[This article originally appeared on Gild Collective Blog]
Let me preface everything by saying I used to be very much in the same mindset that most men and many women are still in. That of, “Women don’t have that much of a disadvantage; they should just work a little harder. It’s not worth worrying about.” After diving into the workforce and coming to understand the startup landscape in a deep and comprehensive way, I couldn’t be more wrong.
There are a lot of things I could write about women in technology and startups. I would love to tell stories, share candid thoughts and opinions, and allow you to disagree wholeheartedly with me. But that’s a different blog post. Here are three real problems that women, including myself, experience when moving through a career in the startup world.
1) “Let’s grab beers and discuss further.”
If you’re an entrepreneur, there have probably been times where you’ve tried this tactic. Maybe I can get closer to this investor/mentor/partner/
If you’ve read Lean In, you know Sheryl talks about facing this herself. As a young (unmarried) person, it’s assumed that if you’re seen at a bar with a member of the opposite sex, you’re likely on a date. Because of that stigma, women are less likely to offer to take a man to drinks, and men, in turn, are less likely to accept.
Personally, there have been countless times where this would have been a good business move and I didn’t ask. There have been times where I haven’t been invited to drinks even though it made sense. Both sides are at fault here. While it seems petty, a lot of business is done over beers. Being able to tap into that familiar “boys club” activity without being judged or suspected or wrongdoing will be a big step for women.
2) How To Look Hot At Work
In an industry where guys in hoodies and startup shirts are revered, somehow women haven’t managed to have get cut any slack yet. Men are in jeans, shorts and t-shirts every day. Women are still wearing, although not as corporate, business-esque “startup clothing.” The Tech.co article that highlighted 70 women and what they actually wear to their startup jobs revealed that MOST of the women still look like they could walk into any corporate office and people wouldn’t flinch. I’m not suggesting a different dress code for men or women at any workplace (corporate or startup), simply pointing out a significant difference.
The double-edged sword of having to look nice but not looking too nice is a challenging one. Too nice means you look either slutty or stuffy. Too informal means you aren’t taken seriously. Just to even have to put that much thought into what you’re wearing each morning is too much energy exerted on the wrong thing.
3) The Chicken and the Egg
Investors often base their deals on investments that have proven successful in the past. That makes sense. Invested in 10 Android apps and all of them failed in 12 months? You probably won’t be investing in many Android apps any time soon. Never invested in an adtech company? You probably aren’t going to go out and throw down $2MM on an adtech company tomorrow.
Same goes for types of founders. Subconsciously, investors associate successful founders with a certain persona. As we know, that persona is young, white, and male. Again, subconsciously (I refuse to say most investors are sexist, because I don’t believe they are at all), female founders coming in to pitch a business just don’t fit into the archetype the investor has in his head– based on history. This makes them less likely to invest.
So… Women are less likely to be invested in, but investors need to associate venture-backed female founders with success before they invest in them. Which comes first?
Similarly, people oftentimes build businesses based on a problem they have personally faced. In other words, businesses that solve problems for women are unlikely to be understood by the average investor, who is older, white, and male. For example, if I am building a really badass crafting company, investors who understand that space and the mission of empowering women are far more sparse.