moseley Austin operated her restaurant 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She was also known for feeding the hungry, even if they had no money to pay.

4. Cindy Mi: CEO & Co-Founder of VIPKID

Working as an English-language teacher in Beijing in 2013, Cindy Mi realized there is an untapped demand from students about learning the language. “The classroom as we know it had not really changed in over 200 years,” she says. “I knew there had to be a more efficient way to match this huge demand from China with a supply of the best English teachers.” Recognized for her career as an educator and entrepreneur, Cindy Mi is the Founder and Ceo of VIPKID. It is an education technology company that connects students aged (4-12) in China with the world’s best teachers for real-time online English immersion learning.

5. Oprah Winfrey: The Oprah Winfrey Show

The life story of the successful television presenter, actress, writer, and voice actress Oprah Winfrey is the best example of how a person can achieve anything they want, regardless of the difficulties. Despite a difficult childhood and youth period and the losses she suffered, Winfrey achieved many principles in America.

She is the host of the most watched TV show in America. She is also the first African-American woman to have her own production company, an actress nominated for an Academy Award. Also, a journalist who has conducted interviews with leading figures in the world, and also an activist fighting against child abuse.

Coping with Fear of Failure as a Female Entrepreneur

After talking about the success of women in business, don’t forget that every goal has its downfalls. Failure is a real possibility in any business venture. Kristi Piehl, founder and CEO of Media Minefield, advises women not to let their insecurities keep them from dreaming big. She encourages women to work through moments of self-doubt. Every business owner struggles and does not wait for perfection before starting their business or taking a big promotion. 

“When you hear ‘no’ again and again when your plans don’t turn out, or if you make a costly decision … see that as a teaching moment,” she says.  

Losses, mishaps, and mistakes pave the road to success, mishaps, and mistakes, but they can still take you where you want to go as long as you do not lose sight of your ultimate destination. 

“Stay the course,” Swartz says. “Take in all the feedback; filter out the noise and the naysayers; learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. But whatever you do, do not give up.”  

There are more female entrepreneurs who will be on this list. Not to mention, many more who have taken the fundamental steps to solidify women’s place in business history.  Each of these women, who constantly push their lives under the conditions of their period, has different conditions and personalities.  However, they all have similar success stories despite the difficulties. 


Women have been challenged for centuries when they want to operate in male-dominated fields. Though, the support of many women sowed the seeds of change. As a result, the new generation of female entrepreneurs can grow from the foundation set up by their predecessors.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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