Never Dull Your Shine

IMG_5201.JPGI’m not one who typically or comfortably discusses the fact that I’m a “woman” entrepreneur. I pride myself on dropping the adjective before that noun and simply think of myself as an individual who proudly leads a company that offers a software solution. However, a few weeks back, I was asked to and delivered a keynote at an event called “Women Techmakers”. I dived in and started by telling our story. This was followed by my thoughts on the challenges of being a woman in a leadership role representing a tech company. The audience was filled with men and women alike and I don’t think anyone was shocked by the following:
  • Women in tech as a whole are too few and far in between. This point was later reiterated by some pretty impressive lady coders, programmers and developers.
  • Raising capital is more challenging. You can look at stats, you can read stories and you can talk to plenty of women who have felt at a disadvantage walking into a bank meeting (traditional or not) and/or when speaking to VC’s or angel investors. While I don’t like it and fail to understand the reasoning behind that reality, women receive less funding and are likelier to be denied the capital needed to get their startup running without the backing of a male counterpart.
  • You’re bound to be objectified. Suggestive comments based solely on what you’re wearing and unwanted invitations to sit on someone’s knee are an unfortunate yet oftentimes inevitable part of the package.
The following story is just one example of situations I’ve seen or been a part of: Our team attended a conference last year and as we sat in the Lobby Bar (post-event) we engaged in conversation with 2 men. They asked what we did, we told them. There were other software companies around and the conversation was pleasant enough and went on for about 5 minutes before one of the men got up and made his way to the bathroom. The second gentleman (and I use that term sarcastically), looked at us and said: “If you’re going to waste his time (meaning his friend) and not go up to his room, don’t bother talking to him”. My jaw dropped (this only lasted about 2 seconds) and I then proceeded to give him a piece of my mind.
My response: “If we were 2 men sitting at this very bar, having the exact same conversation, would there be any type of expectation other than a few drinks shared between acquaintances? Because we wear heels and not loafers are we expected to engage in anything other than friendly conversation? Or, better yet, are we expected to wear loafers and “dull our shine” so as to not entice this kind of expectation from the opposite sex? Are we not allowed to look good without insinuating that we’re not serious?”
I’ve got a pretty strong personality and this type of interaction doesn’t typically get me riled up but I was honestly completely thrown off by the entire situation and couldn’t help myself. Safe to say, man #2 came back shortly thereafter and both of them left promptly.
I want to point out that this behaviour is from a few and not the masses. I’ve met plenty of people in this industry who’ve become wonderful friends and great allies. The problem is those few sometimes derail a woman from moving forward confidently with her venture and her sanity in tact.
Here’s the takeaway: if you’re a woman with a great idea and you feel like it’s worth banking on, do it! Those “few” are not worth your discouragement. You’re a woman and there are certain situations that will arise in your journey that would never happen if you were a man. That being said, your success is based solely on one thing: your ambition, not as a woman entrepreneur but simply as an entrepreneur. It’s not about what you are, it’s about who you are.
If you love the idea of becoming a software developer or a graphic designer, don’t let the ratio in your classes get you down. Instead, prove the nay-sayers wrong and kill it.
If you walk into an opportunity where the goal is to raise capital, do it with your head held high and your solid projections in tow.
Lastly, If your team is attending an event and you have some unfortunate run-ins with a creep (or 2), let them know that you’re there to engage in meaningful, business related conversation.

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