Darden Professor Lalin Anik has some practical advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs: Start by asking questions.
Anik will be a mentor and role model at the She Started It: 2017 ESTEAM conference Saturday, 23 September, for female students grades K–12. Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is one of the conference sponsors.
Representing industries largely dominated by men — ESTEAM stands for Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math — the goal of the event is to give these students relatable role models who look like them and a safe space to explore career options that may have never looked or felt open before.
Ask and Trigger Deeper Thinking
The name of the conference, She Started It, comes from a documentary profiling female entrepreneurs who have turned ideas into businesses.
Starting a business from scratch can be intimidating even for those who feel confident they belong in the room; this is where Anik’s advice comes in, as a necessary first step for an aspiring entrepreneur.
Making “the ask” in business lingo usually refers to the final moment of truth, when you ask investors or customers to buy into your business or product and they do … or not. However, Anik is pointing to a much more fundamental “ask” that can permeate a business plan from start to finish.
“Kids can start by just asking for help early on. In other words, simply asking for someone to help through time or resources and not feeling shy about it could be a great early step,” says Anik.
Beyond the obvious benefits of asking for help, Anik points out that doing so can trigger deeper thinking. It may spur young entrepreneurs to:
- Recognize the problem. “I have an issue I need help with” can later be transformed into “I have a mission/vision I need help with.”
- Recognize that they need help. This is a hard one, as we bring up our children to be self-sufficient, independent and confident — so admitting that they need help can be tough.
- Recognize who can help. This requires emotional savviness in order to recognize who has the resources (emotional, financial, physical, etc.) best suited for what they need.
In other words, thoughtfully asking for help can train the ego, develop social skills and push forward an idea into action.
How to Ask and Negotiate
Easier said than done? Anik points to the advice of Jia Jiang, author of the book Rejection Proof and founder of the website Rejection Therapy, who offers three tips for making an effective ask:
- Always prepare a good reason that you’re asking for something.
- Be confident in your requests. If you are nervous or scared, people will feel your unease and be less likely to say yes.
- If someone says no, ask how you can help make it happen. Rejections are gateways to negotiations. When you ask how, you have the chance to collaborate and turn a no into a yes.
On that last point: Being open to negotiation at every point is key for success, and Anik highlights research reported in Women Don’t Ask: The High Price of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, which shows that women may have an advantage there. Women tend to negotiate not as adversaries in a winner-take-all system but as “a collaborative process aimed at finding the best solutions for everyone involved,” the authors write.[i] By sharing information, listening and eschewing competitiveness in favor of genuine concern for all, the process becomes more productive.
Genuinely seeking out what the other person wants during a negotiation helps grow relationships and can uncover creative solutions that not only divide the pie fairly for everyone involved, but actually grow the size of the pie overall.
Why Everyone Should Care
When women win, everyone else does, too. However, they aren’t currently. In 2000, women owned 40 percent of all the businesses (which amounts to 9.1 million businesses) in the United States but received only 2.3 percent of the available venture capital dollars. As Babcock and Laschever put it: “If 40 percent of businesses in this country may be undercapitalized, this puts far more than the long-term survival of a few businesses at risk. It puts at risk the employees of those 9.1 million businesses, the fiscal health of the communities those businesses serve, and at some level the health of our national economy.”[ii]
A first step to countering that worrying statistic, the She Started It ESTEAM conference hopes to inspire these female students — and the women they will turn into — to arm themselves with information, ideas and resolve, in the hope that they will never stop asking for what they want.
[i] Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, Women Don’t Ask: The High Price of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change (Bantam, 2007) ix.
[ii] Ibid., 62.