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For Women Entrepreneurs, Modesty is Not the Best Policy

Confidence is everything, but when it comes to women in business it’s often in short supply.

On November 26, Women of Influence celebrates its 9th year hosting the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. Each year our team and audience is blown away by the remarkable stories, tales of adversity and heroic accomplishments of this country’s top female business owners—often achieved while taking care of their families as well.

But we also notice a common and surprising trait in these highly accomplished women—one that’s hindering their abilities to succeed as entrepreneurs: modesty.

A modest and reserved nature exudes in almost every female finalist in lead up to the awards gala, and I think it’s the very reason that you may not have heard of their companies or their accomplishments. While it makes our job of showcasing their talent and career success that much more essential, it’s also devastating to watch.

These women run high-profile businesses in fields from banking to lumber to IT with revenues ranging from $2-million to $500-million. Yet when we ask them what contributed to their success, they often cannot give a definitive response. Instead they provide we we’ve come to call “universal truths” about being passionate and it requiring a great deal of team work, said so softly you begin to wonder how these women got into business in the first place.

When delivering an acceptance speech, these women also tend to thank their spouse first. It always strikes me when I hear this, and confirms our knowledge that women and men truly are different, as self-promotion is one of those prominent differences that rears its ugly head in the workforce. While men are comfortable standing in the spotlight and saying “thank you” for their great idea and business prowess, women opt instead to redirect the spotlight and attribute their accomplishments more to collaboration, and often mere timing and circumstance.

I frequently find myself asking, “where’s the spark, the great idea?” After all, these women obviously have “it” or they could not have achieved such results in business.

In a recent interview we were interviewing an entrepreneur who had taken over a business but she would only describe off the record. Her story was a prime example of how assertive and confident one must be take over a business, yet she wouldn’t let us report it, over concerns that she would sound too aggressive. Instead of coming across as strong and assertive, she ended up sounding lucky to have done so well, and a bit bewildered at the helm of a large company.

Should she have let us report the whole story? I bet if she had, you would know who she was and her company would have benefited as a result.