Lessons from a Female Entrepreneur in a Male Dominated Industry

You walk into a dental office and what do you see? I bet that most of the time, you see the name of a male dentist on the door, around age 50, and all-female support staff inside: female receptionists, female dental assistants, female dental hygienists, etc. 

Whatever the reason, the fact is that a dental office is a man’s world. I have even heard male dental students having dreams of running their own string of dental offices and coming in a couple times a week to check on “the ladies.” And I don't blame them. It’s engrained, evolutionarily speaking. Even I, as a female, have thoughts of how cool it would be to have an office filled with men I control. Human nature.

But imagine being a 26-year-old female entrepreneur, trying to tell well-established 50-year-old male dentists that you have a plan to change their industry. Those beautiful souls who are truly open minded to listen to you are slim pickings, my friend. You remind them of their rebellious teenage daughter, their younger sister, one of those rude millennial Groupon patients, a door to door make-up saleswoman, or a detached Ivy league snob who thinks she is a know it all. Either one isn’t great. Good luck on the sell.

Or worse, they relish the power dynamic. To be clear, this rarely happens, but it does. They have something you want (their cooperation and business). So, they wonder how far they can push your “dedication” to your business. It would be illegal to make a move on their employees or their patients, but you just walked in off the street and so you are fair game, “little lady”. Your “big dreams” will require… “hard work"...

Personally, none of that really phases me. Being an odd ball gets me the conversations in the first place. Weird situations are to be entirely expected and prepared for. You are kidding yourself if you think they are outrageous or once in a lifetime.

Here are tips I recommend to female healthcare entrepreneurs on how to deal with them gracefully:

1) Bring out the pant suit. 

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs do not wear suits. They get made fun of if they do. But you are not in Silicon Valley and that culture does not exist in healthcare yet. So, you cannot look like this is a normal day at the computer. Minimum professional dress is slacks and a belted cardigan. Dark blue/black/white/gray. Throwing in a collared shirt is a good step up, even if no jacket. Be taken seriously.

2) Slow down and maintain your poker face

You are going to get questions about risk, more so than vision. You are going to get questions on what qualifies you to know anything about this, versus what you have learned along the way. You can boil inside about the state of society all you want, but knowing how to LOOK unphased is a must. How you get there is your personal journey. You can fake it: cognitive behavioral therapy, lasers that zap the capillaries in your face so you can’t blush, a fidget toy under the table, whatever, I have tried it all. The worst you can do is speak faster or match the intensity of the questions coming at you. The worst. If you are getting flustered – pause, breathe, look pensive, say “one moment” and jot down notes on your note pad. Have the self-respect that you talking slowly does not imply you are wasting their time, as the time spent together is an investment. The more deliberate your words versus rambling, the easier to gain trust and increase comprehension.

 3) Let them know; “ladies are pimps, too”... 

Here’s a big one. Many women refuse to work with people who come on to them. I actually don’t. It means they find you interesting and are willing to bare their emotions, which is much easier to work with than indifference or ambiguity. Egos are very fragile, and so if you want to work with the players, you have to play the game. You can’t out right offend them or ignore what they just said or go on a pedagogical rant about how their daughter would feel if people responded to her in that way. Acknowledge it, smirk, roll your eyes, stare them down, and say that in another life absolutely, but right now you have enough men in your life as well as someone you find special (even if you don’t have any of that). This way you gave a reason to say no they could understand, complimented them back, created some mystery, maintained your power, and can keep going. Obviously if they get aggressive get away, but it’s usually not the case. A shared witty moment goes a long way.

It’s certainly harder for us, but it is not impossible. The business landscape is getting better for women, but it is far from perfect. So don’t sulk and wait – adapt, shine, and go reach your potential.

Eva Sadej, Founder & CEO of Floss Bar

Eva Sadej, Founder & CEO of Floss Bar