Starting a business isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s especially challenging for the young woman in the tech sector. It’s an ongoing battle not just for funding, but also to hire talent and gain the respect of male peers.
I’ve lost count of the number of Venture Capital Firms I’ve walked into that could easily be mistaken for a Mad Men set. Where the most beautiful girls in sky scrapper heels – (the kind I have to take off before entering the tube) round glass-fronted buildings with trollies of tea and coffee. While the exclusively male partners/ principals swagger down long corridors with a look that says ‘I know something you don’t’.
With just 1.2 percent of venture funding going to women-led businesses, they do know something women don’t. Unfortunately, this assumed knowledge holds back economies and societal progress.
According to Indiegogo – a leading crowdfunding platform – 47% of projects that reach their funding goal are female-led. It seems Crowdfunding eliminates bias, allowing true market interest to decide which ideas live or die.
Having as a naïve undergraduate once assumed gender is an arbitrary, oppressive batton which men use to beat women, I have come to see that the proper mission of feminism to attack and reconstruct the fossilised social practices that had led to discrimination against women. The kind of discrimination women in the West face defaults to observe with the human eye.
For instance, women have to be hyper aware that they are not giving off unintentional signals. Business dinners might seem tame, but many professional women find that talking business over dinner with a male boss, mentor or colleague can be all too easily misunderstood by people who think there may something else there.
Women can’t access many networking opportunities that are organised around male interests like golfing, sports and male bonding. Although, I have tried to wield a nine iron – in vain, many women, like me, loose out on vital networking opportunities and doors close.
The thing that most bothers me, is that women are sold a lie. Worse some women believe they had to adopt male characteristics to get ahead. To always be looking over one’s shoulder in case the real truth should escape. It’s exhausting. It’s a pointless energy drain. I love my team like I love members of my family. I want them to be happy in the jobs. I want them to grow and I love to nurture them. I have been told by some VC’s, mentors, and partners that this makes me seem a weak leader.
Does it? Do I have to fit into a ‘boss’ mould?
I am reminded of the phenomenal progress women have made when I visit Islamic countries, where women are still very much the underclass. But progress is ongoing, and the first step is always awareness.
Its not about women’s networking groups, women VC leaders, women bosses leading companies, women on boards, its about a recognition that we fail in comparing to things that are fundamentally different – to be the same.
I hope to see a day where my daughters aren’t called a bitch, dragon or bossy when they try to realize their dreams – business or otherwise and where women’s voices can be heard over the constant swirl of ‘you must’, ‘you should’, ‘you have to’ that are ultimately the reason VC’s turn women down. They don’t fit the mould.