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This might be a man’s world, but women are increasingly leading the way when it comes down to business.
Women may make up 47% of the American workforce, but they are woefully under-represented in leadership positions. In the 2018 Fortune 500 list, just 24 female CEOs made the cut. Among them? Mary Barra of General Motors, Ginni Rometty of IBM, and Beth Ford of Land O’Lakes, who also made history as the first openly gay woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Outside of the rarified air of the Fortune 500 crowd, women make up barely a quarter of all senior executives at large companies in the U.S.
However, the picture isn’t entirely one of doom and gloom. As of 2018, there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., compared to just 402,000 in 1972. That equates to about 1 in 4 businesses. What is more, a SCORE report recently found that women are slightly more likely to start a business than men – which probably accounts for the reason that the number of women-owned businesses has increased by 58% since 2007.
There may not be many female CEOs in boardrooms, but there are certainly more female entrepreneurs than ever before.
Whether you’re a woman with a business idea that you aren’t sure how to market, are fresh out of college and wanting to find a direction of your own, or just want to know more about what it takes to make a dream reality, we’ve compiled a list of the very best books for female entrepreneurs.
1. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, Grace Bonney
Grace Bonney worked tirelessly to build her own online company, Design*Sponge, before she decided to help other women follow in her footsteps. In 2006, she founded the Design*Sponge Biz Ladies series, a traveling event that was designed to connect women who run their own design-based businesses with free legal, financial, and marketing advice.
In addition to these events and contributing to magazines like House & Garden, Grace hosts a weekly radio show called “After the Jump.” She has also founded a scholarship to support up and coming designers.
In the Company of Women is compendium of interviews with more than 100 female entrepreneurs, from designers to bakers, activists, tattooists, comedians, and hoteliers. None of the interviews are particularly long, making this a book that you can dip in and out of at will. Beautifully published and featuring vibrant photography, Bonney’s book truly celebrates the diversity of women in business.
Full of practical advice and inspirational suggestions, In the Company of Women is the perfect guide for those who are looking to forge their own path. The interviews touch on what women consider to be their keys to success (from going with your gut instinct, to maintaining meaningful relationships along the way), highlight the importance of daily rituals (creating a daily to-do list, or finding time to meditate), and provide advice for a new generation of female entrepreneurs.
This isn’t a book that tells you that everything is going to be fine, but a series of accounts by talented women who have succeeded in business despite deep adversity and vulnerability.
This is the perfect book for teen girls, girls fresh out of college, and women seeking a push to turn a passion into a career. The beautiful pictures of women in their own workspaces also make it the perfect coffee table book, whether at home or at the office.
2. Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business, Barbara Corcoran with Bruce Littlefield
Published in 2011, Shark Tales is the inspiring true story of Barbara Corcoran, the businesswoman who made a name for herself on the ABC show Shark Tank. Now the founder of the Corcoran Group, New York’s premier real estate company, Corcoran is one of the most powerful brokers in the nation, but this wasn’t always the case.
She failed at twenty-two jobs before borrowing $1,000 from a boyfriend, quitting her job as a diner waitress, and starting a tiny real estate office in New York City.
Corcoran’s story is simultaneously inspiring and approachable, because she is able to admit her failures and explain how she built on them. She interweaves the highs and lows of building the business, from publishing a real estate report to gain recognition to the necessity of taking a second job, with the lessons she learned from her homemaker mom and the nine siblings she grew up with in New Jersey.
Shark Tales receives excellent online reviews for good reason. While some people use writing a memoir as an activity to fill time after selling the company that made them a fortune, Barbara Corcoran seems to have found it a genuinely illuminating and soul-searching exercise.
It’s an easy read, but it’s packed full of advice about dressing the part, harnessing your passion, doing your homework, and distinguishing yourself from the crowd. Whether you’re a fan of Shark Tank, or you’ve no idea who Corcoran is, it doesn’t matter. There’s advice here for everyone.
3. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington
As co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington knows a thing or two about effective communication. She has authored 15 books, was included in Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people, and made the Forbes Most Powerful Women list.
Thrive was published in 2014 as a prelude to Thrive Global: “a corporate and consumer well-being and productivity platform with the mission of changing the way we work and live by ending the collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success.”
Thrive begins with an incident that made Arianna Huffington question the price of success: a broken cheekbone and a gash under her eye, caused by a fall she had due to lack of sleep and total exhaustion.
Though she was managing one of the fastest-growing media companies in the world, appearing on magazine covers, and making all the right lists, Huffington was also beginning to realize that living a “successful life” could take its toll.
The aim of Huffington’s work is to show us that the more we pursue the bigger salary, a corner office, and more authority, the more we are “rewarded” with burnout and stress-related illnesses. When we spend more of our time trying to be successful, we are actually chipping away at the quality of our relationships, our family life, and, ironically, our careers.
Though Thrive is essentially a self-help book, it is also a deeply personal memoir in which Arianna talks candidly about her own struggles. Success is a relative concept when you are juggling deadlines, a blossoming career, and an often hectic home life.
Her message may highlight the importance of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging from the world, and making time to give to others in a healthy work/life balance, but Arianna Huffington is nonetheless a powerful and inspiring example of a woman who turned a dream into an incredibly successful reality.
4. #GirlBoss, Sophia Amoruso
Forget the Netflix series, the original Girl Bosses turn to Sophia Amoruso’s book for advice from this thoroughly modern entrepreneur. Part business advice, part memoir, #GirlBoss tells us the story of how Sophia went from opening an eBay store when she was bored to founding the successful business she runs today.
You don’t have to like or be familiar with Nasty Gal to find the wisdom and humor in this book. Like the series, you’ll probably find yourself bingeing on Amoruso’s book.
After spending her teen years hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and scrounging in dumpsters for leftover bagels, it’s unsurprising that by twenty-two Sophia had dropped out of school, was broke, directionless, and checking IDs in the lobby of an art school.
When she started selling vintage clothes on eBay, she never dreamed she’d be the successful founder of one business and the CEO of another. #GirlBoss sounds like the specific story of one female entrepreneur as she finds her way in the world, but it actually has advice that is applicable to many situations.
Sophia reminds us that success in business is all about trusting your instincts and following your gut; knowing which rules to follow and which to break; or in Sophia’s words, “when to button up and when to let your freak flag fly.”
If there’s one lesson Amoruso has for all girlbosses, it’s that successful entrepreneurs always play to their strengths. This is an easy, riveting, but somewhat divisive read. Amazon reviews demonstrate that you’ll either love this book or you’ll hate it (but if you do love it, I highly recommend checking out The Girlboss Workbook: An Interactive Journal for Winning at Life and Sophia Amoruso’s weekly podcast).
5. Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals, Rachel Hollis
I’d argue that one of the books of 2018 was by Rachel Hollis, the TV personality, motivational speaker, and CCO of The Hollis Company. If you liked Girl, Wash Your Face, you’re going to love her latest book, Girl, Stop Apologizing. It’s all about helping women to fulfil their potential by telling them to stop worrying about falling short of perfection.
Rachel Hollis is humble, honest, and sincere in thanking her readers for her success. Her writing style is captivating and approachable, and she is beautifully blunt at times. Girl, Stop Apologizing is full of actionable ideas that serve as a wake-up call for every woman: to stop talking yourself out of your dreams, to let go of excuses, and to believe in yourself.
Hollis talks frankly about her own experiences as a wife, mother of four, daughter, and employee, and encourages women to stop defining themselves by roles that are characterized by relationships to other people. Her encouraging guide is all about instructing women to own who they are and go after what they really want.
Whatever your dreams, goals, or current situation, Hollis has advice on adopting behaviors, acquiring skills, and growing in confidence. She teaches everything you need to get out of your comfort zone and start living a more fulfilling life.
Though this one isn’t solely for women entrepreneurs, Rachel Hollis was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the “Top 30 Entrepreneurs under 30.” Her example of hard work, self-belief, and dedication, is the model to follow if you want to make it in business.
So whether you’re going for a promotion that you haven’t have the courage to apply for, or are keen to start your own business, it’s time to start fulfilling your potential.
6. Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong, Jessica Bacal
Another compilation of informative interviews, Mistakes I Made at Work quickly entered the “Top 10 Business Books” list when it was published in Spring 2014. Editor Jessica Bacal interviews twenty-five successful women about their toughest on-the-job moments and allows them to reflect on what went wrong, why, and what they’d do differently.
The women come from a variety of different backgrounds and fields, from Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck to bestselling author Cheryl Strayed.
Whatever your working environment looks like – from starting up an Etsy shop in your guest room, to meeting with a team of 30 employees – being able to recognize your faults and learn from your mistakes is an essential part of being a female entrepreneur.
The women included in Mistakes I Made at Work demonstrate all the ways that their mistakes made them more thoughtful, purposeful, and assertive as leaders. Given a do-over, these women would tell you that they are better at their jobs now than they would’ve been if they’d never made a mistake at all.
Whether you’re just starting out in the world of work, are looking to advance your career, or could just use some good old-fashioned female solidarity, Jessica Bacal’s book is a valuable resource for women looking for the confidence to negotiate salary, looking for work that reflects your passions, balancing work life and family life, or contemplating promotion.
This is definitely the kind of book that you’ll want to pass on and share with your friends, whether you met them at work or in the playground.
7. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg
Number 6 on the 2019 Fortune Most Powerful Women in Business list, Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook.
Way back in 2010, Sandberg gave a TED talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” on the way women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Now viewed over six million times, her talk encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.
Lean In is a continuation of the conversation Sandberg started almost a decade ago. She combines personal experience, collected data, and compelling research, to change the focus from what women can’t do to what they can. Along with anecdotes from her own experiences in business, the book offers a good amount of practical advice on negotiation techniques, seeking mentorship, and building a satisfying career.
Though on the face of it, Lean In might seem like a book for women who want to follow a conventional career path, Sandberg’s advice is also relevant to those female entrepreneurs looking to strike out on their own. It’s full of actionable steps to professional achievement and personal fulfillment, and provides a refreshing take on the need for men to support women both in the workplace and at home. The one thing that successful female entrepreneurs have in common? A great network of people to support them.
Not everyone is going to love this book. Sure, Sandberg has lots of great things to say about the need for women to feel emboldened and impassioned to follow their dreams – but she also has an army of staff at home to look after her kids, clean her home, and fill her refrigerator. If you can look past the disparities between “us” and “them,” there is some solid advice from a woman who has faced a whole host of professional obstacles – and won.
8. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Shona Rhimes
You probably know Shona Rhimes as the creator of such shows as Greys Anatomy and Scandal, but her successful facade belies a very real reluctance for the limelight. With three hit TV shows and three children, Rhimes had multiple reasons to say “No” to Hollywood parties, speaking engagements, and media appearances. But saying no to these unique experiences may have put her in a position where she had nothing to lose, but she had nothing to fear either.
Year of Yes is all about Shonda’s response to a challenge set by her sister: just for a year, to try and say YES to the unexpected invitations that came her way. Though she was initially reluctant to accept, Rhimes quickly realized the transformative effect of saying yes to the new opportunities that came her way.
This isn’t a self-help book, it’s definitely more of a relatable memoir. As one reviewer commented, Rhimes is “wiser, funnier, and cooler than your average therapist – she’s also been there, if “there” is the land of the angry, scared and emotionally dysfunctional.”
If you’re looking for relatable reading that is all about overcoming your fear of trying new things, and the effect that changing your attitude can have on your relationships (spoiler: it isn’t always good!), Year of Yes is the book for you.
While this book isn’t really about business, the premise of Rhimes’ memoir is still an extremely valuable one. Taking the leap from having an idea to actually starting a business can be extremely scary, and cause a lot of soul-searching in the process.
Learning to say yes to new things – especially when they push you out of your comfort zone and force you to mingle with new people – is an important part of the journey.
9. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
Published in 2014, The Confidence Code is a follow-up to Kay and Shipman’s bestselling book, Womenomics. It’s an informative and practical guide to understanding the importance of confidence – as well as learning how to achieve it – for women at any stage of their career.
Though working women today are better educated and more well-qualified than they ever have been, men still predominate in the corporate world. Shipman and Kay argue that the key reason for this is confidence, or rather, a lack of it.
The Confidence Code is really a reaction to books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, combining cutting-edge research in genetics, gender, behavior, and cognition with personal examples from their own lives and the lives of other successful women; to go beyond telling women to just “be more confident” and showing them how to actually do it.
The Confidence Code is different from many of the other books on my list, because it’s less about personal stories and more about scientific research. From how our DNA influences us to the necessity of breaking out of the destructive behaviors we learn in childhood, this is a book packed full of information and advice for female entrepreneurs in need of a confidence boost.
10. Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st Century, Claudia Azula Altucher
Being a successful entrepreneur requires ideas, and lots of them. It also requires the ability to know when to forgo that idea and move on with another. Claudia Azula Altucher is the Wall Street Journal bestselling writer of The Power of No, a podcast host, and yoga teacher.
Become An Idea Machine is all about flexing your “idea muscle” – an essential part of your brain when it comes to thinking quickly, solving problems creatively, and coming up with new ideas.
This book is definitely more of a workbook than an actual read, but it has months of daily prompts to help you flex your idea muscle and come up with 10 new ideas each day.
The exercises have been created with the intent of pushing you to think differently, and to come up with new ways of looking situations, opportunities, and ideas.
It’s the perfect New Years Resolution aid, or a gift for a friend who is looking to go in a new direction. Having ideas and translating them into the actionable steps required to start a new business are two very different things – but you’ve got to have the idea to make a start.
As Azula Altucher says, “When a GREAT idea comes your way you are inspired, you feel moved, you HAVE to take the next step. Execution happens automatically.”
11. Women Who Launch: The Women Who Shattered Glass Ceilings, Marlene Wagman-Geller
Last but by no means least, this book is the perfect gift for the women in your life. It’s a powerful reminder that this isn’t a man’s world, and that women have been starting, running, and managing successful businesses for a very long time.
From Girl Scout pioneer Julia Ward-Howe to Estee Lauder, the woman who single-handedly revolutionized the cosmetics industry; women have been creatively smashing through glass ceilings while simultaneously empowering other women to follow in their footsteps.
Women Who Launch tells the true stories of the women activists, artists, and entrepreneurs who launched some of the most famous companies, brands, and organizations today.
Whether they petitioned for everyone’s favorite holiday (Thanksgiving, all thanks to Sara Joseph Hale) or gave you that smooth line you were looking for under a dress (Sara Blakely, SPANX) these women changed the world, and their stories can inspire a new generation of women and girls to do the same thing.
Wagman-Geller’s empowering biographies are deftly woven together to create a picture of how these amazing women shaped and transformed the era they lived in, and combined with inspiring quotes.
She digs down beneath the surface of each story, providing valuable insights and fun details that will be enjoyed by teenage girls and retired women alike. Women Who Launch is the kind of book you can’t help but read with a smile on your face.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of books for female entrepreneurs. Whether you’re at the very beginning of your journey and are looking for inspiration, or you’re just looking for the push you need to say YES to something new, give one of these titles a go.
Read any books you just have to share with your fellow girl bosses? Please add a comment below!