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Finding strength in womanhood: Co.OfWomen founder Tara Lorigan on the advantages of female entrepreneurship

Co.OfWomen is organisation that demystifies the entrepreneurship process for women and helps provide guidance, support and advice from high-profile role models.

It was launched in 2012 and is now made up of 2,400 women entrepreneurs across various industries, and is chaired by Theresa Gattung.

It also is the founder of Women’s Entrepreneurs Week, which is running this week in conjunction with International Women’s Day (which was Wedneday 8th March).

According to Statistics New Zealand, 38 percent of businesses in New Zealand are now owned by women. This number has grown by 20 percent since 2000.

Co.OfWomen founder Tara Lorigan says the number of women entrepreneurs has definitely shot up since the organisation first begun.

“What we have noticed is that there’s been a steady increase of women starting businesses,” she says. “That’s really a response to many women not really feeling like an employed existence is serving the life or the priorities they have.”

The reasons why more women in New Zealand are pursuing their own businesses vary, but Lorigan says often, it isn’t anything to do with profits.

Instead, she says women are often after more flexibility in their work life – especially when they’re juggling a family.

“The motivation to make a lot of money is not the front driver of women in starting businesses, it’s quite a different driver to what the male driver might be. That actually relates to the innate drivers we have as women,” she says.

“We’re the social beings, the ones that make the babies and we get a lot of energy from doing the helping stuff – [women entrepreneurs’ businesses] are often service based and solve family problems, like Cecilia Robinson of My Food Bag. She’s a great example of woman who’s very commercial but takes her personal drivers and marries them with business drivers.”

And while often, the coverage of Women Entrepreneurs Week and International Women’s Day is centred around issues like the gender pay gap, Lorigan says women entrepreneurs face an entirely different set of challenges that don’t get much of a spotlight.

As she knows from personal experience, this can make starting a business as a woman mystifying, she says.

“My dirty little secret is I didn’t know there was any kind of gender distinction at the beginning because all I heard about was pay equity and the glass ceiling,” she says.

“I started my own business and thought, ‘This doesn’t apply to me’.”

She says one of those issues is an unconscious confusion about make a business both profitable and do good in its purpose and values.

If this isn’t mastered this at the start, she says it can be detrimental.

“If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re struggling to sell your stuff, your business is going to fail or stay tiny, and it will not allow you to progress. There’s lot of these tiny micro-businesses that don’t know what’s going on because they haven’t found a way to understand the commercial bit.”

She says the key to success for women is to marry their natural, feminine strengths to a commercial mindset.

Tara Lorigan

Men and women naturally have different strengths when it comes to running a business, she says, so it’s important women harness these instead of trying to emulate a man’s approach.

“The world of business is a male context, in very simple terms. There are more men and men have been doing it for longer. Men do things differently, as women have different innate drivers. For women who go into business, they will find themselves in the male way of thinking, but it will often not work for women, so our role in influencing female success is about getting the word out to as many people as possible about a feminine commercial model.”

Kiwi women who have excelled in this area are honoured annually at Co.OfWomen’s Hall of Fame for Female Entrepreneur Awards.

The women are selected in an open nomination process during Women Entrepreneurs Week.

At the awards ceremony held Tuesday night, Adara Group founder Audette Exel, Fisher Funds founder Carmel Fisher and fashion designer Karen Walker were the latest women to be inducted.

Lorigan says they’re an incredibly diverse trio who all embody different strengths.

“Audette, Carmel and Karen have paved the way for others in their chosen industries setting potent examples for women entrepreneurs who want to go far.”

As for other women entrepreneurs in the community, Co.OfWomen is about to launch a digital initiative to help them reach their full potential.

“It’s about local women talking about success and their journey through podcasts, video, written resources, that will be within a community context,” she says.

Lorigan says it’s important that women entrepreneurs feel empowered to draw on their strengths, not at a disadvantage.

“The message of Co.OfWomen is you have an amazing sense of inborn qualities, which when harnessed, will propel your commercial success.”

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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