Welcome to The Power of She, a blog series dedicated to featuring women entrepreneurs and leaders. With this series, we hope to create a platform to help readers better understand the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face, the opportunities they have created and the lessons they can share with other women who are interested in following the same path.
When Melissa Kennedy left a career at Cisco Systems five years ago and set out on her own, she didn’t have a plan. What she did have was a strong desire to create something of her own, as well as passion, tenacity and stamina.
For Melissa (and many others), the decision to become an entrepreneur did not happen overnight; it was an evolution. By most standards, she was successful in her career, having earned a number of promotions and bonuses for her work. However, according to Melissa, her work just never fit. She tried switching jobs, industries and companies, but she was always left feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.
Finally, something snapped, and Melissa decided she had had enough. She couldn’t keep pretending that working for a prestigious tech company and having a lucrative career was enough for her.
“Once I started doing freelance work, working on my own concepts and working the way I wanted to work, it became clear,” Melissa said. “I wasn't crazy. I was just an entrepreneur!”
Melissa’s entrepreneurial spirit has expressed itself in a few different forms since leaving Cisco but most recently resulted in the creation of 48 Innovate, a consulting firm dedicated to helping corporations generate employee-driven innovation. Now she pulls from her own experience to help others find their “intrapreneurial” spirit by leading innovation events and consulting activities within organizations of all sizes and industries.
I talked with Melissa about her advice for women entrepreneurs, the challenges of being a woman entrepreneur and more.
Q: What unique challenges do women entrepreneurs face (that their male counterparts may not)?
A: Ugh… I hate this question because I am an entrepreneur who happens to be female. I never wanted to admit that it was harder for a woman to be an entrepreneur, although all the data suggests that to be the case. Philosophically, I believe that women have to work “in the wild with men” in the current environment in order to be successful, no matter how fair or unfair the situation.
Q: But you can’t deny there are double standards and expectations when it comes to gender, many of which are very subtle.
A: I have faced my own challenges gaining access to decision makers, having to prove myself and my business at a different standard than male counterparts and not getting the deal because of the bigger perceived risk in hiring a nontraditional choice. And the innovation industry itself presents some unique challenges, because the number one obstacle to innovation is fear—fear of change, fear of failure, etc. I not only have to help decision makers get over the fear of innovation, but also the fear of hiring a woman to lead those efforts.
Q: What are some of the unique qualities that female entrepreneurs have?
A: Collaboration: Women are masterful collaborators. This is the era of collaboration; there has never been a time in history where collaboration is so important. Leveraging this powerful skill is one of the keys to creating opportunities for females in the future.
Perspective: Perspective is another advantage I think females have to stand out in innovation. Since men have dominated business throughout history, things are done from that lens. Females have a different experience and perspective, and that is what it takes to drive innovation and deliver change.
Hunger: It hasn’t been that long since females where denied access to college, work, etc., and because of that lack of opportunity, [women have] an innate hunger to participate, prove, achieve. That hunger fuels the chase, the creativity and the gratitude to overcome the inevitable challenges of driving innovation and change.
Q: What advice would you offer to other women entrepreneurs?
A: Letting go is the most incredible superpower you can cultivate. Nothing is fair, and sometimes that lands in your favor, and sometimes not. Letting go of the stories you make up in your head about yourself, the environment, the industry, or men [and] women is key to sanity and success. Letting go of someone else’s idea of success, so you can find yours. I [also] must be vigilant in the pursuit of mastering [letting go]. And some days letting go is easier than others, but it is a constant. It’s a choice, but it is a hard one.
Words of wisdom for other women entrepreneurs (or anyone, really):
“Find your passion and pursue it relentlessly.”
“Learn to say ‘no,’ or in my case, since I am southern and all, ‘no, thank you.’”
“Ditch the guilt; it’s a waste of energy.”
Know an amazing woman entrepreneur whom you think should be considered for this series? Send Shawn an email.