I recently read that there are more women in management and ownership in the restaurant industry than any other industry. This got me thinking about myself as a first time entrepreneur and leader through the lens of being female and a mother juggling raising two children.
Seven years since launching Kasa, I look back on how much I struggled with stereotypical challenges that some women face in taking charge. Becoming a leader has been one of the steepest learning curves I could imagine.
I began with an extreme lack of confidence and an inability to tell others what to do. I questioned whether my recipes and food would be loved by San Franciscans. I agonized over asking a cook to hand me something stored up high that I couldn’t reach. I didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to do anything even though if it was their job. I simply couldn’t give direction. It always felt like I was asking for a favour.
I was an emotional mess when I first had to let go of a staff member. How was this person I’d fired going to pay rent now? I went to a bar and had a few stiff drinks to make myself feel less guilty.
At the bar that night, I met a tech company CFO who explained to me that it’s normal to feel guilt. He helped me understand that in reality that person had also let themselves down by continually being late. He taught me to separate my personal feelings from what the business and the team needs. I wasn’t a bad person for having to make that difficult decision.
Why did this thought process naturally not occur to me? Honestly I don’t know if it’s because I’m me (fairly emotional!) or because I’m a woman. It’s also hard to generalize since every individual is wired differently.
I also really struggled with the financial side of the business. I was all food, decor and creativity without any business acumen. It wasn’t until my landlord sat me down to inform me about a rent increase where I almost cried. He bluntly said, ‘’You are feeding San Francisco out of your own pocket. You’ll fail quickly if you don’t figure this out.”
I’m definitely not the same person I was 7 years ago. The pressure and fear of financial ruin, loss of everything I had worked hard for, the stability of my team who relies upon Kasa for their livelihood and even the regulars who have grown addicted to their Kasa fix has forced me to just do what is necessary to succeed. I also really want to be the best possible role model for my kids.
Being overly emotional, struggling with financials, lacking in confidence, shying away from hard decisions all got in the way of my success for quite a few years. Whilst these aren’t female specific issues, they certainly were for me and as I reflect on a personal note, I think some of these are specific to my experience being raised as a woman in my culture.
And what made it worse is that I was afraid to speak out and say this in case I was upsetting all the incredibly competent powerful women in leadership or letting down the ‘female’ team by accepting these issues affected me. However, until you accept them and recognize that other women may be going through this, you can’t start helping each other.
Now I have hired a woman as my lieutenant and she has been by far the most competent and successful partner I’ve had. It makes complete sense to hire the most competent person for the job regardless of gender (or race for that matter).
When it comes down to it, I think an easy solution is to raise our girls to ask boys (or girls) out on dates more. It starts right there. Girls need to learn how to be confident, deal with rejection, and be assertive about what they want. These are valuable skills in the grown up world.
Now I wish I had asked out more boys when I was younger!