When we think of raising our daughters to be entrepreneurs, we often think first of developing their money-smarts. And that’s important. No entrepreneur will be successful if they can’t develop, market, budget and invest in a savvy manner. But being an entrepreneur takes a certain mindset. A willingness to take calculated risk, the ability to know when to stick to your guns and when to change course, a love of brainstorming and the ability to understand what people want. That entrepreneurial mindset comes more easily to some kids (and adults) than others, but it’s a skill that can be encouraged, and it pays dividends in all areas of life.
Here are four ways we can help our daughters be entrepreneurs — not just in business, but in life:
1. Set the example.
Long before Melinda Gates became half of the Bill-and-Melinda-Gates powerhouse couple, she was Melinda French, one of four children growing up in a solidly middle-class family in Dallas. Education was key in the French household, and her parents, Ray and Elaine, were determined that all four children — sons and daughters — would attend college.
So Ray set up an entrepreneurship project on the side: operating rental properties. But it wasn’t just Ray and Elaine doing the work every weekend. The kids pitched in, too, on all aspects of the venture. They cleaned. They mowed grass. And they learned all about the financial end of the business, too.
“We would help him run the business and keep the books,” she told Fortune in 2008. “We saw money coming in and money going out.”
That fundamental equality, that requirement that all the children participate in all aspects of the business, laid the foundation for Gates as she went on to college at Duke University and then, eventually, when she herself became a parent.
As her first daughter got older, Gates told Fortune, she realized it was her turn to set the example. So Gates ramped up her involvement in the couple’s philanthropic foundation. “I really want her to have a voice, whatever she chooses to do,” she said of her daughter. “I need to role-model that for her.”
2. Break the mold.
Not every entrepreneur — surprisingly — is a natural at forging her own path. But that willingness to try, to adapt and to be persistent can be nurtured in our daughters.
When Indra Nooyi was a child in Madras, India, “there was a well-defined conservative stereotype,” she told Adi Ignatius of Harvard Business Review last year. But even within the boundaries of not embarrassing her parents, Nooyi stretched her wings — and her parents permitted it.
“Everything I did was breaking the framework” of 1950s and ’60s Indian society, she told HBR. “I played in a rock band. I climbed trees. I did stuff that made my parents wonder,’What the hell is she doing?'” But they didn’t hinder her exploration.
And in the process, she learned that she could not only hold her own, she could thrive.
Today, as president and CFO of PepsiCo, Nooyi continues that idiosyncratic exploration. She watches replays of Chicago Bulls games to study teamwork. She studied design with the late Steve Jobs of Apple, she told FastCompany.com, and adapted those lessons to PepsiCo products. She gives permission to — no, expects — those under her to find ways to adapt PepsiCo products to localized markets. And that leads us to …
3. Don’t hide your light.
Encourage your daughter to develop her unique point of view.
We often tell our daughters to “be yourself.” For years, that often wasn’t possible in the business world. But companies and, certainly, marketers, are finally discovering the benefit of listening to what half of the world’s population has to say. So tell your daughter: If you have an idea, share it. If you have a suggestion, speak up. If someone disagrees and you still feel your idea has merit, don’t abandon it.
PepsiCo’s Nooyi has many stories of the ways being a woman, and a business executive whose roots were outside America has given PepsiCo an edge. She has a sense of how some products and changes will be perceived outside the American framework. If she were trying to fit into the traditional “American businessman” mold, she’d lose what makes her unique — and she’d lose much of her influence.
Figure out what makes you unique, we must tell our daughters. Celebrate it, don’t apologize for it or diminish its importance. Once they have that confidence and that self-knowledge, they’ll have a set of qualities that sets them apart.
4. It’s OK to fail.
A dozen rejections for her first book. Unemployment. Divorce. A family member’s death. Welfare.
The early 1990s were not kind to J.K. Rowling.
Now, of course, she’s known as the mother of the Harry Potter universe. Her wealth has been compared to the Queen of England’s. But in interviews, Rowling well remembers what it was like to be labeled a failure when measured against what society calls “success.”
Our kids often feel pressure to “be perfect.” They don’t want to disappoint us, or fall out with friends, or be unpopular at school, so they stick with what they know: They may find it difficult to take chances.
It can be hard as parents to watch our daughters fail at something. We want to step in and smooth the path for them. But failure, Rowling says, can be freeing: If you’re self-motivated, it can clear life’s clutter and force you to focus on what you really want to do. She even titled her commencement address to Harvard’s Class of 2008, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” “Rock bottom,” she said, “became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Show your daughter how to recover from failure. Demonstrate how to set a big goal, and then how to set milestones along the way to measure her progress. Help her figure out what lessons her failures are teaching her.
And remind her that, once she’s on the right path again, she should share that encouragement and experience with others.