The Particular Struggles Of Female Small Business Owners

October 25, 2019  |  
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a female business owner

Source: PeopleImages / Getty

To say “Hats off” to women who own small businesses just doesn’t even begin to show the amount of respect I have for them. I have several close friends, including my sister, who own small businesses. My sister owns a restaurant and is the chef there, so she deals with the unique struggles of being in a particularly male-dominated industry. But I know and love several incredible women who own small businesses and no catch-up with them is void of the ridiculous and frustrating stories about the struggles and obstacles they face. As if it isn’t tough enough being a small business owner at all, being a female one brings it up to a challenge level of 12 out of 10. Many of the workplace issues that come up for women are amplified when that woman owns the business.

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People ask to speak to the owner

Nobody has ever assumed my sister is the owner of her restaurant. In fact, they’ve assumed one of her male cashiers is the owner many times, and they have asked him to ask her (who they thought was a server) to get them something.

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They’re shocked/impressed it’s you

When my sister tells people that she is in fact the owner of the establishment, they show so much shock that it’s insulting. They say, “Wow. Good for you” but it really doesn’t feel like a compliment to her.

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Employees bring personal life to work

Employees seem to be more prone to bringing their personal life to work when they have a female boss. They just think a female boss will be nurturing and sympathetic and be willing to talk to them about their breakups and personal hardships on company time.

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And over-ask for favors

Because employees believe female bosses are so empathetic, they’re also much quicker to ask for favors than they would of male bosses. My sister’s employees are always trying to get the day off work to make it to some concert, or because they “feel a cold coming on.” But aren’t even sick yet.

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Employees (often male) pulling a fast one

Every female small business owner I know has stories of their male employees trying to pull a fast one on them by doing something like, say, drinking on the job or sampling product without asking. Their male employees do it far more than their female employees do—they just think a woman boss won’t get mad about it.

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Vendors hitting on you

Every single woman I know who owns a small business has one if not multiple vendors she has to deal with who send borderline inappropriate emails and texts. They don’t outright hit on these women, but they dance around it during what are meant to be business conversations.

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Feeling you must flirt to do business

Unfortunately, female small business owners often feel that they have to endure the flirting if they’re going to keep a good business relationship there. “If I refused to work with every male vendor who flirted with me, I’d have almost nobody left to work with” is a sentiment expressed by many female business owners.

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Customers hitting on you

The customers hit on them, too, knowing they are the owners of the establishment. It’s very uncomfortable. It puts these women in a tough spot. They feel they are being rude to a customer by simply not accepting his advances.

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Male customers talking down to you

They also struggle with male customers talking down to them in a way they just know they wouldn’t speak to a male business owner.

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Everyone wants a job

Every business owner deals with this, but it seems female business owners deal with it more—everybody and their mother wants a job. Perhaps they ask female business owners more because they depend on them being empathetic.

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And takes it personally if they don’t get one

Female business owners also face more friction when they don’t hire their friends and family. If a male business owner doesn’t, people tend to respect that it isn’t personal, but when my sister won’t hire a friend or family member, she’s accused of not taking care of her loved ones.

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Protectors who you didn’t ask for

My sister has several men who try to step into her business conversations and protect her—to make sure other men don’t walk all over her. But she didn’t ask them to do this. In fact, it makes her look weak.

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Closing up late, alone

It’s never comfortable for women who own businesses to close up the place, alone, late at night. But often, that’s what they must do. If a suspicious-looking customer walks in late at night, they have to choose between being polite and protecting their safety. Do they say, “We’re closed” and lock the door? Or do they take the customer?

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Male peers leaving you out of conversation

At conventions and other events where they deal with peers, female business owners often find that men will leave them out of the conversation. It can be four restaurant owners, one a woman, and the men mostly talk to just each other.

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The work-life-balance pity

“Don’t you want kids?” or “Doesn’t your boyfriend wish you were home for dinner?” are questions female business owners receive—but never male ones.

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