January Community Event Recap: Are You A Founder, An Owner or a CEO?

What kind of discussion breaks out when you get a room full of women from different backgrounds to discuss the role of title and how it impacts us as business owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs? A rather indepth one. More than just surface level – how we carry and describe ourselves matters. And unlike what most people try to say – there isn’t a single correct answer. In fact, if we are who we want to be – our title needs to reflect our role without the pretense.

Below is a recap of that discussion. Have thoughts? Want to be a part of the next discussion and meet other women CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs? Check our our calendar for the next event. Until then, let’s talk titles.

Are You A Founder, An Owner or a CEO?

The title you give yourself really matters. We know women face different challenges than men do. In fact, I recently read an article about this that said “Entrepreneurship is a male dominated industry”. In an environment where more women are starting businesses than men, this statement is just plain offensive, and yet- when you go to events for entrepreneurs you do in fact find them filled to the brim with men.

Most of us have someone in our sphere that we look up to. That’s the person we visualize when someone asks you to close your eyes and imagine an entrepreneur. However, despite that, when you ask a room full of people to visualize a CEO, they see a middle aged white man in a suit. That’s the image that we need to change.

For starters, no matter what title you decide to give yourself, let’s think about what it means to be an entrepreneur. There are no qualifications, it’s really more of a mindset. Being entrepreneurial means generally means you are innovative, have a higher tolerance for risk and tend to build businesses with the expectation of having rapid returns. It’s easy to see why this isn’t for everyone. There is no room for being risk or failure adverse. Both of these things are tools to get you where you want to go.

With women, we know there are some specific barriers we face when we run a company. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

Society has social expectations of us. Many of us feel that in order to work in a field dominated by men that we must act like them to be successful. Or there is an assumption of what our role is. Often, as women, we’ve heard it so long we feel obligated to those expectations.

We don’t have the same access to funding, venture funding in particular. Less 2% of venture funding gets deployed to women. Less than 0.5% of funding goes to women of color. To say it another way, 98-99.5% of venture funding going to someone who doesn’t look like you. Nobody would blame you if you didn’t feel super optimistic if your business concepts needs funding.

We struggle with being taken seriously. When we finally get the chance to pitch for funding, 75% of women say they didn’t feel like they were being taken seriously. A common saying is that when it’s a man pitching investors, they are looking for a reason to say yes – it’s theirs to lose. But too often it feels like it’s women pitching, they are looking for a reason to say no. The reality is, despite all of the claims of analytics in funding and investing, emotion and impression are a big part of the risk assessment. And when the “typical” investable CEO doesn’t look like you, it can be an uphill battle.

We lack support networks. Obviously, this is something we’re tackling here at Vaxa Factor but it still is important to consider that in our friend groups, we may be the only entrepreneur. It’s hard to celebrate wins and talk about frustrations with other women that don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish. It can also be difficult for women to find advisors and mentors to help them.

We have a harder time balancing work and home. Statistically, women are still responsible for 80% of household duties.

We have a harder time coping with failure. My question to you is though, what would you tell your friends and your kids if they had the same experience you did? When your best friend makes a mistake at work, we comfort her and reassure her that she’s capable and worthy but we don’t afford ourselves the same grace.

Given these barriers, how you refer to yourself in your business really matters. It tells people and yourself “this is who I am” and whether we like it or not, it’s also “this is how you should treat me”.

Common Titles And What Other Women Think They Say About Us

Founder  Someone who was hands on in starting up the company. This person is involved in the day to day work to bootstrap the company. Does NOT mean they are a majority holder.

OwnerTypically a majority holder- may not have been involved in starting up the company. Implies financial ownership. Small Business Owner typically means you’ve chosen less risk and more proven methods and are a safe, steady proprietor

CEO – This implies that you are the leader, the top dog, the head bitch in charge. Because people associate CEO’s with larger companies it can have an air of prestige to it and communicate that you are leading a scaling enterprise.

Some options options to consider. What’s great about these is that they can show a level of sophistication that many women may choose because of either over or under-confidence.

  • President
  • Managing Director
  • CXO (Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Creative Officer)
  • Principal

Be aware of the baggage associated with the title you choose. Like it or not, some people will be intimidated. Think about how you’ll represent yourself not just to your peers but to your customers and employees. Beware of imposter syndrome. It’s okay to fake it till you make it if that’s what you need to do. We dress for the job we want, so to speak. You are who you say you are, you don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations but your own.

We need more women owning their place at the top. We want you to be confident in yourself to look at the possibility of failure the face and do it anyway.  Lean on your support network here to help navigate things that knock your confidence.

Adjust your expectations that you need to be everything to everyone. Ask for help with work AND at home and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t getting things perfectly.

Let’s stop letting society tell us who we are and decide for ourselves. Don’t compromise your vision of yourself for other people. They don’t have to understand you to respect you.

Here are a few final things to think about:

  • Why did you choose the title you’ve given yourself?
  • Are you consistent with your title or do you change what you call yourself depending on who you’re speaking to?

Come join the next conversation!

(c) 2022 Vaxa Factor