By Simonetta Lein-Millennial Entrepreneur, Fashion Influencer, Activist
As an entrepreneur and established businesswoman, I’m often asked if females still have to face the sort of obstacles and hurdles that males do not have to contend with. In other words, is it still a struggle for a woman to succeed in the world of business, an environment that many still consider to be male-dominated?
As is often the case with big questions, the answer is complicated. We’ve made positive progress in recent times when it comes to equality in the workplace. Still, the adversaries and struggles a woman has to contend with, particularly while growing a startup, cannot be underestimated. Having said that, I’m a firm believer in the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
An entrepreneur of any gender needs a determined belief in what they’re doing and a cast-iron resolve to get things done if they’re to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace. Unfortunately, the evidence still seems to indicate that if you’re a female, you need that little extra something to break through the proverbial glass ceiling.
Here’s a list of 10 female entrepreneurs, in no particular order of accomplishment, who have done exactly that, providing a template of inspiration to us all.
Being an entrepreneur is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly is Arleen Ouzounian’s. The woman behind Nazani Tea is ruffling feathers in the centuries-old tea and herbal-infusion industry, and has witnessed a 389 percent jump in quarter-to-date sales compared to 2019. Ouzonian and her company pride themselves on quality, transparency, ethical sourcing and sustainability.
Ouzonian shares that the thickest glass ceiling is one women often create for themselves, explaining, “There will always be moments of self-doubt and back-to-back days where you feel you’re constantly fighting fires, but with perseverance and sheer determination the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.”
The brains behind Buzz Talent, Buzz Mode and Buzz Celebrity believes that being an entrepreneur should be about the impact you leave on the society and improving peoples lives for the better. Her talent-management agency has not only scaled significantly over the last three years and doubled the team, but it has also helped countless young hopefuls break into their chosen fields.
Helen shares that the last three months forced her think outside the box. During these testing times, she’s created other channels of income for her clients, which resulted in a 68 percent increase in revenue in this quarter as compared to the same one last year.
Laura K. Inamedinova
This PR innovator and founder of LKI Consulting is a name to reckon with when it comes to communications. Inamedinova takes pride in securing yearly communications-advisory contracts with several billion-dollar companies to spearhead their communication strategies. Laura states, “Entrepreneurship is a life philosophy where you allow yourself to explore different possibilities while being agile and reactive to new opportunities that arise.”
Nor does she believe that genders play any role in entrepreneurial success, adding, “What does play instead are personality traits and attitude towards business, and overcoming the inner barriers that hold women back from making it big. Young women should accept their fears and push fiercely towards their goals. Yes, it’s going to be hard. You will feel stressed and anxious, but just keep going.”
The glass ceiling gets even thicker when you are a minority. Grace Huang, the young CEO behind GH HAUS, an innovative fashion brand, knows this all too well. “Being a minority entrepreneur, it is hard to gain the same level of trust and respect as men,” she says. “When you pitch your plan to investors, be confident and persistent in showing who you really are and what defines you as a businesswoman.”
At GH HAUS, Huang collaborates with artists from across the globe and creates designs for her clients that aim to turn wardrobes into nothing short of art. And she is creating a sustainable ecosystem for her artist friends that offers emotional and financial support.
Gabrielle Breton is a digital marketing powerhouse and CEO of House of Socials. “I think entrepreneurship has a deep correlation with being a visionary,” she says. “It’s being a forward thinker at all times.”
Breton launched her agency amidst the pandemic and made it a huge success. From acquiring more than 25 new clients, to gaining 120,000-plus followers for them, the business has grown exponentially. “Claim your power,” she encourages. “Don’t let fear prevent you from making it big.”
Mary Lou Marinas
Mary Lou Marinas, a founding partner of Larson Consulting, Inc. believes that “entrepreneurialism is about having a profound desire for freedom and being able to pursue that freedom is worth the grunt stemming from the unforeseen risks.”
Marinas elaborates, “Previously while working inter-departmentally at the headquarters of a nationally renowned restaurant chain, I learned that my professional enthusiasm rested in growing and pushing the boundaries of what a business could be, but my science-focused college degrees prevented me from breaking the glass ceiling. That’s when I decided to leave that job and enrolled for an MBA at Chicago Booth.”
That move, in turn, helped her transition into independent business consulting. And despite recent macro-economic disruptions, digital sales for her business grew by 180 percent in the second quarter of 2020.
Dr. Heidi Stevenson
Dr. Stevenson is an educator-entrepreneur who believes that entrepreneurship is something that starts as a hobby and morphs into a business. Her advice to would-be-entrepreneurs is to do something you love, and the money will come. Her mantra is never to stop learning.
When she does not have her teaching hat on, the founder of Trendy with a Passport can be seen showing essential hacks on how to travel the world and look like a million bucks on a budget. “Trendy with a Passport started as a hobby and has grown into a five-figure business,” she says. “Going into the beginning of the year, I was partnering with a few brands a week and now am contacted by 20-40 per week.”
Hansni Thadhani, the founder of outdoor surfboard shower company Strand Boards, says, “Being in plumbing and surfing, two male-dominated industries, people are often surprised that I’m the founder, but I’m proud to be a woman pioneering a one-of-a-kind product and owning my space.”
The mompreneur believes that, “Ultimately, it is harder to succeed as a woman entrepreneur, but it’s getting easier. As we’re empowered, and companies see the potential of women at the helm, doors open for all of us. I encourage every business person, gender aside, to do their research, due diligence, network and recognize that building a business is going to take blood, sweat and tears. You will make mistakes, but that does not mean you’re incapable. It means you’re human, which should be a relief.”
Erika Helenn Coelho Silva El Haje
Founder and CEO of Prime Home Care, Erika Helenn, shares that the biggest challenge she had to overcome was the accumulation of different functions and being available all the time. “Unfortunately, when it comes to women, the journey will be at least double,” she says. “All of us, entrepreneurial women, accumulate different functions in our homes and do not receive the same encouragement and support from society.
She reveals that, upon launching her company, she had prepared a three-year growth plan. The strategic actions adopted were based on studies in the reports using business intelligence and reliable data. “The goal was reached every year,” she reports. “And the company is currently the largest in the number of highly complex patients with an innovative operational structure.”
Joy Adowaa Buolamwini
This founder of Algorithmic Justice League is the woman who has unmasked racial and gender bias in AI services like facial recognition. As a minority, Buolamwini has not only broken the glass ceiling by challenging systems that have reinforced racial bias, but she’s leading the charge by getting tech companies like Microsoft, IBM and Amazon to stop providing general-purpose facial-recognition technologies and commit at least $1 million each towards ending ingrained bigotry in advanced technologies.