Question: What Can a Female Entrepreneur Do in Response to Bullying by Male Partners?
Sometimes I feel ignored or bulldozed by my business partners, who should be my greatest supporters. How can I take back control?
Meet our Entrepreneur: Jennifer Barnes, CEO, Optima Office
Jennifer Barnes is the CEO of Optima Office, Inc., an outsourced accounting firm that customizes its approach for every customer. She is also the co-founder of Pro Back Office, and spent over six years making it one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S.
Answer: Take a Stand, Be Transparent, and Take the High Road.
For me, as a female entrepreneur, 2018 started off immensely successfully, but my older male partners found a way to conduct a takeover of the firm, pushing me to the side as if I was replaceable, as if the massive amount of business I brought to the firm meant nothing. To say that I didn’t see this coming was an understatement.
I found myself in the midst of a contentious — and potentially prolonged — legal dispute. I spent more than $50k in two months on legal counsel, but the end result was that I was able to start my own firm that is well on its way to becoming one of the largest outsourced accounting providers in the region.
This whole ordeal has left me exhausted but also elated. I’m finally in a position where I hold the majority share in my company and I don’t have anyone riding on my coattails. I’m relieved that I will never again be in a position where I can have my company ripped away from me.
I suspect that, more frequently than ideal, my fellow female entrepreneurs who operate in male-dominated industries will have bigger barriers to overcome than men performing roles equal to theirs. I also suspect that they will be bullied, shoved aside, and forced to stand firm and fight hard for what they believe in.
While people may try to knock you down as you climb the corporate ladder, I can tell you first hand that there is only one person responsible for your success: You. Perseverance, confidence, and tenacity are essential skills for any entrepreneur who yearns to prevail over the mercurial ups and downs of launching a new venture. Fostering those characteristics takes three essential daily practices.
Be True to Your Values
At everyone’s core is their set of guiding principles that, regardless of the business’ industry, product or service, never waivers. For me, it’s always been people over profits, taking care of others and doing the right thing. I have a purpose in this world, and I intend on making a difference to as many people as possible. I seek to empower other females and instill confidence in those who need encouragement. Ensuring that employees work in a productive, supportive environment always translates to happier clients. And aren’t happy clients and happy staff the goal? Either way, if you find yourself working with someone whose values conflict with yours, it’s time for one of you to move on. It’s something I should have done years ago!
Clients, partners and employees work better when they know where you, they and the company stand. Ambiguity breeds skepticism and anxiety. Always be authentic and as transparent as possible, while also watching what you say. Your staff looks to you to set the example, and they will follow you if they can trust you. Being honest and forthright with your team and empowering them to make decisions allows them to come up with ideas and solutions that can increase productivity, sales and the bottom line. At the end of the day, don’t leave your team in the dark — be as honest as possible with them.
Be Above the Fray
This trait is one that I sometimes struggle with. I don’t take kindly when I feel that my integrity is unfairly questioned or when someone wrongs me. Nevertheless, fighting fire with fire just scorches everyone. Taking the high road, staying focused on the goals ahead and trusting yourself and your capabilities are most often the best course of action. I’d also recommend getting advice from several trusted advisors. Trust that the people who are trying to help you have your best interests in mind and will enable you to take the emotion out of the situation. Acting hastily and with emotion doesn’t usually turn out well. Always try to take the high road.
If this year has taught me anything, it is that we, as female entrepreneurs, are stronger than we think. There’s nothing we can’t do when we practice perseverance. Believe in what you stand for, be strong in your convictions, tenacious in your actions, and never, ever let someone push you around.