Cracking Open the Gender Dialogue: What I Want the Men (and Women) of Tech to Know

Tracy Lawrence

I was in tears writing this, and I’m in tears as I publish it.

The recent news of several prominent male VCs sexually harassing female founders is appalling. I’ve received quiet support and concern from men and women in my circles. And after pitching 100s of investors and raising $15M in investment for Chewse, I know most of the investors outed. I’ve worked with two of them.

Let’s acknowledge what’s in the room: people are angry and dismayed. How can an industry as progressive as tech be so socially backwards? Some people are out for blood to quell the anger. To see this poor behavior get punished.

But it’s really about fear. For me, it’s fear that as a female founder I’ll never achieve my dreams, that I’ll never be taken seriously. That insidious voice that says my investors only got involved because I’m a pretty girl — not my qualities as a founder or my company.

And it’s about loneliness. Deep loneliness in an already lonely role in an industry that doesn’t seem to want me here.

The antidote to loneliness is listening. A genuine, open desire to be present with someone as they suffer. As my coworker puts it, the best kind of listening is “to be in the mud” with someone as they struggle. To not fix the feeling, but to give sadness and anger space to be. To respond, “That is shitty! I feel shitty, too.”

The unequal power dynamics between men and women, founders and investors, and moneylenders and money seekers are a set of hard problems with no easy solutions. But we don’t have to solve it today — today, we can listen to each other. And get curious.

The women who shared their stories are astoundingly brave, given the backlash they and their companies could suffer. But instead of outing more investors, why don’t we take this opportunity to learn and understand what’s happening? I don’t genuinely know why these investors acted in ways that seem so disgusting to me. I don’t know what fuels this behavior. But I want to. I can assume it’s about sex, but I have a hunch it’s much more nuanced.

And how does the fear of this kind of backlash make other male investors feel? Are we creating a chill effect if we don’t follow up with open dialogue?

I want to involve men in the dialogue of how we fix this. How we partner to create healthier norms in the quickly changing landscape of diverse founders. Two of Chewse’s male investors personally reached out to see how I was doing with all this news, and I felt so seen. How vulnerable is it to reach out to a female founder in an environment that’s incredibly scary for male investors right now? If I were in that group, I wouldn’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole.

Support from one of my male investors

I don’t want to exclude men. They are our greatest advocates. That’s half the population to help bring more fairness to a broken industry.

Another investor “sitting in the mud” with me

If you’re a man, ask the women in your life how they are feeling about this. And listen. And please share how you’re feeling, because it makes me feel like you’re in the mud with me when I know you’re confused too.

If you’re a female founder who has felt alone, please reach out to me (@chewishgirl). I’ll listen: no questions or judgments or press.

And if you’re a woman thinking of becoming a founder, press onwards towards your dream. In my experience, this isn’t the industry norm (and I’ve literally pitched 100s of investors). And with all the dialogue that’s coming up, the industry is becoming more open to diversity than ever before. We’d love for you to be part of the examples of success for investors and founders alike to support and emulate.

That’s the real long-term solution.

Tracy Lawrence

Written by

Let your stomach lead the way. CEO & Co-Founder of Chewse, #500strong, proud Trojan. http://t.co/hhQqMEDVr7

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