I attended the most recent Microsoft Accelerate Your Business Conference in Toronto and had the privilege of meeting a variety of amazing women entrepreneurs at the event. And no wonder. A report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that women have steadily increased their ownership of small businesses. In fact, the number of women-owned firms has grown 68 percent since 2007, compared with 47 percent for all businesses.

So, what holds women back?

A study conducted by the Ryerson University Brookfield Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship indicated that women in Ontario (my home province) feel a stronger fear of failure than their peers elsewhere in the world.

The study found 52.4 percent of female respondents in Ontario said fear of failure would prevent them from starting their own business. That’s well above the 40.7 percent of male respondents in the province and 47 percent of female in the rest of Canada.

The elephant in the room

At the conference, my fellow women and I talked about uncertainty and dealing with change. We shared our fears and feelings around what it REALLY means to own a business—which means living with uncertainty. Experience has taught me to not to fight uncertainty and change. Instead, we need to embrace it. As I talked to fellow business owners at this event we all expressed one critical way to get ahead.

Get out of your office and connect with other business owners on an emotional level, where honesty and vulnerability unite us.

One entrepreneur I met told me about how she was opening a new coworking space. Exhausted from working 12 hour days she decided that she had to put her work aside to connect with others, even if that meant going out when she felt tired. She didn’t even have time to dress up in her “polished corporate clothing.”

We judge less than you think

I shared with her that, in my opinion, we get caught up in a world of our own—certainly too busy to judge others as much as one would think. Another business owner shared her fears over the changing market. As a freelance writer, she worried about dwindling budgets for writers. We talked about ensuring that we kept the jobs coming in without devaluing our services. None of us judged each other for what the other was dealing with.

Women unite! #BeBoldForChange

Today, March 8, 2017 is International Women’s Day (IWD). We still have a long way to go and much work to do. The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until the year 2186. 169 more years! That’s just too long! Around the world, IWD can act as an important catalyst and vehicle for driving greater change for women and moving closer to gender parity.

What you can do for women

Consider getting involved in a mentorship program! Whether you mentor or get mentored, you can connect and learn from women like you. The organization I founded—Women in Biz Network—introduced our own mentorship program which we see has had a transformative impact on women entrepreneurs.

How does mentorship help?

  • Improve your survival rate. “70 percent of mentored businesses survive more than five years, double the rate for non-mentored small businesses over that same period. There are few things in the business world that can double your chance of success, but having someone knowledgeable you can turn to for advice is one of them.” – INC magazine
  • Get and/or give great advice. Mentorship means your business is still yours. A mentor will provide strategic and tactical guidance, but you keep ownership. Unlike the advice and guidance you might get from a board or investors, a mentor is just there to help guide you along the right path, no strings attached!
  • Expand your network. Make new contacts to help you find investors, clients, co-founders, or contractors who provide valuable services. You’ll meet new people who can help spark ideas to help your business grow and prosper.