Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with my sister and her family for the holiday in Washington, DC. The cherry blossoms were at their peak, the magnolias and forsythia were in full bloom, the tulips and redbuds bloomed before my eyes. It was a beautiful color wheel of Spring!
Aside from the natural show, it was a chance to catch up on the lives of my wonderful, accomplished nieces. Simone, the youngest, is a program manager at Microsoft in the Bing division, and spends her days thinking about machine learning. In trying to find out what that was, it became apparent that her work days are immersed in teamwork for entrepreneurial thinking. Thinking outside the box and being as creative as possible to improve the product is no big deal to her, but constitutes her work life.
Is this a tech world phenomena, or are young women experiencing this in their work lives too? Is being creative, finding new ways to look and think about work problems the new norm?
Julia Carpenter, in her CNN Head of the Class article about her Lean In Circle of about-to-be graduated and then just-graduated young women looking for work states : “Not all of Sandberg’s advice resonated with my Circle. Business cards and job titles don’t mean much to us, and unlike many of Sandberg’s contemporaries, we’ve come up in a startup culture that eschews formalism….When members of my Circle discuss job prospects — which we’re doing ever-more-frequently as members prep for graduation — the first question we ask isn’t “What’s the position?” Instead, it’s “What would you be doing?””
The impact of the startup culture, personified by Mark Zuckerberg (nerd in a hoodie coding his way to a fortune) eschews the hierarchy of company work and celebrates the outlier creative thinker and doer. It causes me to ponder how a boomer such as myself can even get my head around this new work venue. There is a lot I can learn from Simone, Julie, and others about the new reality where entrepreneurship is valued, expected, and mainstream.
In her blog for Entrepreneur.com, Leadership Lessons from Young Entrepreneurs, Rebekah Epstein came to my rescue: “Millennial female entrepreneurs are disrupting industries, creating innovative products and ultimately, changing the world. The thing that I admire most about my fellow female entrepreneurs is that they are really doing it by their own rules. In the past, women have felt like they have to embody masculine characteristics to be successful. This isn’t the case anymore.”
She goes on to describe how these young entrepreneurs conduct and build their businesses based on their own leadership skills such as humanizing the business, embracing their inexperience, being themselves and celebrating their successes along the way. In other words, make your own rules and be true to yourself.
Meghan Casserly of ForbesWoman suggests using Twitter to find mentors who can help you build your business and offer support. Her 20 Inspiring Young Female Founders to Follow on Twitter emphasizes that finding not one mentor, but a “village” of mentors, is more desirable and attainable using this social media. She quotes Julia Hu, an app developer: “I think every entrepreneur needs mentors and needs to surround themselves with brilliant people who have grounded values.” Natalie MacNeil, a writer, suggests: “It’s easier today than ever before to find one and I’ve connected with some amazing mentors through Twitter. Follow the entrepreneurs you most admire, engage with them, and ask questions if there’s something you could use their expertise on. It’s that simple and you’d be surprised how many people are willing to connect with you and support what you’re doing.”
Finding mentors at your business level and those slightly above can help you find a support group of women who can relate to what you are going through, but also finding some who are a step ahead and can help you problem-solve is important too. Twitter can help you find both groups of women.
I am taking the lessons of these young, female entrepreneurs to heart:
- Life is a startup: be entrepreneurial in everything you do in a more casual, team-oriented, non hierarchical way. Just don’t think outside the box, live outside the box!
- Make your own rules when the old ones don’t work for you, but stay true to yourself, your vision, and your values.
- Celebrate your feminine ways of working: humanize your business, tell stories about your product or services, be warm and inviting, treat those who work with you and for you well.
- However, ignore the word pushy: lean in when you need to and don’t worry that others may call you that dreaded word. Just do it in a way that works for you and gets results.
- Celebrate your successes, even the small ones, and be your own best cheerleader.
- Find mentors not only through normal “channels” but also through social media. Engage with those you admire and can learn from through Twitter. Own your inexperience and ask them for help – most will respond and give you a hand.
What lessons have you learned from young, female entrepreneurs? What other suggestions do you have for growing and keeping women’s entrepreneurial spirits in play regardless of age?