Original pictures from the New York Public Library Digital Collection

Being in Fashion is a Bitch!

If you’re good enough to become a finalist in a start-up competition, you probably shouldn’t participate.

  1. I am female.
  2. I am an engineer.
  3. I’ve founded a tech company.

And apparently, that’s in fashion.

I can’t really help being female and I’ve never tried being any other gender so I don’t really know what I’m missing out on.
Deciding to become an engineer happened partly because of my personal interests and partly because I had shitty grades from high school, so my options were limited.
I decided to found a tech company, after more than a decade working within the digital industry, missing the tool that I needed to create basic project plans, so I decided that I wanted to make that tool myself (or at least to make a company with people who had competencies to build a tool like that).

If you think that is impressive, then thanks, but personally I’m not sure these three qualities that I possess are so extraordinary that they need celebration.

Don’t get me wrong here: I’m all for motivating women and girls to get a technical education if they find that interesting and inspiring. I’m all for motivating women to take up the challenges of breaking the glass ceiling, I think it exists. I’m all for motivating bright minds to start their own companies if that’s what they’re into. I believe in inclusiveness and diversity. If I ruled the world, all companies would be run by a colorful palette with people of all ages, genders, colors, sexual preferences, religions, hobbies, types of footwear, shapes of earlobes etc. etc. Diversity breeds inspiration and action, I’m sure of it, I’ve seen it and experienced it.

The past few years I’ve noticed a growing trend to celebrate female leaders, female founders and women working in tech. That’s great, but I’ve started to think that this extreme focus on celebrating female tech founders and women techies, has a dark side.

In May 2016 I was “chosen” to participate in a female founder competition in Budapest. I was asked to come to Budapest for a week, to get coached and mentored by, according to the organizers of the competition, bright and influential people. I was promised a chance to be exposed to very important people, which would most likely lead to true nirvana for my company.

Taking a week out of the calendar can be a costly affair when running a small company. So I was very skeptical and unsure whether participating in the competition would be worth it. I ended up only participating for a couple of days in the event. When I got there, three days later than the other participants, I immediately realized that I had been right in deciding not to spend the entire week on the competition, rather than on my work.

The quality of the mentoring was not exactly impressive. I have more work experience than the coaches/mentors and soon noticed that they were preaching based on books and blog posts rather than actual experience. But bygones, that is what you can expect from these events. What shocked me though, was the egos of these mentors. Before I had had a chance to give them an impression of who I am, I was talked down to and scolded in a manner that I wouldn’t find suitable even towards a snotty five-year-old with ADD. Apparently, my late arrival and the idea that I felt most comfortable doing things the way I’ve found to be most productive for me and my company, didn’t sit well with the mentors.

I was shocked and confused by the way me and the other participants were treated. And then it dawned on me: We, the participants, were not the centerpieces of the competition, the mentors and the organizers of the event were! The whole thing seemed to be set up to make them feel good about themselves, we were just the extras in the show, they were the real stars.

But at least I learned my lesson: Being someone society and trends think needs “help” means being offered “help” that might prove more helpful for the helper than to me.

So I’ll avoid those who’s motivation to help me is to boost their own ego. I will not participate in start-up competitions or TV-shows or parades showing off the female founders, my time is so much better spend at the office, with my valued colleagues, building a great product!