Three fundamental adaptations that can help women entrepreneurs scale big

How do I get pitch-ready?
Eve Mahlab and the impact of entrepreneurship



At EY we have a unique understanding of how to help women entrepreneurs succeed. How? We’ve developed the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program which is committed to supporting women entrepreneurs to grow their business.

Our research has previously found that successful entrepreneurs do five key things to scale small companies into large ones.

  1. Think big and be bold
  2. Build a public profile
  3. Work on the business rather than in it
  4. Establish key advisory networks
  5. Evaluate financing for expansion

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While the above mentioned are proven and necessary, we have identified an additional three new noteworthy force multipliers that are contributing significantly to accelerating growth in women-led companies.

Force multiplier 1 – A strong community.

Communities offer women entrepreneurs much-welcomed affirmation, know-how, peer-to-peer guidance and, ultimately, role models.

On the same path.

A community is a group of like-minded people inspiring, helping encouraging and pushing one another to accomplish more as entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“Communities are crucial to the success of all entrepreneurs for so many reasons: information flow, access to resources and general support and counsel,” says Pat Hedley, Managing Director of General Atlantic, a leading global growth investment firm. “Since women entrepreneurs are still fewer in number to men, building a network than can be such a community should be a high priority.”

Encourage. Collaborate. Cross-pollinate.

In addition to role models, women entrepreneurs need peers. Sharing encouragement and ironing out issues with like-minded leaders means more, because it’s coming from people who appreciate where you’ve been and where you’re trying to go. As much as top-tier advice and direct access matter, so do relationships with true entrepreneur peers who share your goals, challenges, rewards and values and are ready to counsel on a problem or celebrate a win.

It is this peer-to –peer community that shortens learning curves, enables insights into tough business problems, encourages collaboration and creates valuable business partnerships.

See it to be it

Role models – women starting and leading multi-hundred-million-dollar companies – are hard to find. Women starting businesses crave these role models. Seeing someone who is likely to succeed is incredibly powerful, inspiring women entrepreneurs to believe in their own abilities and potential.

Force multiplier 2 – An authentic purpose.

This simple statement of “why we do what we do” serves as the company’s North Star, guiding it in every aspect — from recruitment to customer management to product development and sales.

Purpose = profits

Having an authentic purpose helps build strong relationships between brands and their customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and even regulators. Consumers, for instance, often pay more for and show more brand loyalty to products that give them a sense that they are doing good. Employees will go the extra mile for an employer when they feel inspired.

A purpose also helps drive trust and safety, which in turn fosters collaboration and innovation. When an organisation activates and lives its purpose, it builds trust with all of its stakeholders and a sense of safety for its employees. These two factors are crucial for innovation. True innovation requires failure. Employees who trust their company feel safer trying new ideas and reaching beyond prescribed roles and established processes. Stakeholders who trust a company are more likely to accept its failures.

Culture that persists

As a business grows, its culture becomes more and more important. A great company culture attracts high-performing employees and keeps them engaged, and it drives productivity, innovation and knowledge sharing.

In the beginning, the entrepreneur herself embodies the culture – setting the tone for everyone. As the business scales up, she needs to find a way to transmit that culture throughout the organisation. The best way to protect the culture that has made the company successful is to instill the hiring process with validations of common values.

Attracting and retaining the right people to fill key management positions becomes more and more important as the business grows. The entrepreneur can no longer fill every leadership role – she needs to delegate more to other senior talent and trust them to take the company in the direction she intends.

Recruiting with a purpose

A purpose gives the entrepreneur and team a template for attracting and retaining people who align with their values and mission, and see themselves contributing not only to the bottom line but also to the larger purpose of the organisation.

Authenticity and activation

It’s not enough just to have a defined purpose. Without activating and then living that purpose, the statement becomes merely another marketing slogan.

  • Be a democratic leader – not a monarch
  • Commit acts of graciousness – acknowledge when someone has done well
  • Don’t act in command and control mode – Work together with your employees and stakeholders to preserve trust
  • Make sure all employees understand the company’s purpose and their role in achieving it

Force multiplier 3 – A flexible, adaptive leadership style.

When a company grows, its leader needs to evolve too. A small start-up requires different characteristics in its leader than a 100 or 1,000-person company. Entrepreneurs need the self-awareness to know when they need to change their focus, and how.

From doer to delegator to visionary

As their companies begin to scale, entrepreneurs must redirect their efforts from primary ‘doer’ to delegating as they focus on growth.

As their business begin to scale to really big and they become more removed from day-to-day operations, entrepreneurs must change again. Now they must become strategic visionaries, seeing what lies ahead and being prepared to change course. They must protect the culture that they have built, and which inspires their employees and customers. They must have the self-awareness and analytical skills to find and fill the gaps in leadership and business operations. To do these things, entrepreneurs need to know what they don’t know and be willing to give up a measure of tactical control.

Abdicating the throne

Entrepreneurs should work collaboratively and let go of the ‘command and control’ mentality that may have helped them in the beginning. When entrepreneurs cede control and share responsibilities, they encourage growth, innovation, and wealth and job creation.[1]

What’s a leader for?

  • Protect the culture. Entrepreneurs need to make sure that what made them successful continues. They must sustain the core values and purpose that made employees and customers flock to the business in the first place.
  • Anticipate the market. Great leaders make sure they’re spending time every day looking at where the market is headed. If they don’t, especially in this era of disruptive innovation, the business can very quickly become staid and even obsolete.
  • Find the gaps. Doing a gap analysis on a regular basis helps a leader find out what needs to be addressed in order to take the necessary steps to correct course. Entrepreneurs should enlist the help of their management teams and boards to conduct an effective gap analysis.

Entrepreneur, know thyself

Becoming a leader who is adept at finding and filling gaps, infusing purpose and innovating for the next market shift requires some introspection. Cultivating the self-awareness, confidence and great communication skills necessary to scale big may not come naturally to all entrepreneurs, but these are traits that can be developed.

  • Self-awareness. Leaders need to intimately understand their strengths and weaknesses. By enlisting the help of their customers, boards of directors and/or professional coaches, they can begin to illuminate any blind spots.
  • Confidence. We’ve established that confidence is important for women entrepreneurs to scale their business. It’s also important to be able to project that confidence to current and potential employees and investors. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to either.
  • Great communication skills. Wonderful leadership skills will not help much if the entrepreneur can’t effectively communicate her vision, purpose and strategy. To scale big, entrepreneurs must be able to motivate and inspire their customers, investors, employees and even the general public.


Our 5 Ways to Win model is proven and time-tested but it’s now time to build upon this approach. The three additional adaptations, as profiled above, are contributing significantly to accelerating growth in women-led companies.

To find out more about how we can support your business and accelerate growth, contact us. To read more about three adaptations we’ve identified that will help women entrepreneurs to scale big, click here.

[1] Noam Wasserman, The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup, 31 March 2013


© 2015 Ernst & Young, Australia. All Rights Reserved. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.


How do I get pitch-ready?
Eve Mahlab and the impact of entrepreneurship

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