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I remember sometime around 2007, sitting in the boardroom for a publicly-traded company I ran. Ten men sat around a table with me; a potential investor was on speakerphone. We were requesting $10 million in funding from him.
“Honey,” he said to me. “What if I didn’t give you $10 million, but I gave you $100 million instead? How would you spend it?”
It was a misogynistic and loaded question that I knew he would never ask my male colleagues. Without losing my cool, I remained silent for 20 seconds, relishing the uncomfortable silence. Then I said, “I’d go to Neiman Marcus, of course! What else would I do with the money?”
His dismissiveness is something I’ve experienced time and time again as a woman executive making her way through the business world. My career has taken me to many illustrious places, but these days I’m the CEO and founder of wellness, skincare, and CBD company Sera Labs.
In addition to learning to brush off the opinions of men who just don’t get it, there are some other tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that I think other women angling for business success can internalize for their success.
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Don’t back down
One of the most important lessons I learned was from my mentor, Earl Greenberg, a great leader in the consumer product goods and direct marketing industry and the entertainment industry. He pushed me when I met him sometime in the middle of my career and said, “You’ve got more guts and moxie than any businessman.” He urged me not to listen to what other people say about me being a woman executive. He knew I would be threatening to some men but told me not to allow men to make me feel bad.
One day, Earl leveled with me and said something I’ll never forget. “I’m going to give you a shot of optimism and adrenaline,” he announced. “You need to use your instincts and analytic skills. At some point, you will see it won’t make a difference that you’re a woman or man in business as long as you are producing the kind of revenue you’re capable of,” he said.
He was right.
To Earl’s point, I found that I got a lot of respect for my accomplishments as I got older. When I was younger, I was just a tough businesswoman. You know, the “b-word.” You would never call a man that, of course. You’d just praise him as “tough. But it’s interesting how businesswomen and executives are seen today versus, say, 30 years ago. Back then, it was much harder for women to get into the so-called “old boys club.”
No matter what happened in the business arena, women had to keep their heads above water both morally and ethically, even though we were never going to be able to join this “good old boys club.” It was very lonely. There weren’t many successful businesswomen, so we all gravitated towards each other without even realizing it.
This “boys club” has changed over the years, thankfully, and things have opened up slightly. As I got more successful and generated more revenue for the companies I ran, I started noticing how people treated me. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I noticed I got a lot more respect. I was able to hire the right people. In many ways, I was able to assert myself more and with greater strength.
I’m not one to play politics or mince words. I pretty much say it like it is.
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Times are changing
I think that men still have a misogynistic view of women in business, especially those in older generations, like Generation X or Boomers. Bu things have changed for Millennials and Generation Z. I think that women, in general, are treated with a lot more respect today. Still, I think being an executive is still not an easy gig for a woman to have. I think it’s intimidating to a lot of men who haven’t yet evolved.
But it’s up to women to create the change. A woman can help advance this paradigm shift to show these men that they’re wrong, that she’s the boss who acts professionally. She can be the businessperson who is just all-around better.
Build a team
Women can do other things to level up in business to identify what they’re good at doing that nobody else can do. Once they’ve figured that out, it’s time to then surround themselves with high-achieving people who can do all the things they can’t. It’s like the old advertising adage, “You can’t advertise to everyone because then you’re advertising to nobody.” So it is with success. Don’t try to be all things to people all the time–if someone is everything to everyone, they’re nothing to anybody.
Knowing and acting on that dynamic takes confidence, but hiring to an executive’s weaknesses is the best thing a leader can do.
As for me, I look at myself as a coach. I’m good at teambuilding, and I consider myself the leader of the best, say, “football team” in business. I’m at the helm, but my entire roster is made up of A1 players who do what I can’t. We all have our roles to play, and I pick my team to get results. By extension, they make me look good.
Being a successful businesswoman requires many unique qualities, but knowing how to build a team and using it to get the result is perhaps something specific to women that can be harnessed and used for success. Women have to compete against decades of a very specific boys club to get ahead, particularly in the CBD health, wellness, and beauty industries. Innate emotional intelligence and the ability to connect is something that comes more naturally to women, and it’s something that we should capitalize on coming up in the business community.