Why business has no gender and what it takes to start one

I do not really like “woman entrepreneurship” approach; I don’t agree with gender separation in business. If you decide to enter this path, you do not have a choice; you just do what you have signed up for. Starting a business is difficult for both men and women and the obstacles they face are similar.

I recently visited the U.S. as a participant in the Women in Entrepreneurship programme run by the U.S. State Department. Throughout the month, together with 47 women from across the world I was trying to find answers to our questions: what is women entrepreneurship? Why is it talked about so much lately and why is it so popular nowadays?

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Assel Kozhakova

The main conclusion I have come to is “business has no gender”. The rules of the game are the same for everyone. Customers do not choose a product just because its owner or executive is a man or a woman. And although there are some traditionally male or female businesses, stereotypes are now fading as more examples emerge of inspirational women leaders in tech and IT. Among them are Cher Wong, co-founder and chairperson of HTC Corporation; Margaret Whitman, president and CEO of Hewlett Packard and previously CEO of eBay, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube… This list of names and companies is strong enough evidence of the fact that business indeed has no gender.

I need to acknowledge, however, that it is harder for a woman to succeed in business. She is not just a working mother, but a mother who is building her own business, which is essentially equivalent to raising yet another child.

In addition, female entrepreneurs are not always taken seriously in our country. The word “businesswoman” itself is at times pronounced with some sort of mockery.

I keep asking myself: what stops women from starting their own businesses? Experts point to the following reasons: lack of finance; fear and self-doubt; lack of skills and knowledge.

I am absolutely sure that having solved the issue of skills and knowledge, one can deal with the other two. Please also bear in mind that for a successful business you need to have both: being an expert in a particular sphere and have entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. In other words, it will be harder for a seamstress to start a tailor business having no experience in business and management. Even if there is financing available, it can still be very tough: sometimes even when all the prerequisites for success are in place, the company can still be a failure. So, entrepreneurial and managerial skills, knowledge of business processes are key, to my mind.

When I started my own business, the toughest challenge I faced was lack of skills in doing business. As a chartered marketer and with extensive experience in the most successful companies in the world, I was confident I knew everything about business. Today, I can say for sure that a marketer and an entrepreneur are not the same professions.

I assumed it would be easy for me. After all, I taught marketing to so many people! But there was one thing I could not know back then: a marketer is not always an entrepreneur, but an entrepreneur is always a marketer. Managing a marketing department and running a company that provides marketing services are completely different things.

Here’s another observation about so called traditionally “women” businesses like beauty salons, kindergartens and education centres. Women sometimes make a big mistake by opting for a business of this kind simply to stay “close to their children” or to “beauty.” This approach is a path to failure. A kindergarten is still a business but not an instrument to be close to your kid.

If a woman has other reasons for opening a business, however, and is passionate about it, ready to work 24/7 and sacrifice her own time, she shouldn’t be in doubt.

I want to share some of the conclusions I came to, and here they are:

– sell what you’re strong at and develop what you aspire to achieve;

  • do not fear competition and big companies: between large stones there is always a room for a small pebble;
  • don’t count on anyone: nobody owes you anything;
  • create opportunities;
  • at the very beginning, you do not have to and cannot know everything!
  • you don’t need many employees, you just need to manage your team effectively;
  • know and pay your taxes and do the paperwork properly;

– do not be afraid to fail. The trick is not if you fail, it is how fast you get up.

If someone asks me if I regret anything, I would answer: not having started my own business earlier.


The author is a chartered marketer and general manager at Red Point Kazakhstan, an integrated marketing communications firm.

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