Women regularly fail at business because of shame.
So much of a woman’s life is a weird Tough Mudder obstacle course of avoiding shame, across all echelons of society. Donald Trump quips of Hillary in the latest Presidential debate that ‘I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.’ Acolyte of Santamaria and then-Opposition Leader Tony Abbott let loose with the s-bomb (‘another day of shame for a government which should already have died of shame’) prior to Prime Minister’s Gillard’s wicked burn that ‘The government is not dying of shame. My father did not die of shame.’
There’s so much to be ashamed about. Being poor. Being rich. Being unmarried. Being disabled. Being fat. Being childless. Having too many children. Being sportier-than-a-girl-should. Being more clever-than-a-girl-should. Being disinterested in school. Being gay. Being a tenant. Being a refugee. Shame. It’s all useless, it’s all controlling, and it prevents us from being happy.
Shame prevents women from being successful in business. Over the past 14 years, I’ve witnessed many women wanting to kick-start their start-up. Many of them have brilliant business ideas, and amazing interpersonal skills which they could easily monetize into businesses. Only a portion of these awesome starter ideas from my peers have come to fruition – and sure, you can attribute a percentage of these failures to a weak business idea. But a larger portion of potential businesses failed due to the shame of actively being in business, of acknowledging the age-old relationship between commerce and life.
It’s like a big, ridiculous secret: we all want to make money, we just don’t want to ask for it. At least, not regularly. Most of us – women and men – have pretty weird relationships with money. For those of us who are employees, it would be fair to say we have an arms-length relationship with cashola. The boss pays you – you’re not negotiating with the public directly to haggle over the nickels and dimes of every deal or piece of business that gets over the line. You’re not forcing anyone to sign a contract or commit to terms and conditions. That’s what bosses do – and bosses are rich. Rich = bad. It’s not hard to understand – given this schema that so many of us hold about wealth – that the acquisition of wealth is viewed as a shameful activity.
I remember the confusion and sense of shame I felt when I began earning a good wage in real estate. How could I – a newbie estate agent (already a pretty shame-loaded profession) – be earning as much as a senior teacher? I hadn’t done years of toil in service of my community. Why should I be paid so well for comparably so little effort? (Realpolitik aside, I was actually a very good estate agent, which was reflected in my income. I was undervaluing myself substantially with this self-talk.) It took me some time to feel good about earning money and wanting to be not just financially secure, but wealthy. Not because I’m some kind of coin-biting Gollum perching upon a mountain of burnished dollars, but because wealth for me is the ability to take care of myself, to be financially independent and to live a life rich with choices.
I’ve watched other would-be business women look with envy at a life rich with choices as presented on Instagram and at weird business networking sessions, tentatively stepping into the business arena – whether that was as a start-up in the coaching category, in retail, in real estate sales or in pyramid sales organisations like Tupperware. (Don’t knock those: Intimo got me through the startup phase of Ruby Slipper and I still have a solid array of their most excellent brassieres.) Have you ever received an email from a dear friend who announces her new business with profuse apologies, deriding her offering from the get-go? ‘I’m sorry to put this on you, but I’m doing xyz now. I will try not to bug you! I won’t be a weird salesperson I promise.’ You can also see this needlessly apologetic behaviour in Facebook groups, where people couch their business offering between asterisked phrases like *Admin approved, please remove if inappropriate*.
Why are we always apologising about wanting to earn money? Why should we be ashamed to be in business? Why shouldn’t we follow people up appropriately, and present our offering with pride? After all, we’re offering our customers and community a service. Whether it’s Tupperware, or real estate negotiating skills, or social media, or awesome yogurt, or a great cleaning service, or accounting services. We don’t need to cower, to feel shame in the face of prospecting. Women regularly fail at business because of our shame at being other than what an appropriate woman should be. Women will do everything they need to except prospect and ask for the business. Because money is dirty, and direct deals are for bosses. And don’t forget, it’s bosses who are rich, and rich is bad. This decision to avoid asking for the business, sending newsletters, making phonecalls – making noise – is the deathknell for many women in business. We don’t want to be perceived as annoying, aggressive, assertive or hard-nosed – because we’ve been told time and again that those are the qualities of a woman who should be ashamed of herself.
You don’t need to apologise for your business, or for your need to make money to exist. You’ve got nothing to feel shame about. You’re walking on the wild side, honey.
Images by Breeana Dunbar.