What it means to be a female entrepreneur in 2020
In honor of Business Women’s Day, we sat down with two of our team members, Diana and Eva, the ladies of STRAREX. Let’s pick their brains about women in business, female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in 2020.
Hello I’m Diana and co-founder at STRAREX and head of Creative.
I am Eva, an enterprising freelance web designer and front-end developer at GraphicsGrove. I work with STRAREX on a freelance basis.
What does it mean to be a female entrepreneur:
Diana & Eva: An entrepreneur is just a label like any other; yet, it’s about the person who acts as the entrepreneur that makes it meaningful. Someone who has the perseverance, the “I follow my dreams” attitude, the “I am gonna give it a 1000% and do big things” mindset, and the courage to believe this and be creative with one’s passion.
In my experience it’s mostly about the way other people see me, rather than what I think of myself. I don’t particularly identify with the label of “entrepreneur” and my gender has never been all that important to me. Yet, because I do know it makes a difference for others, I try to show that my work and level of expertise have nothing to do with me being (perceived as) a woman, and that you can be a professional without ascribing to the typical masculine “play it hard” mentality. More than being a female entrepreneur, it means more to me to embrace this heart of passion and go-getter mindset, rather than just the label of business title and sexual identity/preference. You can be kind and caring in business, I believe it’s a big plus actually.
How we got started:
Eva: After two jobs as an employee, I realized that the 9-to-5 was never going to work for me. I had some experience building websites and a couple of people who I was already doing work for. At the time I thought that was enough to make the jump to freelance work. I took a Unizo course to write a business plan and get a better understanding of the administrative side of things, after that I started GraphicsGrove in 2014.
Diana: I’ve always had the curiosity and fascination to build something from the start. Since I was a child, I walked around with my mom and dad while they ran their own businesses, and in the meantime, I played with my barbies who had their own shops with registers, products and customers. Encouraged to follow my passion, I gained experience in Chicago and New York, working from creative to digital / tech agencies selling products in a less organic way since my barbie days but on a whole other level. This opened my eyes to further sharpen my skills overseas in England, and afterwards, co-founded STRAREX as a strategic marketing agency. And I am here now, pursuing my “entrepreneurial spirit” with STRAREX.
Journey of an [female] entrepreneur:
Eva: Overall the journey so far has been a balancing act; there’s no guaranteed paycheck at the end of the month so you need to learn to get clients, get the work done, get paid and still have time left to do admin, network, learn and stay relevant. And you don’t want to burn out along the way, I can attest it’s something you better avoid.
Diana: Of course, there are challenges in every journey that’s worth the ride. Regardless of being a female, male or other entrepreneur, building something from ground up, comes with challenges. Starting from self-reflection and ideation (what am I gonna do, what’s my passion, what am I good at, what do I like to do, what is needed in the world/ market that my business can thrive in…) to realization (Ok, got my business plan, now I gotta make it happen).
“The number one challenge is that nothing is ever the way you expect it to be”.
Eva: You have to constantly adapt and rethink what you’re doing, especially in a competitive, fast changing sector like web design and development. The added difficulty as a freelancer is that you’re basically alone to make decisions, there’s no one to hold you back or spur you on when you’re stuck or you’re going through a difficult time. I’m very grateful that I now know other freelancers to occasionally vent to and who can help me get unstuck.
Diana & Eva: Another real challenge is starting the journey–everyone has great ideas, but it’s about making it happen and taking actionable, concrete steps to realize the “dream.” From there, I think the hardest part is getting the journey started. And in between these moments, there are times of doubt, the “what I am doing right now” moments and the other side, “I feel like I can take on the world” moments. Once you’re in the journey, it’s a roller coaster ride, minimal certainties and guarantees with lots of DIY moments, everything from cleaning the trash, cleaning after people, to the “big” business meetings. I can also confirm that the first years are something you just have to swim through and hope for the best. Oh and network, network a lot. Your work needs to be good but if no-one knows about it, it won’t do you much good.
This is part of building and working hard, not the “I worked 20 hours today”, but not even counting the hours. It’s about the results, making the effort, and going to that next level.
“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.”Estée Lauder
Pros / cons to women in business:
Eva: The biggest con is that there are many areas of business where men loathe to give up their way of doing things. Luckily, I haven’t encountered much adversity as a freelancer. In part I simply refuse to work for anyone who questions my abilities because of my gender, or otherwise. I know that not everyone is that lucky. I hear a lot of downright terrible stories from women in my network and in the women.code(be) community I’m a co-founder of. The main issue is still that people – not just men – often question women’s abilities and professionalism. I’m not going to go into the specifics now, as they say: there’s a lot to unpack here.
Diana: Similar to Eva, because I work in Marketing and Advertising, where there are predominantly more females, I personally haven’t experienced many moments of prejudice based on my gender, but of course, it exists, and I had to work with such ignorance and arrogance at times, while placing work and project ahead of such prejudices. However, I believe these do exist more in traditionally “male” dominated sectors or even teams.
Women bring so much to the table that is often overlooked in standard business practice. As we’re raised to be more understanding and observant of other people’s feelings and needs we have a better grasp on that side of business. I’m not a fan of calling it “soft skills” as it suggests that these skills are less important or easier to master, but in general women bring a much needed people-first perspective into their work.
That’s a very broad take of course; I’m not saying that all women possess these skills or that men are devoid of empathy of course.
At these points, rather than dwelling on pros vs cons, male vs female, it’s more important to use your strengths to your advantage.
For example, the “cons” of balancing family and work life: working moms turning their “cons” to strengths–I’ve been lucky to come across many female CEOs and owners of large businesses, and seeing some of them literally carry their newborns on their shoulders running from meeting to meeting, (as if there’s nothing different from a few weeks ago, when their hands were free), these moments, show that the traditional idea of women, are becoming more and more outdated. If anything, the focus and commitment to work that these women show, prove that they turned these perceived “cons” into strengths.
Motivation and Goal(s):
Eva: Motivation is a big word but I genuinely just want to work on what is important to me and be able to help whoever I can in the process. I don’t have any real business goals I want to achieve aside from living comfortably and giving back to the communities I’m a part of and the people that helped me along the way.
Diana: Working on the right things and making a difference is what motivates me. Might sound cliché but to hustle and grind without getting a gold star (a raise, compliments, benefits, material goods…) everyday, you have to work for something greater. My energy to keep driving is when I develop creatives with my team, launching creatives that made a campaign successful, and when I’ve helped my client(s) and team to achieve successful results. To me, these are the “somethings” that make a difference. My goal is to never stop the drive, keep building, and keep dreaming–to build STRAREX and more in the future where only the sky’s the limit.
“So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.”Caterina Fake, Co-founder, Flickr and Hunch.
How do you see the future of women in business?
Eva & Diana: I think, or at least I hope, that the current women in business and leadership positions show that this is the way forward from here on out. Not just by having more women in business; I believe the end goal is more than gender diversity. It’s about equity for everyone who doesn’t fit in the narrow representation of what our culture sees as “a professional”. Be it because of their gender or their race/ethnicity, their sexual preference or their disability, everyone should have the chance to contribute in the way they feel they can. And it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.
According to Forbes, women-led companies are also growing in number year over year (and healthy business stems from happy people)Forbes
Diana: My first influence would be Diane Von Furstenberg, Founder DVF. She’s not only on the forefront of fashion, but the definition of women in business paving the way for the future. She’s taken femininity to be powerful and express them in something typically “girly” such as dress and blouses. Recently, she’s brought up many of the younger female entrepreneurs in the social media influence community and opened doors for this new emerging market. Also, her devotion to her philanthropy in Vital Voices, empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs (Forbes). I always appreciate those in power who can uplift and be a leader of change.
Eva: I’ve learned a lot from Amy Hoy, co-founder of Freckle and 30×500. She manages several successful small businesses and projects even though her illness makes it quite challenging at times. She taught me that success should only be measured by what you want out of life, not what society tells you it should be. It’s very helpful to keep in mind, especially when you see another one of those 30 under 30 lists.
Diana: There are so many influential entrepreneurs in the future of women in business, but one of my favorites would be Michelle Phan. She’s one of the, arguably the first “influencer,” who paved the way for beauty in the YouTube scene–since the mid-late 2000s beauty industry has seen an incredible boom from DIY, tutorials, product review, etc. Before her, there wasn’t really anyone working in this realm and influencer wasn’t a job or a serious occupation at the least. Regardless of how people perceive “influencers, v/bloggers” you can’t deny the impact. Creating a new job market and expansion of an industry in the digital age, these are aspiring achievements of the future for women in business.
Eva: Another influence is Sihame El Kaouakibi who is an entrepreneur and a politician. To me she really personifies someone who is both caring and empathic but also focussed and ambitious. It’s rare to see someone truly walk the talk and I respect that, even though I’m not of her political persuasion.
There are many women who’ve paved the way to the future in business, and it’s amazing to see amazing talents who inspire and motivate us.
Hello, I’m Diana. I help my clients with the human side of business, bringing their brand(s) to life by developing creative strategies and realizing their goals through branding, rebranding, and design as the co-founder of STRAREX and head of Creative.
Deeply rooted in the ad agency world, from creative, media to tech agencies, I’ve found enthusiasm and passion for business and branding: I worked across various sectors, including Automotive, Luxury, Consumer Packaged Goods, Fashion, Retail, Fast-food, Telecommunication, Floral, E-commerce and B2B. Striving after something that brings Value has always driven me to do some of my best work. Working on STRAREX has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and if you want to chat more on branding, our firm, or on any business topics, happy to talk!
I’m Eva, a freelance web designer and front-end developer at GraphicsGrove. Before I started focusing on design & code I studied philosophy and film studies, laying the foundation for why I like to combine both abstract and visual thinking. In 2017 I co-founded women.code(be), a niche community that aims to unite womxn who code in Belgium and provide them with a friendly, safe and harassment free environment to meet their peers. We organize several TechTalk events each year, as well as casual meetups.