“You know you’re a female, right?”

I’m currently writing a series of articles about starting my own business. This is about one of the conversations I had with a mentor.

A conversation with a mentor.

That question, coming from a female mentor, struck me as a surprise. I sat up in my seat and emphatically said, “Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?” The response was equally surprising. “You need to be prepared to be underestimated and marginalized.” I’ll paraphrase the next part.

She said that women will never be equal. Cultural and societal norms will always keep the glass ceiling in place. You have generation after generation that see women as nurturing, caregivers. That undercurrent will always try to pull you into the deep water, away from riding the surf. Few women are strong enough to swim against the tide to realize their full potential.

In addition to that, you are trying to stake a claim in a very male dominated field. Human Resource EEO check-boxes result in women in entry level positions but look around middle and upper management.

You know you're a female, right?

The talent pipeline is strangled until the flow is very few. There are a handful of women in executive roles in the utility world. What makes you think you are special enough to make it?

More companies are looking to support disadvantaged business owners such as women, but that does not automatically give you a competitive edge.

There are several privately-owned companies that just give their wife 51% ownership and let her answer the phone, keep up with timesheets, and schedule meetings. This is the role of an assistant, not a true majority owner.

You tell me that you are going to be acting president and run all functions of the business. That’s great, but since there are so many companies gaming the system, it does not offset the prejudices you will face as a woman-owner in engineering.

You know you're a female, right?

This was hard to hear because she was the only female that owns an engineering company that I could find to speak with me. Does her struggle represent the market? After all, her company has been around for over three decades. Maybe the culture has changed in that time.

Plus, I disagree. Women can be equal. I’ll open my company and prove it! After all, as Frank Sinatra said, “The Best Revenge is Massive Success!” Let’s prove her and all the rest of the naysayers wrong.

Feel free to reach out to me with advice and guidance on how to take this next step.