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Guest Column

For women in business, modesty is not the best policy Add to ...

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

Each year, Women of Influence Inc. celebrates the top female business owners at the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. Our team is constantly blown away by their remarkable stories, tales of adversity and heroic accomplishments, often while also raising children and running businesses single-handedly.

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

Humility, bashfulness, reservation – whatever you want to call it – creeps up in almost every female finalist at these award ceremonies, 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 success that much more essential, it’s also devastating to watch.

These women run high-profile businesses in fields from banking to saw mills to software, 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 give rote answer about passion and 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. When was the last time you heard a man do that? There’s often little mention of their talents in sales, or their brilliant marketing minds or relentless pursuits of winning clients. They usually take a ‘no big deal’ stance, attributing their accomplishments to mere timing and circumstance.

I often ask myself, ‘where’s the strength?’ After all, these women obviously have it or they otherwise could not have achieved such results in business.

At a recent event, we were interviewing an entrepreneur who had taken over a business but she would only speak off the record. Her story was a prime example of how assertive and confident one must be when playing in the big leagues, 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.

Take the advice instead of countless women with confidence, like pro tennis player and CEO of interior design firm V-Starr Interiors Venus Williams. Stand firmly in your shoes, don’t apologize and don’t credit your coach for your 127 mph serve. Just do it and ace the competition.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Women of Influence Inc. is a North American media company dedicated to advancing professional women through 40 events each year, educational and charitable programs & original content designed to inspire, inform, connect & engage.

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