Women.Co: The 5 COs of Successful Women-Owned Businesses

When I started out as a business owner, I wasn’t thinking about being women-owned—I was focused on being successful. And I was, for more than 25 years. I built a business to fit my values and my family’s needs in a way that corporations weren’t doing.

These days, in addition to my work as a consultant with Simplicity, I volunteer as a site visitor with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). I visit women-owned companies to certify that the company is, in fact, legitimately owned and run by women. I’ve sat with female founders, leaders, and bosses—ranging from sole proprietors to CEOs of global corporations. While each leader is different (I think there are as many variances within our gender as there are across genders), I’ve observed the following commonalities.

(Let me be clear: Not every women-owned business adheres to these trends! However, many of the organizations I’ve observed through WBENC or as an employee, customer, vendor, ally, or friend, do.)

These are the 5 COs of successful women-owned businesses:

1. Connected

We connect with our employees, clients, vendors, and the community.

Lisa Dupar is an amazing example of this and one of my local heroes. Go to Pomegranate Bistro if you haven’t already. She’s built deep relationships during her 30+ years in business, and she lifts up her vendors, while supporting her network of long-time employees and partners. She gives back to many community events and has sponsored other small businesses as a mentor and to give them visibility.

2. Collaborative

We build webs, not hierarchies.

Women- and family-friendly businesses are resourceful. Small or large, they make sure that people know each other’s work and how to cover for each other. Got a sick family member? Go focus on your family, and someone else will get it done. We trust that you will do the same for us when necessary.

If anyone has participated in Female Founders Alliance, you’ve seen this in action. How do you throw an awards event while 39-weeks-pregnant with your second child? Leslie Feinzaig delegated many things before, during, and after the awards ceremony to her entire team, including my colleague Sara LeHoullier.

3. Conflict resilience

Decision science shows that seeking diverse input and avoiding group-think leads to better innovation, risk-avoidance, and ultimately higher profitability. You can have healthy conflict as long as you have psychological safety and methods for reconciliation for team members after tough meetings and hard decisions.

Venus Rekow of Neural Shifts coaches companies on the neuroscience of conflict management and how to create safe spaces where both innovation and resilience thrive.

4. Coopetition

As the former leader of a company that did business with Microsoft, I knew my competition and saw them regularly at different events. I admired many women in that group of competitors, and I have great relationships with them. We recognized the need to support each other because, like it or not, it’s still a boy’s club in many ways. And if you can’t do something for a client due to constraints, it’s great to be able to refer that client to someone who will do a good job. Partnering with other women and minority-owned firms gave me the ability to look bigger and learn from working with other great people. That’s a huge advantage for small firms.

5. Coping

The weight of running a business is heavy. As a single parent and business owner, I needed to understand the problems that I was hired to solve and get to a solution quickly. My mantra was Mothers invent solutions by necessity. If you bring the same grace, humor, positive discipline, and problem solving that you use at home, you aren’t guaranteed success, but no one is going to keep you from developing an awesome business. There are plenty of amazing women-owned-business role models out there, including Simplicity Consulting, which has been a very happy place for me to work.

3 Ways To Increase Your Team's Diversity

Is your company feeling a little homogenous? You’re not alone. 71 percent of companies want an inclusive culture, but only 12% have reached a “mature” level of diversity and inclusion (source: Breezy HR).

Here are 3 easy ways to increase the diversity on your team. But first, let's look at how we typically find that next great employee.

The network gap

Telling your friends and posting on LinkedIn are tried and true methods. But, drawing from our existing networks all but guarantees more of the same. And if you keep hiring people with the same background, the data shows that you are going to be less competitive, productive, and innovative over time. Companies with diverse employees are more productive than “highly performing homogenous teams” according to University of Michigan research. Additionally, diverse teams are more likely to mirror the make-up of their customer base and avoid group think, the ultimate creativity killer.

Payscale researched referral networks and who benefited. It found that holding all else constant, women of any race and men of color are much less likely to receive referrals than their white male counterparts. White woman are 12 percent less likely, men of color are 26 percent less likely, and women of color are 35 percent less likely to be referred.

That network gap isn’t going to increase your diverse hiring very quickly. Doing so will require doing things differently.

Next up: How to hire who you don’t know.

1. Build new internal networks

Most large companies have employee resource groups, or ERGs. And most ERGs encourage posting of internal jobs to their members. Even if their members aren’t interested, they will know people who you don’t.

Pro tip: Use a link that external people (non-employees) can access and ask that they share the role with their friends and networks.

2. Build new external networks

There are so many ways to expand your network, with varying degrees of effort required.

Don’t underestimate the power of seeking out events beyond your existing circles – like going to meetups or joining new professional organizations and associations, either as a participant or speaker. You can also encourage your company to financially sponsor an event or volunteer to host chapter meetings at your office. Take a look at local chapters of AfroTech, Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) if you are in tech, to name a few.

More easily still, reach new groups by posting your roles on diversity hiring job boards or seeking out universities and community colleges with diverse student populations and posting on their current and alumni job boards. We’ve been impressed by the graduates of Year Up and students from the UW Bothell School of Business.

3. Use diversity recruiting resources

Many large companies have built their own internal diversity recruiting teams that build relationships over time with professional and alumni groups. If you’re with a big company, check to see if you have that in-house expertise. You will be amazed at how fast they work.

If you don’t have access to those internal resources, engage an external recruiter who focuses on hiring diverse candidates, like SM Diversity. They’re easy to find locally and nationally via a quick LinkedIn search.

Just the beginning

These methods are easy and successful. They will work for you, and your team or company will benefit from diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences.

But remember that hiring diverse candidates is just the beginning of building successful, innovative, and high performing teams.

It’s important to ensure that all of your candidates have a great experience throughout the process—from applying and interviewing all the way through employment. After you hire the right candidate, it’s essential to facilitate and maintain a culture of inclusion to ensure that all are included in your team and its everyday rituals and culture.