This Reality Show Is Training A New Class Of Female Business-Owners

Most Hollywood representations of businesswomen portray them carrying lattes, dressing impeccably (complete with designer briefcases), and leading meetings in conference rooms, filled mostly with men. However, it is rare to find a visual representation of a young female entrepreneur whose main goal is to work for herself. Jeannine Shao Collins, creator of TLC’s new reality competition series Girl Starter, hopes to serve as an inspiration for young women who wish to take a more independent and encouraging approach. While the stereotype is for women to compete against each other, which is only magnified in the cutthroat world of capitalism, Girl Starter seeks to recognize the importance of women supporting one another in business.

"With a reality show, there is usually tons of drama, especially with a startup," Collins says in a phone interview. "But there wasn't any tearing each other down. The girls are all living in a house together and are incredibly supportive of each other."

Girl Starter premiered April 28, and features eight young women as they compete to pitch their ideas for $100,000 funding, all while sharing a living space and having their experiences documented for reality TV. While this may sound like a potentially tense situation, the reality is that the young women drew strength from each other.

Collins says, "I had a contestant say to me, 'I’ve made seven new best friends.' Seeing women support each other, for me, is the epitome of success."

Elaine Ivy Harris/TLC

Collins believes that many young women are held back by the myths that women are unsuccessful in running their own businesses. "Statistically women are at more risk than men with businesses," Collins says. Often, risk is associated with gender - men are seen as more confident to engage in risky ventures, like entrepreneurship, while women are seen as playing it safer." According to Insuron's Small Business Outlook Survey of 2017, 68 percent of the small business owners with no new growth planned for the year are women.

In a 2015 Knowledge@Wharton podcast interview management professor Ethan Mollick argued, "Most people who play the entrepreneurship game lose. So in order to be an entrepreneur, you have to be overconfident. You have to believe that you’re better than everyone around you." Mollick referred to this as the "male hubris, female humility effect." He said, "Men have more hubris. Women, in addition to having a lower hubris, also have higher levels of humility. Humility means that in the face of actual success, you’re less likely to attribute it to yourself and you’re less likely to take advantage of it."

Unfortunately, young women still live in a world where their concept of their own intelligence is related closely to gender. As a result, women can be pushed to work harder, but to take less risks for fear of failure. Collins hopes that Girl Starter will help to minimize this fear and to encourage more risk-taking. She also hopes that by "highlighting failure as not a bad thing," more women will be encouraged to become a CEO in their rising companies.

According to Collins, Girl Starter aims to put the needs of millennial women first. Collins credits the inspiration behind Girl Starter to her daughter Julia who was "born feminist." In 2014, Julia attended a conference at Duke University, where women were discussing the "upside of risk" in business. Julia wanted to do something to fix this disparity in confidence.

"It was 100% Julia," says Collins. "Julia said to me, 'someone needs to do something about this gender inequity. We need to reach girls when they are moldable."

Because young women can be stifled by the need for perfection, Collins believes the most important lesson to take away from Girl Starter is this: "Women have to get more comfortable with building bicycle as they are riding it and being comfortable with that," she says. "We want to show that it’s okay to not know the endgame."

"What’s really important is to have people support women authentically to have a positive impact," says Collins. This authenticity is necessary in not only providing young women with the positive representations they need, but also with financial help from corporations and executives. And women dont' have to be selected for the show to reap theses benefits. Girl Starter is a website as well.

“Girl Starter hopes to build a community through a digital platform where women, mentors, and support come together, so we can make more businesses happen for young women," says Collins.

Thanks to a wider world via social media, there are plenty of opportunities for women starting and developing their own businesses to share information and support. Collins refers to this base on Girl Starter as "the ecosystems of sponsors and judges that teach business building in an inclusive and fun manner."

Girl Starter can contribute to the conversations taking place that address the importance of women in leadership positions. "Political climate shifts people out, particularly young women," says Collins. "The [2016] election shows that a lot of work still needs to be done. What’s good is that it inspired activism in young woman and it’s great, it makes them care.” Collins adds that "women of this generation have the ability to make change."

If the positive visual representation of businesswoman continues on Girl Starter and elsewhere, the next generation of independent women will be supportive and confident risk-takers.