BBC News

Do women and men want different business advice?

By Dougal Shaw
Business reporter, BBC News

image copyrightLouie Tew
image captionLouie Tew is co-founder of wedding start-up TH&TH

"We feel empowered by seeing women giving business advice, it feels real, it feels relatable," says Louie Tew, part of a team of three female designers who are in the midst of setting up their dream online wedding business, TH&TH.

"We have been spoken to in patronising tones when pitching ideas and explaining our business model. We have been met with the attitude that what we are doing should be treated as a hobby."

The team has worked in the fashion industry for more than a decade, but the first 10 months of their business venture has taken its toll.

"Two of us are new mothers," explains Louie Tew. "We've been changing nappies whilst on the line to Chinese banks, running our business from our smartphones, meeting with clients with newborns in arms."

Even though she thinks advice from male entrepreneurs can also be useful, she draws particular inspiration from hearing tales about how "specific gender pressures" have been overcome by women who have reached the top.

CEO Secrets

So do aspiring female entrepreneurs need - and successful female CEOs offer - a different kind of business advice?

It's a question we might be in a position to help answer.

For one year now we've been conducting an experiment in the BBC News Business unit.

We've been asking the CEOs who cross our paths a personal question: "What's the business advice you wish you had been given when you started out?"

media captionHarriet Green was asked: "What advice do you wish you'd had when you started in business?"

One year on, we have collected 45 contributions in our CEO Secrets series.

A quarter of the bosses we've heard from are women.

By way of comparison, just less than 10% of chief executives at FTSE 100 companies in the UK are female. According to recent government statistics, 20% of small and medium-sized companies are female-led. In the world of business start-ups men consistently outnumber women by two-to-one.

So we decided to show our series to a selection of women who are currently running start-ups to find out who they find most inspiring.

image copyrightRoxane Gergaud

Roxane Gergaud, co-founder of Doris & Dicky, a website for finding affordable, boutique hotels

I always find advice from women particularly inspiring as naturally I identify with them more. I have a greater curiosity in the motivations behind and the routes to female success and draw strength from other women's experiences.

There is a tendency for women to make it more personal, to overtly base their advice on their own experiences which, in turn, makes them feel more accessible as people and their advice more applicable.

I love working in the travel industry. But there are definitely moments when I've realised there are still quite a few corners that are a bit old-fashioned in their views.

I was at times sidelined in meetings by investors wanting to deal with my male co-founder, which was incredibly demoralising and frustrating.

I was often in the situation where I'd get to the end of the meeting and no-one had made eye contact with me.

So watching amazing women like Carolyn McCall, Harriet Green and Martha Lane-Fox, who are leaders in the travel sector, has given me huge strength and encouragement in times when I've felt a little on the back foot because of who I am.

image copyrightAdrienne Hanna

Adrienne Hanna, CEO and co-founder of Right Revenue, a software start-up that helps hotels decide on pricing

I have worked in travel and hospitality for 30 years.

To be honest, I don't think getting the advice from a man or a woman makes any difference at all. If you had taken away the pictures and just put that advice in text anonymously, I think it would have been almost impossible to distinguish.

I was a fan of [Brompton Bikes boss] Will Butler-Adams as I too find it difficult to listen to the "boardroom chat" and people talking for the sake of talking. Get things done - keep it simple and stay focused.

media captionWill Butler-Adams unfolds a bike at his new factory

I perhaps am lucky in that I have never felt my sex has held me back in any way. I have always felt an equal even though many, many times in my life I am the only woman in the boardroom.

I feel it comes down to mindset. If you go in feeling like an equal then that is how you will be perceived.

image copyrightLu Li

Lu Li set up Blooming Founders, a social network that aims to nurture and inspire women in the business start-up community

Gender definitely matters because people relate better to people who are like them. It gives you that feeling of "I can do it too". I don't have the same feeling when I listen to advice from Elon Musk or Richard Branson. I admire them as entrepreneurs, but I still think that their circumstances and my circumstances are just not the same.

I wholeheartedly agree with Lily Cole who advised to reach out for help. I made that mistake myself, thinking that asking for help would make me look weak. But actually the opposite is true: asking for help gives you power.

media captionLily Cole: "Get as much help as you can"

It is really interesting to see that the women featured in the series tend to talk more about the importance of self belief and having confidence, whereas the men tend to stress the importance of having the right team.

This is in line with the trends I see through my work: 66% of the Blooming Founders community are solo founders, which proves that they don't put much priority in recruiting a team when they start out. At the same time, I also see that confidence is a big issue amongst female entrepreneurs.

Many women are held back by fear of failure, social expectations and unease with financial instability.

image copyrightElizabeth Clark

Elizabeth Clark, CEO and founder of Dream Agility, an online shopping platform

Generally who the advice comes from doesn't matter, unless it's gender specific.

I discovered I was pregnant (with a 16-year gap after having my first two children) when I started my first business and my confidence was rock bottom.

I was told by a business adviser that I should think about doing something else as nobody would take me seriously as a woman doing tech. I was mortified as I had encountered attitudes like this 20 years ago when I was working in engineering but I thought people would be more enlightened.

I was knocked back by venture capitalists because I didn't have any experience in the area I was seeking investment - but neither would anyone else as it was completely new!

The recent video from the Mumsnet founder is the perfect example of this and it's inspirational to hear other people have overcome this kind of adversity and made a huge success.

media captionMumsnet founder on personal rejection

Being female has its pros and cons.

Yes there are people that don't like dealing with a female CEO. I don't get upset about it any more. I just pass them on to a male colleague.

By the same token, I'm not above using my feminine charms to win over a customer - all above board of course, my husband is the chief technical officer!

You can watch all the videos from the #CEOSecrets series here. To go behind the scenes and keep up to date follow series producer Dougal Shaw on Twitter orFacebook.

Related Topics

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Inspiring stories

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