“I’m working for a startup”
“I’m interning at a startup”
“I love the startup culture”
Amongst us college students, the mention of a “startup” occurs a few times a day. Even the people who are diehard finance junkies admit to considering getting into business analytics for a startup. Shows like Silicon Valley paint the startup world as a humorous reality of long nights and random breakthroughs. It feels like everyone who doesn’t want to get into banking wants to work for a startup where they can show up to meetings in jeans, expect banana chips to be in the snack cabinet, and have the chance of rising to a position their parents sought after for years.
So what might these “everyones” do to cultivate the young startup culture differently than the past corporate culture. In order to understand what environmental shifts should be encouraged, we need to learn what common practices have created problems in the past. In order to do this, we have gathered advice from female leaders who were entrepreneurs before being an entrepreneur was a thing.
In the Fall of 2017 we, Company of Female Founders, organized a panel of female professors who are currently or were previously leaders in their fields. We invited Joy Marcus (EVP and GM of Digital Video for Condé Nast Entertainment), Kef Kasdin (CEO and Director at Proterro Inc.), and Sheila Pontis (Partner at Sense Information Design LLC). As a group focused specifically on women in the entrepreneurial realm, we were curious to hear about how being a woman had effected their experiences up to the present.
Although the focus was women in entrepreneurship, their insights on barriers and how to deal with them are relevant to all who were not included in the original blueprint of business. Business culture in the United States was conceived and established by and for straight, white, men. Since its conception, the variety of people involved in business has evolved dramatically. Yet, most companies still follow the rules and expectations put in place for a business made up of straight, white men, because that is the default. The issue with this is that these norms don’t easily make room for those who do not conform to their standards.
All three women discussed the experience of receiving coaching for the irregularities in their leadership styles. Although this showed that the companies they were working with were invested in them, they felt that at one point they received coaching simply because their leadership style was different from the default. This being said, Marcus, Kasdin, and Pontis all agree that leadership development is important and that coaching can be a great thing. But the fact that it was recommended to all of them, is case and point of the difficulties establishments have with expanding their definition of best leadership practices.
So how can we, the up and coming workforce, pay it forward for the next generation. The generation before us located the “glass ceiling”, how are we going to break it? I know we don’t have the patience to watch what is happening on the other side and do nothing. Whether you graduate in four years or one, your time to enter the real world is coming.
We have consolidated the suggestions that Marcus, Kasdin, and Pontis shared at the panel. Here are some reminders and thoughts on how you can be a part of shifting the business culture to one where the default is flexibility of mind:
1. Look to solve problems in innovative ways and start working on new issues
This is what entrepreneurship is all about. Take advantage of your personal perspective, and start working on what you see as an issue. Chances are, there are a lot of people with the same problem, they have just never been given the opportunity to do something about it.
2. Pay it forward for the person behind you- fear to speak out will only hurt the next person
It is risky to speak out about something you feel was unjust, but you are preventing the same injustice from recurring. If you don’t pay it forward, who will?
3. Believe in your leadership style, but always have several styles in your “bag of tricks”
This doesn’t mean you can’t adapt and take advice, but don’t be afraid to question communication and leadership defaults. There is a high chance they have been norms for far too long.
4. Find mentors and role models who are like you to give you guidance
It is more difficult to achieve your goals if you can’t envision them, and how are you supposed to envision them if you have no examples?
5. Communicate exactly what you want
Can you read minds? Didn’t think so! Neither can the person you are sitting across from.
6. Draw boundaries
You are allowed to create your own limits, so don’t let others make them for you.
7. Don’t be afraid to adapt
We are always working on becoming self-aware. Learn what works for you and what does not, but if change comes upon you, seize and make the most of the moment. Changes are always good, even if they feel horrendous at first.
8. Project confidence, but don’t be afraid to be honest and admit to vulnerability
You don’t have to be perfect to be confident. Be confident in your advantages and find those individuals who will support you along the way in your moments of vulnerability.
In ten years you might be asked to talk on a panel about your experience in the workforce. How are you going to say that you contributed to the shattering of the “glass ceiling”?
At Company of Female Founders, as a part of the Princeton E-Club, our mission is to build a community for those seeking to learn, connect, and work with the entrepreneurially minded women of Princeton and the world. We meet once a week to build a community of kick-ass women interested in entrepreneurship. We do this by putting on events that are open to the whole student body, discussing current events relating to this issue and through our mentorship program with female entrepreneurs, professor and businesswomen. Not to toot our own horn, but as one of our members said, “COFF is an organization that has a ton of potential and it’s clear that it can be very influential on campus. It can and will be a driving force in creating space for females on campus to be confident in their abilities as leaders and disruptive innovators”. We hope to be able to continue to inspire all Princeton students to pursue their entrepreneurial interest and also break the proverbial “glass ceiling”.