2018 is the year of women. It feels like the #MeToo movement and movements for representation, equity, and transparency around pay are (finally!) beginning to move old behaviors and old ideas. But we still face serious political and professional challenges on a daily basis. As a female entrepreneur, I’ve encountered issues that run the gamut, from overpowering male investors to cutthroat office politics to work-related relationship issues.
Before I created Coveteur, I had no formal business training. I didn’t go to business school or have mentors. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned plenty of lessons the hard way. Here are three of the big ones:
Don’t date someone who makes you feel bad about your career
As if dating weren’t hard enough on its own, I’ve found it extra difficult to date as a female business owner.
The first kind of men I encountered were the grifters—those who assumed that by dating me, they could easily gain something: a job introduction, a ticket to a party, a free trip to a cool location, and the list goes on. It is easy to tell when someone is asking questions about your business to get to know you versus if they are fishing for a way for you to help them. If you’re starting to feel that your date or significant other is leaning towards the latter, run fast and don’t look back.
The second kind of men I encountered were those who weren’t entirely secure with my success. For example, they might tell me they admired me for working long hours, but eventually their resentment seeped through. If your career is core to you, it may be a red flag if someone makes you feel guilty for not being able to make a dinner with their friends on a moment’s notice.
This has happened to me a few times and it’s a really tough spot to be in. You have to disappoint either your team or your significant other. I eventually left those relationships. Your partner should encourage you to be the best version of yourself—and the best version of myself is extremely dedicated to her work. I realized that I need to be with someone who can happily forgo having me at a few events, and that I am happy to, in turn, be with someone who can’t always make it to mine.
Women often ask me if I downplay my success when dating and the answer is no. I’ll never brag about what I do, but I also won’t hide it to get a second date. If you want to go down that road, you’d better be prepared to spend your entire relationship hiding your true self and never celebrating your own successes. Not worth it.
You know your business better than anyone else does
During investor meetings (which, more often than not, were with a bunch of men), I was often told that I was wrong. I’d tell myself “Maybe that’s just how it is” or “Maybe they do know more than me.” Adopting this mindset led us down paths that were not necessarily the best for our business—but I didn’t stick up for myself because I was pressured into thinking they knew better. Over time, I realized that no oneknows your business better than you do.
Having an open mindset and bringing in experts in certain areas is critical, but if you feel like someone is trying to use their personal privilege to override you in your own business, stand your ground and know your worth. You’re ultimately doing your business a disservice by deferring to them.
Lean on other women for support—and provide support to other women
Surrounding myself with a circle of fellow female entrepreneurs has been extremely powerful. Many of us experience the same gender discrimination issues in the workplace. Confiding in others who are on a similar path not only provides comfort, it creates a sounding board for you to bounce ideas around and get advice from each other. These get-togethers can be as formal as scheduling monthly dinners or as casual as emails and quick coffee dates.
When I co-founded Coveteur with my business partner, Jake Rosenberg, a lot of the connections we made were through emails, sometimes with people we had never met! We just started explaining who we were and what we wanted to accomplish. Some very important people took the time to work with us, which meant the world to me. Since then, I’ve met other female founders in all sorts of ways: at the gym, socially, on set, through friends, and at conferences. The possibilities are endless if you really put yourself out there and make the first effort.
This is a two-way street. You can’t just get advice and support from other women. You have to give it too. Push to close the wage gap at your own company—or close it from the jump if you’re a founder. Empower your female employees. This could mean letting them try a new shoot format or idea your company hasn’t done yet. It could mean letting them lead a big editorial trip or sending them words of encouragement when they really go above and beyond.
Outside of the office, make time to give advice and mentorship to other women who reach out to you. When Coveteur started out, many of those who let us into their homes for closet features were women. They were champions for our team and they helped us with editorial connections to grow our business. I always remember that, and I make an effort to pay it forward.
Stephanie Mark is the co-founder and editor in chief of Coveteur,a media company that offers a behind-the-scenes look at all things fashion, beauty, health and wellness, travel and lifestyle.