Recently I attended an event for entrepreneurs looking to accelerate their businesses. The event was billed as an opportunity to hear from leaders about how they’ve propelled their companies in terms of product development, technology, sales and marketing. Following the presentations, attendees were encouraged to eat lunch in groups dedicated to specific topics and facilitated by experts.
There were eleven presenters. One was a woman. There were twelve lunch experts. Not one of them was a women.
I asked the organizers where the women were. The answers ranged from (and I paraphrase), “I try to get women here every year. I think it’s too hard for women to start companies,” to “I can’t speak for women.”
I heard a similar refrain at another start-up focused event last month. A man there told me women aren’t willing to put in the hard work and the hours to run a company. Really? Tell that to Ursula Burns, Oprah Winfrey, Anne Mulcahey, Indra Nooyi and countless other women who run lesser-known businesses.
Perhaps the answer lies here: an estimated 90 percent of all venture funding goes to men and venture capital is a key ingredient for growth. The venture industry is predominantly male. This translates to fewer and less powerful networks and connections for women making it more difficult to get in front of key investors. When they do get in the door, it isn’t as easy for them to relate to the money men.
Don’t believe me? Read this. Paige Craig, CEO of BetterWorks and an investor with Good Angel, confesses in Business Insider that he almost didn’t fund a pregnant woman’s business because of doubts he had she could start a company, lead a team, carry and then care for a child.
Perhaps I should be grateful Craig was honest and started an important dialogue. But actually, his article irks me. The insurance companies insist on labeling childbirth as a disability, but it’s not. Our bodies were built to have children. The many doctor’s appointments, and the frequent trips to bathroom during pregnancy do take time, but women still manage to get things done. We have smart phones now. We can check email and make calls from the waiting room at the OBs office.
And why is the idea that having a child is a great motivator for women so rare? I go to work every day to feed my children. I work hard so I can give my children excellent opportunities. I strive to make a positive impact in the world, because my children will inherit the results. And when I walk through the front door every night and see my kids, I gain invaluable perspective that fuels my effectiveness on the job.
Mother’s don’t check out. Mothers go through life with a heightened sense of awareness and of purpose. Work with us, harness that, and trust me, you’ll like the results.
Read the response from the entrepreneur Craig did ultimately fund. She says she has no interest in fitting the typical start-up CEO profile. She hopes to model for others a path that, “includes sharing their entrepreneurial journey (and, the financial and social upside they will create) with people who know their story, their context, maybe even their families, and believe in them all the more because of it.” Are men that different?
Last night, I had to have a talk with my daughter because she broke a serious rule. I was disappointed and concerned and wanted to tell her. But I chose a softer delivery so that she would feel comfortable talking with me the next time we needed to have an honest conversation. I know, I know. I should take a similar approach with Craig. So please forgive my initial crankiness. It’s just that it baffles me that in 2011 the concept of women as capable, motivated providers, is still foreign to some.