When we talk about gender diversity we need to make sure we are including all women. Amplify women who face intersectional discrimination.

By Melody Wilding

Having the support of a strong community can mean the difference between success and failure for many entrepreneurs, especially female founders who remain underrepresented in tech.

The concept of shine theory — coined by “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast hosts Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow — is one tangible way that female entrepreneurs can support each other while growing their collective visibility. As Friedman said in a 2013 article about why powerful women make great friends, “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” In essence, supporting the women around you is far better than competing with them.

Friedman credits her best friend, Amina, as the source of this piece of wisdom, and her willingness to give credit where credit is due is an integral aspect of shine theory. This strategy, known as amplification, was successfully employed by female White House aides to U.S. President Barack Obama.

In an environment where women’s voices can easily be drowned out, they repeated each other’s suggestions to make sure they were heard. And whenever they discussed ideas originated by other women, they amplified them, preventing others from claiming them or forgetting that women were making significant contributions.

Why shine theory matters for female founders

According to our recent report, “Mapping Victoria’s Startup Ecosystem,” Victoria is leading the way when it comes to turning startups into high-value, high-growth companies. Approximately 30 percent of founders in Victoria are women (up from 25% in 2017), and Australian Small Business Commissioner Kate Carnell says, thanks to more visible role models, female participation in entrepreneurship is on the rise.

Felicity Zadro is the founder of Zadro Agency, a communications business in Surrey Hills. Her approach, which is rooted in creating a culture of openly sharing, learning, and celebrating, is a stellar example of shine theory in action. “Mentoring and teaching people how to fish is really key for me,” she says. “The most important thing for me is the culture that I’ve created at Zadro is really about sharing and learning from each other. We celebrate our wins, we call people out and say ‘You’ve done a great job, well done’.”

For female founders in Victoria — especially those in the male-dominated world of tech — the significance of lifting each other up can’t be overstated.

Many women have been taught that it’s important to be humble, to defer to the collective accomplishments of a group rather than speak up about their own contributions. This can lead to a lack of recognition, which can seriously hinder career growth.

That’s where shine theory comes in. Executed perfectly, shine theory means that, with a little help from fellow entrepreneurs, women-owned businesses have the potential to succeed, despite a sometimes challenging business landscape.

How women entrepreneurs can put shine theory into practice

In the White House, female aides made amplification an everyday habit. Similarly, like Zadro, many female founders strive to integrate support and mentorship at the very core of their business models.

With any of these simple tips, female entrepreneurs can start putting shine theory into practice today.

  1. Provide LinkedIn recommendations for other female entrepreneurs.
    A glowing LinkedIn recommendation positively influences how potential clients, partners, and funders perceive an entrepreneur, but how many people actually take the time to write them? Sitting down and crafting an authentic testimonial about your experience working or collaborating with another female founder makes a huge difference to their success. Specific references to an entrepreneur’s areas of expertise, hard and soft skills, and leadership style provide valuable information for their connections.
  2. Start Slack communities to accelerate connections and networking.
    Develop supportive, entrepreneur-focused communities on Slack, and begin conversations that promote learning, mentoring, and networking. Tackle common challenges that female entrepreneurs face, and chime in with concrete solutions or connections to resources or opportunities.
  3. Offer mentorship to women of different experience levels or across industries.
    Mentorship is key for entrepreneurs at every stage. If you currently mentor founders, consider expanding your efforts to include women currently working on entrepreneurial teams. If you’re not already offering mentorship opportunities to all members of your own team, that’s a great place to start. Cultivate a customised mentorship program by asking team members about specific areas of interest and gaps in their training or knowledge.
  4. Pass along opportunities.
    As your business grows, your visibility grows with it, and so does access to exciting opportunities. If you are presented with an opportunity that isn’t a good fit or that you can’t take on due to timing, pass it along. Depending on your relationship to both parties, sometimes it’s possible to facilitate a connection between them, underscoring the potential for a fruitful partnership.
  5. Partner with other female-owned businesses.
    Partnering with another female-owned business enhances visibility for not one, but two organisations. As you collaborate on projects or initiatives, you pool your talents and share the workload. And as your work finds its audience, you can share in its success, being cognisant of recognising the specific contributions of each member of the team.

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