As Vice President Kamala Harris recently wrote in her op-ed for The Washington Post, the rate at which women are leaving the workforce is a national emergency. Either due to financial need or childcare necessity, or both, many female professionals have had to prioritize the care of their families over their careers. But despite the prevalent setbacks women face in the professional world, there are so many examples of inspiring women who are starting their own businesses, paving the way for future generations, and helping others along the way. According to the National Association of Women-Owned Businesses, more than 11.6 million firms are owned by women, which generate $1.7 trillion in sales and employ nearly nine million people.
But to continue to shatter the glass ceiling, we’ll all need to work harder to promote equality and empower one another as we rebuild the female workforce over the next several decades. In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked 12 successful female entrepreneurs to share the best ways, large and small, to band together, lift each other up, and pursue your professional dreams. Their sage advice below will inspire you to grab your hammer and start climbing.
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Support other women—they are not your competition.
“Women need to realize that rather than competing with each other, collaborating and sticking together is the way to change the status quo. Women should view success as being plentiful and understand that all success comes with taking things in stride and being flexible. Most importantly, commit to supporting other women and teaching, encouraging, and fostering growth in them. We have to focus on self-growth and encouragement while at the same time pushing one another to be better versions of ourselves each and every day in order to become successful together.”
—Sabrina Shaheen Cronin, founder, and managing partner of The Cronin Law Firm
Identify exactly what drives you.
The barriers for women in business are real, [and] these hurdles are even more pronounced for women of color. Despite the collective struggle, it is possible for individuals to break through. The first step is to get clear about what matters most to you. Your career is important, but what do you hope to achieve? Financial freedom? Social impact? Recognition for mastery of your craft? A legacy for your family? Once you understand what motivates you, you can focus on your highest and best use to make it happen and drop the ball on the pressure to ‘do it all.’ The next step is to cultivate a cohort of individuals who can inspire us and hold our feet to the fire on our ambition. Each one of us is the most powerful change agent in our own journey, but we were never intended to lean in alone. Research shows we’re 95 percent likely to achieve a goal if we’re committed to another person and have regular check-ins to ensure our progress. Let vulnerability be your superpower in getting the support you need to shatter the glass ceiling.”
—Tiffany Dufu, founder of The Cru
Give empathy generously.
“Empathy isn’t finite. What women say to each other matters. We don’t have to speak cruelly to ourselves because we don’t have it ‘bad enough’ compared to someone else. That helps no one. What helps is giving kindness and love to ourselves, in order to show it to others. It takes intention—we have to actively make an effort to uplift our fellow women in business rather than just showing passive support. The more empathy we give out, the more it breeds and gets passed on, and the more glass ceilings are smashed through.”
—Jennifer Dyer, co-founder of Yappa
Become a mentor.
“There’s no question to me that women who have risen through that glass ceiling owe it to younger women to work with them. Showing a young woman the reality of a professional work environment, instilling attributes like accountability and responsibility, and preparing her for what they should expect as they move from school and into the workplace will give them a leg up on the competition.”
—Bliss Landon, insurance specialist and the founder of School Device Coverage
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Talk about your finances with other women.
“Income transparency is key to supporting each other in smashing the glass ceiling. When women candidly discuss their finances with one another, we all become more informed and better advantaged to ask for higher rates and negotiate confidently. To help normalize these conversations and break the taboo, I’ve publicly disclosed my business finances through detailed income reports for almost two years now. I’m an open book when it comes to how I generated seven figures in my business by age 26—without debt or funding.”
—Ellen Yin, founder and podcast host of Cubicle to CEO
Find a fellow female confidant.
“In order to show up daily as the best leader and elevate others, you have to get into a mindset of tactical, practical, and purpose-driven growth. You also must release the emotional hindrances of fear, frustration, insecurity, and anger. In finding a partner to collaborate with, have real conversations, and express those emotional challenges to before embarking on business opportunities, you’ll also show up better for your team.”
—Summers McKay, CEO of The Optimist Daily
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Check-in with other women in your life.
“We were all working at a frenzied pace before the pandemic began, and now that we’re remote, so many of us are not taking advantage of every opportunity to recharge our batteries. Take it upon yourself to check on your colleagues and ask how they’re holding up in a genuinely warm manner. Sure, it’s been a year since we all retreated indoors, but we’re far from ‘used to it’ no matter how much we try to convince ourselves to the contrary. When was the last time your hard-working coworker or direct report took a fully unplugged day off? Keep asking until the answer is either ‘recently’ or ‘soon,’ because it’s dishearteningly easy to forget these days how long it’s been since we spent meaningful time on ourselves. When things are back to normal, they’ll remember who encouraged and reminded them to take that time. It will continue to strengthen your professional relationships.”
—Alex Schrecengost, founder, and CEO of Virtual With Us
Be a genuine, vocal cheerleader.
“One of the best ways for women to smash the glass ceiling is to support, celebrate and promote each other loudly. When you see another woman doing something inspiring with her business, share it. If you notice an opportunity that comes up that you think someone would be a great fit for, pass it along. If you have two women in your network that you think you should meet, make the connection. As cliché as it sounds, the power of women coming together is incredible.”
—Allison Klein, founder and CEO of Rose & Rex
Consider having a fellow female co-founder.
“If you have an idea that you love, share it with a woman who can contribute and help you. Women working together will break the narratives that business is all about competition, pure money-making, and no humanity. Building your business based on femininity in terms of energy, skills, and your natural instincts for creation, sustainability, and life itself, is essential for building brands that truly help and matter.
If you share the same values with another female entrepreneur, reach out to her. A small Zoom call can change the course of everything.”
—Katerina Rothman, founder of Beflax Linen
Use your voice and make room for other voices.
“Sometimes women are hesitant to speak up in the boardroom or conference room, particularly if they’re male-dominated or infused with aggressive bullies. As the leader, it falls on me to stomp out this behavior and make room for all voices to be heard by calling upon every person to contribute. I always encourage women to join the debate. Also, make room for other women at the boardroom table—literally. I’ve seen many women choose the seats against the walls, instantly sending the message that you’re ‘lesser than.’ I always invite them to take a seat at the table.”
—Adriana Gascoigne, author, founder, and CEO of Girls in Tech global nonprofit
Pay women and believe women.
“I’ve been hearing the phrases ‘pay women’ and ‘believe women’ a lot over the last few years. These sentiments should be directed not just at men but also at fellow women in leadership positions and power. We [women] have internalized many systems and processes as normal even when they don’t benefit us. Ultimately, we’re the only ones who truly understand how this dynamic plays out because of our experiences. Because of that, we should keep showing up for each other, providing meaningful opportunities for one another, and seeking genuine connections with like-minded women to push us further and increase access to positions of leadership.”
—Anna Lustberg, illustrator and creative entrepreneur
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Create a strong circle of support.
“Find a circle of supportive women friends, whether in your workplace or outside of it, who are aligned with your beliefs and goals as an entrepreneur. Support each other wholeheartedly in the pursuit of doing good and giving back. When you need energy or are faced with a big decision impacting your next move to smash the glass ceiling, tap into your circle for the support you need to regain your center and continue forward.”
—Nova Covington, founder and CEO of The Goddess Garden