Headlines Matter: Forced Feminism Unleashes Sparkling Unicorns
The last year has been pretty infuriating as a woman…the pussy-grabber is our president. We’ve read article after article with dire stats & stories about being a woman in tech while at the same time facts proving how companies make more $ with women in c-levels and female-led startups outperform male. As a veteran techie who dared to have kids, I have stories too…and I’ll pepper them into this post as I say thank you to Jacqui Deegan & jason and make an uncomfortable* dare to investors.
*I’ve been weary of adding my voice to this women-in-tech & agism dialog. I love men. I have 3 brothers, 2 sons, believe gender is a spectrum and feel vulnerable to be deemed annoying while raising money for my new start-up...but we really need some policy help.
1st a thank you for confidence & knowledge boost
I just got back from the 2 day LAUNCH Founder’s University women-only event. It was the incarnation of bias hacking for better outcomes. My passion and current start-up, SmartSpark.me, is about distilling down evidence-based behavioral science into enjoyable experiences, so I’m deeply appreciative of jason, @jacqKD, @lukelightening, @wsgrsoma @AshleyRaeWG @vikbeingvik @GalaGilAmat @cmcaselli+ #founderuniversity for priming our attitudes, bringing in brilliant speakers, and reinforcing the fact that women of all ages and colors are creating great companies in spite of the obstacles. I knew that my chances of being talked over, inadvertently belittled etc., would be less if there weren’t male founders in the room. But, honestly, I was a little afraid that the other companies would suck or we’d get stuck in self-pity (how horrifying that I carried such utterly disgusting gender-self-loathing assumptions!) I met women of all ages and colors building kick-ass companies. Ex:@dedrachamberlin @GannaBoiko @welm_co Sophia Yen MD, @GalaGilAmat, @keriwaters, @lohridr, Stephanie Lawrence,
“Seeing images of female role models helps women speak publicly and perform as leaders”
jason is a man, obviously, but he’s got a strong feminine side that knows how to make people feel comfortable and when to crack a joke. Ex, after a company pitch involving an astonishingly profitable breast-milk service company, he found himself on stage w/2 other men to give feedback and joked, “let me mansplain your company to you.” Then he proceeded to ask and listen to those of us who’ve lactated. I’d say let him make all the easy money off investing in female led companies, but we need more.
Amanda Wang Valentine sent me this article that both celebrates the bias hacking from the What Girls are Made of Nike campaign and shows how it’s processed by gender: Applying neuroscience to Cannes-winning work: Nike What Girls Are Made Of
I drove back to LA yesterday saying to myself that I must try to write some ideas for solutions, so here it goes…
SOLUTIONS: Investor’s follow the sound of $$$
Orchestras who seek to have the best sound do blind auditions because they know their biases can get in the way. Investors, the numbers show that gender and age biases are harming your portfolio outcomes. Money is stronger than bro-culture!!! Let’s talk $$$$$
Knowing the stats on female and minority funding, I’ve thought about hiring a young, tall, white guy actor or recent MBA to pretend he is me for pitches. The seed/angel stage is when the biases play the biggest role, and even though my startup #’s, marketsize, trial results and team track record make a pretty safe bet, investors will have to look beyond me being a middle-aged feminine woman (and mother) who’s not hanging out in bro-culturelandia.
Perhaps we could do a pitch format where 20 multi-gendered startups work with professional ‘presenters’ who then present all the startups and disguise the gender of the founders? Then the real founders can come answer questions, but only after a beat where the investors see the concept without bias…humm. I’m not sure it would work, but shall we try? #ChangeTheRatio
Investor Dare: Go 50% female founders on seed stage for 6 months.
It will feel uncomfortable, but evidence points to better outcomes if you would force yourself to invest 50% in female founders. Your future net worth is daring you to try it…even just for six months. #50PercentBetter
Let’s squish some investor fears:
1. Mommy-abandonment is BULLSHIT
I have been told by more than 1 investors that they lost money because female founders had kids and left. But, they never would give me an actual example. So, for over 10 years I’ve been looking for 1 woman who did this. She doesn’t exist. I had a son during a startup and let me tell you, I worked harder than ever, and I partied less. I’ve also been scolded that I should be home with my kids! Defensively, I cited evidence that kids fare better when they have moms-who-work. This divisive topic makes me so angry because really, stay-at-home mom’s rock too and I can probably find an article citing it being better for kids…but, it’s more relevant that there’s ample evidence that having a dad involved is CRITICAL to kids’ wellbeing. Oh, and aged sperm suck as badly as aged eggs. But, older parents rock…And, my childfree friends are smart, and I envy you in no some small way for your vastly more interesting free time. Ok, going too off topic here!
I’d be more angry, but I am lucky that I have an academic husband who respects facts and has a flexible schedule. I have 2 school aged kids now, and the fact that I’m doing another start-up is testament of my grit and determination. The cost of me doing startup is higher than a childless person, but i have to do it — it drives me and i know people need my company. I do contract work for $ and squeeze in every hour I can to drive my company forward. So, investors, when you see a middle aged mom leading a startup you, she’s likely the most fiercely dedicated, efficient and results oriented investment you could make.
Older is indeed wiser
I’ve now been around long enough to have seen that 30 years olds without kids are usually less efficient than people with kids who know wtf they’re doing. In the past few years, I’ve gone into a many startups to fix UX issues and have seen first-hand gaggles of childless coders, hanging out, drinking beer on tap (at work) — they’re not doing proper QA, not following basic best practices and the results are bad! And, yet, the agism is so palpable that I’ve been contemplating getting out of the industry entirely.
My grandma died at 103, having worked well into her 90s and then volunteering at old age homes. Yet, I’m ‘old’ at 44?!!! FUCK NO! Industry of titans, let’s not be stupid. This agism thing is worthy of serious intervention…ex, the lists need to flip incentives so that we’re promoting the “40 over 40.”
More personal rant
OK, perhaps this entire thing is a personal rant, but this last section is without suggestions for improvement. I specialize in the most vulnerable, confidence-dependent art in tech — inventing, convincing and launching products. I have top-notch UX/product credentials, I know how to make pretty much anything, hands-on. All my former bosses and employee like me, etc. etc. I joined and then founded multiple start-ups (sadly never cashing out on any.) And, yet the past two years have been so degrading as a 40-something woman, that I started on finishing requirements to become a shrink — an industry where getting old doesn’t seem to be seen as a liability. But, I should not leave — the industry I love would be cost an asset. I can give people the tools to their attention spans for better behavioral outcomes. I can create indoor drones that help us clean. I can make more people feel useful while making cities more efficient.
10 years ago the same Jason Calacanis along with Michael Arrington helped my co-founder @juliaj and I craft our pitch for the 1st Techcrunch 40. TC’s article may called us a couple of giggling chicks and covered little about our tech. But, a year later, we were invited back. We had grown well, had partnerships with big brands, etc. @tinromedia took this video of me explaining how people wouldn’t talk to us:
Fake it until we make it
We all carry unconscious gender biases. But, we know that if we push through our comfort zones and enact policies that promise better outcomes that it will start to feel more normal, and we’ll all be better off. This era of frump proves beyond a doubt that facts matter. Science matters. The facts say that investing in women makes investors more money. I could add on why i think the animal kingdom implies that female led startups rock, but I’ll stop and get back to work.
Quick thanks to the helpful speakers at Founders University:
Casey Winters, GREYLOCK PARTNERS,
LARA BRENNER, URBAN INNOVATION FUND
@dhassell & SHANE METCALF, 15FIVE
@andrewfarah FROM DENSITY, WSGR’S RACHEL PROFFITT
@ShannaWP OF MODSY
@veelarco OF NEA
JESSICA SCORPIO, CO-FOUNDER GETAROUND
ILENE CHAU, JP MORGAN
DONNA PETKANICS, WSGR
@rishigarg RISHI GARG, MAYFIELD FUND
@aahholm AARON HOLM, BLOKABLE
MAR HERSHENSON, PEAR.VC,
WHITNEY SALES, THE SALES METHOD
@adamn ADAM NELSON, SOCIAL CAPITAL.