More women than ever are entrepreneurs. However, while women continue to make strides in business ownership, the path to success is still significantly more difficult for women than men. A recent study reports that female entrepreneurs receive only about 2 percent of all funding, despite owning 38 percent of the businesses in the country (Harvard Business Review).
“The culinary industry is dominated by men, but I have never let that get in the way of my success,” says Leticia Skai Young, owner of LoLo’s Seafood Shack in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. “Don’t worry about being a woman, worry about being a leader. Focus on being your best self.”
To inspire the next generation of business owners, Young partnered with the Stacy’s(R) Rise Project, an initiative from Stacy’s Snacks that helps women shatter the glass ceiling in the highest ranks of the culinary industry. Young hopes her tips will help other women who aspire to own their own business:
1. Don’t let your gender hold you back. “Being a woman is a business advantage,” says Young. “Many women are excellent multi-taskers and natural leaders, who are community-minded and want others to share in our success.” All are positive attributes of any successful business owner. “Ultimately, your attitude and work ethic matter far more than your gender.”
2. Identify your niche. Don’t be a “Jane of all trades, master of none.” Find a niche for your skill set and make it your own. LoLo’s Seafood Shack serves a mixture of coastal comfort foods and Caribbean street food, drawing upon the heritage of Young and her husband, who is the executive chef. The unique combination helps set LoLo’s apart in the crowded New York restaurant scene.
3. Every day is an opportunity to learn. At the beginning of her culinary career, Young invested in specialized training at the International Culinary Center’s Culinary Entrepreneurship program. Today, she’s taking free business courses through a community education program. “I knew I had a lot to learn about the business side of things,” said Young. “So, I got the help that I needed to get ahead. No matter your time and budget, there are opportunities to learn, grow and improve.”
4. Find a mentor. Mentorship is critical to success, with women in mentorship programs garnering more promotions, higher salaries and more career satisfaction overall. But it can be challenging for women to find a female mentor. If needed, search beyond where you work, or look for someone who is where you aspire to be in 10 years.
5. Get practical experience. “A mentor once told me that before I opened my own restaurant, I should open three restaurants for someone else,” said Young. “Higher education helps immensely because you understand the strategy and theory behind your work. But when you encounter a business challenge, nothing beats having past experiences to draw from.”
6. Ask for help. Many women try to do it all, often sacrificing their own health or happiness in order to complete the task at hand. “Asking for help does not mean you’re incapable. It’s an indication of strong leadership and self-awareness — two excellent qualities in an entrepreneur,” says Young.
7. Be your own advocate. When you’ve proven you have the skills to do the job, stand up for yourself and say so. Confidence is a valuable business asset. When you believe in yourself, others will sense it and be more inclined to believe in you, too.
8. Find your own work/life balance. No one can tell you what type of balance is right for you. Find what works for you and focus on the mix of professional and personal time that allows you to be best satisfied at home and at work.
9. Don’t forget to have fun. You can work hard, produce a good product and still have fun. When you are a positive influence on the people around you, you elevate the entire team — people who feel encouraged and appreciated will take pride in what they’re doing and become not only employees but also ambassadors.
10. Share your success. Stories of women who have succeeded help encourage those who are still striving to accomplish similar success. “Don’t be afraid to speak proudly about yourself and what you have accomplished, you never know who is listening — and who your story will inspire,” says Young.