How to Create More Opportunities for Women in a Small Company

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Discover three ways you can help create opportunities for yourself and your coworkers at even the smallest of startups.

By Andrea Gellert (SVP of Marketing, OnDeck)

Today, women make up nearly one-half of the labor force and it’s increasingly more common for us to hold executive positions. Large companies typically have big budgets for female leadership training as well as understanding the importance of work/life balance – attractive options for hiring and retaining female staff and future company leaders.

While these types of benefits are effective in large companies, smaller businesses and startups may not have the resources to launch them at all. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need them or can’t get them if we’re strategic about it.

Here are three ways to create more opportunities for women – and yourself – in your organization:

1. Start Simple: Network

Networking is one of the easiest ways to foster strategic relationships with your peers, discover solutions to workplace challenges and stay current on industry trends. Start by hosting regular lunches with co-workers, joining a women’s network in your area or simply socializing after work hours.

At OnDeck, we recently launched a program to encourage networking: Women@OnDeck. The group hosts a variety of events – small discussion groups, guest speakers and off-site activities, for example – meant to empower the women here, foster professional development, gain more exposure to senior women at the company and get tips on work/life balance.

2. Find – or Become – a Mentor

Seek out leaders – male or female – in your own company whom you admire. Look to learn from them and allow them to get to know you. Most small companies won’t have formal mentoring programs, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating your own. The key here is to make the time, proactively reach out and be prepared to drive the discussion with what you want to focus on.

If you’re in a leadership position and an employee approaches you for guidance, be open and receptive to their requests. I’ve had several women reach out to me since joining OnDeck and I’ve developed informal mentoring relationships as a result. The discussions range from career development ideas, to how to handle certain business situations, to how to more effectively operate with external business partners.

3. Ask for the Flexibility You Need

We all need flexibility from time to time, but sometimes it can be difficult to ask for it. While you shouldn’t assume that your manager will know what you need or will say no, it’s important to be prepared for how he or she may respond. Asking for a long-term arrangement (such as working from home one day per week because of child care constraints) is a very different task than an ad hoc request to leave early one day for an appointment.

Regardless, it’s important to earn credibility at work and demonstrate your value before requesting extra time off, a more flexible schedule or to negotiate for new programs. A great place to start here is to set goals and schedule regular check-in sessions.

At OnDeck, we hold weekly meetings to touch base on employee progress and provide ongoing feedback; we also conduct performance reviews every six months to see how each employee is performing against individual, team and company-wide goals.

No matter the size of the company, it is important to have leadership programs to hone skills, learn new tactics and prepare for growth. It’s a fact that by 2018, women will create over half of the estimated 9.72 million new small business jobs.

If your company doesn’t have formal training for creating opportunities for female employees, it is up to you to help implement these programs – they will benefit you, your fellow female co-workers and your company overall.

How else can you create more opportunities for yourself and your team?


About the author: Andrea Gellert is a FinTech industry veteran and the SVP of Marketing at OnDeck, the tech-powered Main Street lender. OnDeck has helped transform how Main Street businesses access growth capital — creating a friction-free, tech enabled process for small businesses that are greatly underserved by banks. Gellert has 15+ years of small business marketing and client service experience having previously worked at American Express.