Stop discounting so-called “feminine” traits in business leaders

Insights from BFF Bikes owner Annie Byrne (Bucktown, Chicago)

Women were built for business. I don’t mean that women can be just like men: assertive, ambitious, and decisive. (Though, they certainly are and can be.) I mean that qualities we see as stereotypically “feminine” — for example empathy and helpfulness — go a long way in the business world.

The evidence speaks for itself. Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. business market, and 32% of them are actively expanding.

One of those businesses is BFF Bikes in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.

About five years ago, BFF Bikes co-owner Annie Byrne was cautiously considering whether to try out bike racing. After some basic google searches, Annie stumbled upon a blog post that would change her life.

The post was written by Vanessa Buccella, the woman who would eventually become Annie’s co-owner. It encouraged new cyclers to be bold and give racing a try, and reassured first-timers that there’s no fancy test to pass for a bike race. Thanks to Vanessa, Annie got the message that “You don’t have to meet some criteria … the main thing is to show up, and ride your bike.”

Fast forward a few years and Vanessa and Annie are both BFFs and co-owners of BFF Bikes, Chicago’s first women-centric bicycle shop. “[Vanessa] called me up one day with the idea that we open up a bike shop that was geared for women. And I was just like, YES, that’s a brilliant idea, we need that, I wish I had that now, that’s the answer to my problem.”

You don’t have to meet some criteria… the main thing is to show up, and ride your bike.
— Annie Byrne

Female leaders of small businesses are more likely than their male counterparts to encourage feedback and empower employees and customers, acknowledging them as individuals with unique needs. Annie and Vanessa have made a point of bringing their inclusive and encouraging mindsets to BFF Bikes: “There’s a lot of things that guide me, but one of them is paying attention to your customers and what they want, and what they need, and how they feel, and not making any assumptions, which is the case at a lot of bike shops … they can be really close-minded and we don’t do that.”

Annie knew first-hand the power of a fellow woman sharing her passion with open arms and welcoming language —years ago, Vanessa’s post gave her the boost of confidence necessary to try out bike racing. Now, she’s passing that along by welcoming other women into the bike racing community. She doesn’t want anyone to feel intimidated, and the value that she places on customers’ comfort is overwhelmingly clear: “It’s really important to me that people feel really welcome and that it’s a fun place to be … It should feel natural and genuine because we’re trying to involve people in something that we love.”

The empathy Annie feels for her customers is core to why her business is so successful, and it underscores why we can’t discount so-called “feminine” characteristics as important traits for business leaders.

If you’re interested in joining this badass community of female bike racers, check out BFF Bikes. In addition to selling and fixing bikes, they also do classes, group rides, and even have a racing team of their own.

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Isabel BenatarComment