Some of my design colleagues at Automattic recently conducted some research on small business owners and put together a report of their findings. Within those findings, they were able to group three segments of business owners into what they called the Business Maturity Spectrum:

chart-business-maturity-spectrum.png

Research indicated that small business owners exist along a spectrum mostly related to the maturity of their business. Small business owners are in states of Subsisting, Surviving or Thriving, generally progressing between these levels as they build and acquire the necessary skills and acumen to advance their business.

Makes sense.

But then I got to this quote, and it gave me pause:

Segments are self-reported, and we found some of the women and POC within this study deprecated themselves into Uncertain Hopefuls, when they were actually more Segment 2 Engaged DIYs.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I hear this time and time again about underrepresented minorities in my own industry, technology. That our budding entrepreneurs devalued their experiences shouldn’t be a shocker.

And yet. Why does this seem to happen, regardless of field?

Anne Kegler hypothesizes that women are held back by competence bias. She writes:

Women are assumed to be less competentless trustworthy, and are held to a higher standard overall than men. There’s a much greater chance that their work will be ignored, discounted, trivialized, devalued, or otherwise not taken seriously. The more success a woman experiences, the stronger these external forces become. They’re also magnified by intersecting biases, like racism and homophobia.

It’s easy to see how imposter syndrome is a rational response to competence bias. Why would you think you’re competent, if nobody else does?

— Anna Kegler, Hillary Clinton, Melissa Harris-Perry and the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome.

Women and other underrepresented minorities internalize their own failures. Meanwhile, men tend to believe their failures are caused by external circumstances:

In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.

— Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Gap.

This was reflected in our research as well. We found that some participants who had big ideas and little skill reported themselves into Segment 2 (Engaged DIYs), when in reality they were more Segment 3 (Uncertain Hopefuls).

So, what do we do about this? We want all of our small business owners on WordPress.com to succeed. In order to succeed, our customers need confidence. They need to be able to move beyond their initial failures without falling into spirals of self doubt. We can help them along by:

  • Representing them in our imagery and examples. Representation matters. As a business owner, if you see people like yourself represented amongst successful business owners, you’re more likely to feel confident in your own chances of succeeding.
  • Marketing our products to underrepresented minorities, who might not otherwise take a chance. You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
  • Fostering a community of small business owners using our products. Our research found that networking plays an important role for all small business owners, regardless of segment. Having a support network of fellow business owners, and potential mentors, can help people stick with it.
  • And lastly, but most importantly, reducing the number of failure points within our products. The easier our products are to use, the less likely our customers are to give up out of frustration, and the more confident they’ll feel within otherwise unfamiliar territory. Easy, right? 😉

I’m excited to learn more about how we can help all of our small business customers thrive on WordPress.com, WooCommerce, and Jetpack.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com.

Posted by Mel Choyce

Boston-based WordPress core contributor and craft beer fan. I design stuff at @automattic.

One Comment

  1. >That our budding entrepreneurs devalued their experiences shouldn’t be a shocker.

    This difference in ways to analyze insights that you note here is super profound.

Comments are closed.