Quoting Reshma Saujani's TED Talk, MTN Scholar Lianne du Toit agrees that "we're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave." Du Toit is the Business Network Director for The Young Presidents Organisation (YPO), a global platform for chief executives to engage, learn and grow. Her current role, as well as others including former Vice-Chair of Silicon Cape, TechStars mentor, tech industry organiser and programme manager for the Solution Space Venture Incubation Program, places her at the intersection between existing business leadership and new enterprises. She has first-hand experience of how this principle affects women starting out as entrepreneurs. "I agree with Reshma, that, as she says, we should teach girls bravery, not perfection," says du Toit.
Conventional start-up wisdom says that founders should aim to launch, rather than aim to get it right. And yet, says du Toit, "women usually only launch if the product is 100% complete. Often, they're held back by negative self-talk and a paralysing mentality that insists they don't have what it takes to succeed." Her mantra is that "we are as significant as we dare to believe. Aim to make gravity ripple." This outlook drives her mission to enable start-ups across South Africa to succeed, particularly female-led businesses. She sees a common thread that hinders women starting out: "The biggest barriers to entrepreneurship for women are confidence, fear of failure and the imposter syndrome."
The legend of 'overnight' success in the startup world can also skew an entrepreneur's perspective, says du Toit: "Most people compare their chapter one with a seasoned entrepreneur's' chapter twenty. If new founders could see what the previous 19 chapters were, they'd start on their own much sooner."
That said, du Toit agrees that the founder's internal monologue isn't the only factor holding back women in business. There are external influences, too -- particularly when it comes to the role of business supporting their women employees. The most recent Grant Thornton report on women in business states that in South Africa only 28% of women in business hold senior management positions. "Leaders create other leaders," says du Toit. Businesses can help, she explains, by providing more leadership opportunities for women through mentoring, training and fast-tracking future leaders.
In addition, "The way we think about women in leadership positions needs to change. The stigma remains attached to women who are choosing career over family, and yet businesses are still judging performance against a woman's presence rather than against their KPIs," she says. "We need to change the narrative that a woman shouldn't or isn't able to do both. Businesses should be encouraging a work-life balance and should be selecting leaders based on merit and skill."
Another, more systemic factor has raised its head in global media in recent months -- that of discrimination and gender bias, particularly in the tech sector. "The gender narrative needs to change," says du Toit. "We need to embrace differences, rather than cultivate an 'us vs them' mentality. A good start is to check our egos at the door and remember that helping someone means that we're not tearing anyone down."
In closing, du Toit describes the main ingredients to support female entrepreneurs: "Help other entrepreneurs to be brave." This, she says, will give them the courage and belief that their idea is worthy of your time. "If it's not, then ask better questions so they can create a better offering," she suggests. In short: "help people become the best versions of themselves. Be fiercely kind, be the change and connect with your tribe based on your values -- not on the going rate."
Du Toit was voted one of Fast Company's most creative people in business in 2016. She is also a collaborator in Future Females, a new group that is trying to change current narratives and to help other female entrepreneurs.