Discover more in the Women in Business series

Women On Leading, Mentoring and Changing the Face of Business

In celebration of Women's History Month, John Jantsch talks to 5 female business leaders about their experiences.
Founder, Duct Tape Marketing Consultant, LLC
March 06, 2012

March is Women’s History Month. Some 10.1 million firms are owned or co-owned by women, 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S., says the Center for Women's Business Research. Between 2002 and 2007, women created almost twice as many businesses as men, according to data from the Census Bureau.

There is much written and unwritten about women business leaders, much proposed and assumed, and much left to say. So, I asked five women business leaders three questions, and I think their answers have a great deal to offer in terms of what this group thinks about being a business owner, and being a woman.

Martha Beck is a writer and "life coach" who specializes in helping people design satisfying and meaningful life experiences. She is the New York Times bestseller Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, and has also been a contributing editor for "Real Simple" and "Redbook", and is currently a columnist for "O, the Oprah Magazine".

Who would you list as your primary role models when staring and building your business? And why?
 My business role model may sound grandiose, but I mean it humbly. It's Leonardo da Vinci. I chose him as the model for female success when I was 15 years old. Here's why.

During my lifetime, men's role identities have been squished into a tiny, narrow, constricted span of activities: purely economic, detached from the emotional and nurturing aspects of life. It's dreadful. During the same historic period, women have been trying to multitask at an unprecedented level for any large population. I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the way this fractures and overburdens many women.

Leonardo was the ultimate multitasker, whose activities weren't constrained by social categories. He was an artist and a scientist, a manufacturer and an inventor, whose work shows great technical mastery and great emotional sensitivity. To look at his drawings of machines (submarines, helicopters) is to see the mind at play. To look at his image of Mary's face in "The Virgin of the Rock" is to see the heart at its most open and loving. When I became obsessed with him at 15, I thought: "This is not male or female; this is human."

Do you feel you've been able to contribute something unique to your business precisely because you are a woman?
 We women have been allowed an emotional range and a scope of action that can be overwhelming. But if we see it as freedom to create, we can become "renaissance people" and help our beloved men find their own freedom. The mechanistic, often dehumanizing, 20th-century structures of business are fracturing and dissolving. In their place we can build economies and societies that will re-humanize the world for all of us. Women have been given the opening to lead that change, create from the whole palette of human experience, and I believe doing that successfully is service not only to ourselves, but to everyone.

Pamela Slim is a seasoned coach and writer who helps frustrated employees in corporate jobs break out and start their own business. Her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, is one of the top career and marketing blogs on the Web. 

Who would you list as your primary role models when staring and building your business? And why?
 "When I started my business 16 years ago, it was before blogs or Twitter or Facebook. The only role models I had were those I had been exposed to in my career. But there was one consultant that I met in my last "real" job at Barclays Global Investors who had a profound impact on my view of business. Her name was Mary Jo Potter and she had run a successful management consulting practice for the past 20 years. She was very down to earth, but wickedly smart and funny. When she walked into a meeting, she was prepared, comfortable and commanded full attention and respect. She was not afraid of anyone from any position, including CEOs and Boards of Directors.

She gave me the best advice I have ever received about negotiating salary or contracts: "Never ask for what you 'need', always ask what the market is indicating, especially in relation to your male counterparts. If you do not charge the market rate, they will lose respect for you." Then she followed up with a caveat I never forgot: "You can choose to give it all away." Because I was a huge advocate for social change, I realized that the more I made, the more change I could affect in the world. I have never forgotten that.

Sarah Robinson is a small business strategy coach, as well as a trained life coach. She is the Chief of the Hooligan Tribe at, and is all about finding the adventure in our everyday lives and inspiring entrepreneurs to break the grip of mediocrity in their businesses.

Who would you list as your primary role models when staring and building your business? And why?
 I had and still have one primary role model as I building my business: my mom. When I was in high school, we moved to Birmingham, Alabama and my mom found herself as the sole breadwinner for the two of us. Up until that time, she’d been a high school English Teacher. She knew she had to do more than that to keep our household running. So, she typed up a brochure and set about building a consulting practice helping companies use the English language better in their written and spoken communications. She had three things that made her business a success: 1) Solid belief in her skill and knowledge, 2) A drive and desire to succeed, and 3) Sheer bravado. If I can come close to emulating her in my business, I know I cannot fail.

Carol Roth is a business strategist, content producer, deal-maker, former investment banker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. Carol has worked with hundreds of companies, ranging from a single entrepreneur with the idea to Fortune 500 businesses, on all aspects of business and financial strategy.

Do you feel you've been able to contribute something unique to your business precisely because you are a woman?
 I believe that I contribute in all business arenas because I bring a unique perspective, as well as set of experiences and skills, to bear. Being female obviously factors into my perspective, but in no greater or lesser way that any other factor that has shaped who I am as an individual.

The fact is that I consider myself a business person, not a ‘female business person’, and an entrepreneur, not a ‘woman entrepreneur’.  I don’t let my gender define me any more or less than any other fact about me (hair color, religion, ethnicity, hobbies, food preferences, etc.) nor do I tend to associate with any individuals or groups solely because of gender. I always try to surround myself with the best people, regardless of their gender.

Skilled CEO, inspired presenter, and gifted educator, Nancy Duarte is a sought-after speaker whose own presentations live up to the expectations established in her books. Audiences leave inspired and firmly grasping new VisualStory tools that transform the way they communicate.

How would you characterize the differences between male and female business owners?
 Women across cultures tend to have a stronger communal nature than men. It’s been a high priority to infuse core values that reward behavior that’s selfless. People make decisions based on what’s best for the greater good instead of personal gain.

My goal has been to build a community where best friends are made and sure enough, even at 100 people, they’re a very tight-knit family. As a women I tend to care about the welfare of the entire community. I view my shop as more of a calling to care for the needs of others than a means of income. When I drive through the parking lot, I don’t gloat over the size of the company or congratulate myself for record sales, I look at each car with a sense of awe and responsibility that I am responsible to ensure that each employee can always make their car payment. I’ve always been fiscally conservative, so during the dot com crash and subsequently 9/11, we hung onto as many employees as possible. For a year, business was very slow and we burned through five years worth of our reserves. Literally, the day I would have had to write payroll from the equity in my home, client checks began to come in.

So, ladies, care to add anything to the mix?

Photo credit: Thinkstock