“That’s an interesting idea…I’ll go home and ask my wife about it,” an Angel Investor told me.
“I believe she can run that company…after all it’s fashion…or home goods…or something like that. How am I supposed to know?” said the VC partner when she (the CEO) left the room.
“I’d fund THAT! She’s hot…” exclaimed a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
We continue to pretend “it” doesn’t happen. And then we turn to read, write or comment on article upon article addressing the prevalent gender gap in technology, specifically in Silicon Valley.
Women-owned businesses employ 35% more people than the Fortune 500 Companies, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Yes, in this same world, companies with a woman in a leadership position (Founder, CEO, CFO, etc) receive between 2-9%, depending on the source, of all VC funding.
How do we make sense of this? How DO women build their equity and leadership positions in the land of technology and startups?
Moving from Conversation to Action
First, we learn to focus on moving this discussion from theoretical conversation into action. And to do this, we must do the one thing that men have successfully done for years. We must learn what it means to “own our networks.” We need to do what we do naturally – build our community and use communication.
What does this mean?
For most of us, it means taking a BIG risk of being labeled a “Bitch”, “Aggressive” or gasp…a “Feminist” because we move to only hire women, or only fund women, or only promote women. Yes, this is an extreme and perhaps not practical view, but lean THAT direction because without it, women tend to hold other women back.
Tweet this: “Take a risk of being labeled aggressive…” @CauseSuccess
Support, don’t slam, women
For example, I was at a women’s brunch just yesterday and when the topic of “Women in Tech” was brought up (yes, by me when I introduced myself) the table talk exploded into “Well, we do NOT need to promote women just because they are women. They should be promoted because they are the best qualified.” Yes, and unicorns should play nice with Santa.
Another example of women NOT coming to the aid of what is the reality of many women is this boldly written, in my opinion, article that outright says why most women will never become CEO. The article is an honest perspective of what one guy, Gene Marks, witnesses with women in business.
What I find most intriguing are the comments. Many are written by women slamming this guy for taking a stand and saying he adds nothing to move the conversation or situation forward. OK, he didn’t solve the gender inequalities in one article, but he was bold enough to state that people are idiots if they don’t see the inequality…that the behind the scenes comments made when women leave the room happen whether we like it or not…that the current system IS stacked against us. The instinct of many women is to say “It’s not helpful to point that out. We already KNOW that!” However, I’m telling you now…most people, most men, do NOT know this inequality lingers. They just want us to join in a highly productive world that works for them and they don’t understand why we can’t all just get along. (I know…I’ll rip my own statements in a future article…)
Re-learn to do what we do naturally
I’ll admit we have seen that affirmative action did not work across the board, but I pose the idea that if we continue to try to fix a broken system from within the system, we are only adding band-aids.
These band-aids come in the form of requirements, quotas, regulations, guidelines. The changes are not motivated because of a real sense of need or benefit, despite the studies are out there that show female leaders have faster portfolio growth (Daily Finance, The Motely Fool), start-ups with five or more females have a greater chance of success (Dow Jones Venture Source), and, as one Forbes contributor states, “Women have the right stuff”.
To own our own networks means women invest in women, hire women, mentor women, network with women and refer women to other women. Women do many things naturally, but one of our strong points is building a community. Yet when it comes to business, we apply an unnatural mindset of competition or not enough to go around when in our hearts we know the opposite it true. We are forced to play by a set of rules that is not meant for us, and then we are all left wondering why our leadership skills are not valued.
Let me illustrate this point…when I attended Bloomberg’s Next Big Thing Summit in June 2014, there was a Women in Tech Next Wave Breakfast. Of the panel of 10 Female Leaders (yes, perhaps that was ALL of the women in tech leaders), all but two went to an all girls high school or college. Coincidence? Or is this proof that later in life, in technology, we are playing a game that has rules NOT made for us.
Rather than denying that companies that promote “15 Hilarious Office Pranks to Pull on Your Work Buddies” are male centric, bro-cultures we have to start thinking about what it could look like to really BE BOLD as female founders, entrepreneurs and investors.
What does it mean to you to “OWN your Network?” What is one action you can take today that moves the concept of women in leadership into action? Share your answers on your favorite social media channel.