What makes women better entrepreneurs than men? And is there anything men do better?
These always-incendiary questions were among the highlights of a panel of women entrepreneurs gathered recently at the Toronto Board of Trade to celebrate PROFIT’s sixth annual ranking of the W100: Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs.
So let’s get straight to the answers.
“I think we multi-task way better than men,” said Rebecca MacDonald, chair and CEO of Toronto-based Energy Savings Income Fund, the No. 1-ranked company on the W100 list (with fiscal 2004 sales of $733 million).
“I believe it’s almost genetic in us,” MacDonald added. “Women have to be mothers, in-laws and business people.” At dinnertime, she says, men come home and say, “I’m so tired,” while women know their workday is only half over.
Connie Clerici, president & CEO of Respiron CarePlus Inc. of Mississauga, Ont. (No. 20), says women are better at building and maintaining relationships. “Women are much better at valuing people for being people.”
“We work almost as a family,” noted Kim McArthur, president of McArthur & Co. Publishing Ltd. in Toronto (No. 22). “Everyone has their role and we all work together very well.” She has seen a lot of discontent and politics in other businesses, she says. “But you don’t find that in women-run companies, because we won’t put up with that nonsense.”
Susan Niczowski, CEO of Woodbridge, Ont.-based Summer Fresh Salads Inc. (No. 12), concurred with MacDonald on multi-tasking. But she also believes that “Women are not afraid to make a mistake.” In her experience, she said, male colleagues have had trouble admitting to making any mistakes at all.
So where is there room for improvement?
“I don’t believe we give ourselves enough credit,” said MacDonald. “I do not think that women set their goals high enough. We have to give ourselves credit that we can do these things very well, and that we can run big companies.”
McArthur agreed, noting that she read only recently an article that said women were good at starting business out of their homes, but not very good at running big businesses or expanding their companies across Canada or around the world. “It’s almost as if we believe what the media tell us,” she said. “Women should pay no attention to that kind of mediaÃ¢Ã¢¬Ã¢¬and move on!”
Clerici dodged the question by citing another advantage women have in business (proving that creativity and positive thinking are also part of the successful woman’s toolkit). “Women are good at asking for advice,” she said. “I surround myself with so many women and men who are smart and give good advice.” When recruiting, she “hires her weaknesses,” she says. “There are so many people who are wiser than me and trained to specialize in certain areas.”
In addition, Clerici recently established an advisory board — a group of experienced business people who will give Respiron a source of ongoing expertise and perspective. She challenged people in the largely female audience to set up advisory boards for their own businesses. “Think about that,” she said. “That was one good thing my banker told me to do.”