(This column originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The good news is that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women-owned employer firms account for more than a third of all U.S. employer-owned firms and revenues at these women-owned businesses have grown almost 52% between 2012 and 2019 compared to a 34% rise in firms owned by men.
The bad news? Females are still struggling to get investment dollars. According to a recent study conducted by the research site Pitchbook, U.S. startups with all-women teams received 1.9% (or around $4.5 billion) out of around the $238.3 billion in venture capital allocated in 2022.
“None of your numbers are surprising me,” the entertainer, entrepreneur and actor Queen Latifah told me in a recent podcast interview. “If anything, they’re unfortunate.”
Latifah has been acting as a spokesman for computer hardware company Lenovo’s Evolve Small campaign, a program that provides financial, educational, mentoring and counseling support for small businesses.
An entrepreneur herself, Latifah has for years been a champion of small business businesses. But her real passion is about female leaders and helping them. Why? Because — while there has been progress — the challenges females face in the workplace remain significant. The reasons for this are varied.
According to Latifah, women entrepreneurs oftentimes have to carry more burdens than their male counterparts. They’re frequently tasked with carrying family and other duties at home while still running businesses. They face unfair evaluations of their body and image. And they must deal with long-established patriarchy in the business world. To her, women “run the world.” But unfortunately, they’re not in the places they still need to be.
In her 2010 book, “Put On Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments On The Path To Queendom,” Latifah discussed various obstacles she encountered on her journey to success, which included navigating a male-dominated music industry and overcoming her own self-doubt and body image issues.
So how can a female entrepreneur succeed in a financial world that is still dominated by men? Latifah has advice.
1. Seek out the positive
Throughout her career, Latifah made a concerted effort to specifically seek out things that were positive influences on her.
“For me, it might be some quotes. Maybe I look for something from Maya Angelou that gives me some positivity, or maybe I look for some little mantra that I keep, or maybe it’s a picture of my mother and I can hear her words. Or maybe it’s my dad saying, “Dana, you can do it, Dana. You got it.” (Latifah’s non-stage name is Dana). You have to find whatever that is for you through those moments. And I’m sure that’s not just a woman thing.”
She encourages other female professionals to seek out the things that make them smile, like the happiness of their children or the memories of someone special from their family that provides cheer. For her, it’s these little things that get a person through the moment and can be a powerful solution for those times of self-doubt.
2. Live in the moment
Everyone’s schedule is busy and for women — who are oftentimes tasked with balancing both home and their businesses — it can be overwhelming at times. Even Latifah admits that it can be formidable. But she makes a concerted effort to step back and try to put things into perspective, prioritize self-care and set boundaries to preserve her well-being.
“I know many women feel the same way when they look at their schedules, and what they have to do, and how much they have to do that next day,” she says. “But sometimes we just need to stop and just live in the moment. I stay and focus on whatever I have to do that day. I know I have to do that stuff tomorrow, next week, but I need to focus on today. I need to be right here, right now. Because if I’m there, it is going to feel like I’m carrying a house. And I can’t carry a house.”
3. Speak out
When Latifah sees the continuing inequities facing women and reads about the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs experience, like raising venture capital, it makes her angry. But she channels that anger into something positive. It’s one of the reasons why she’s devoting time to the Lenovo Evolve Small campaign. But she’s also speaking out more and encourages other females to do the same. Her advice is to call out these inequities when they’re happening and fight for what’s deserved.
“We have to try to maintain our courage, our fearlessness and push through the ignorance of what men (and some women) put on us,” she says. “Clearly things are slanted against us, and we keep having to push back further and further. And fortunately, we are capable, and we keep doing it.”
4. Reach out for support
Latifah has learned that, despite the unfair challenges facing women in the workplace, the answer lies not in complaining about the situation but in doing something about it. And in her opinion, it’s up to women to support each other. And one of the best ways is for women to seek each other out for support. Because women want to help each other.
“There are women all scattered throughout and inside of many organizations and many places and they’re critical to who we are and to who I am,” she says. “There are women who are supporting women, who are also supporting other women, who are looking at young women and saying, “You can do it.” So we also have to be allies to one another and support each other through that.”
Latifah says she tries to do this every day on her own TV show by making sure that there are women employed in places they should be. “Not just because they’re women,” she says “But because they’re capable, and they need a shot at that job. So, wherever we can support one another is where we need to do it, and we have to fight for each other just like I do sometimes.”
The challenges are many and there is still a long way to go until female entrepreneurs are able to say that the playing field is equal with their male counterparts. But Latifah is positive and optimistic about the future.
“I commend any woman who’s out there running a business on their own, doing all those things at the same time,” says Latifah. “I don’t care what the numbers say. I don’t care how much venture capitalists support us or not. We cannot make it without these women-owned businesses. We can’t make it without what women contribute.”