Every business publication I pick up these days seems to feature stories about discrimination against women in the technology world. I have even been on the receiving end of this high profile press with a recent female entrepreneur spotlight piece in the the New York Times. The article was overwhelmingly positive. However, the intense scrutiny and attention paid to female entrepreneurs started making me feel uncomfortable and got me thinking — you never see a male entrepreneur spotlight. Yes, I am a woman in technology, and to be honest, I frequently feel discriminated against or dismissed by the male-dominated technology world. However, I don’t want to be a WOMAN in technology. I want to be a founder. A builder. A visionary. A person who changes the world for the better.
Focusing on gender alone misses the point for true entrepreneurs. It is HARD for everyone. Whether you are black, white, female, Hispanic or male, it is really hard to do something that no one has ever done before. If you don’t believe me, read The Hard Thing about Hard Things. The tech press only features the outliers that have ten term sheets, instant viral growth and tech talent beating down the company ‘s door. Entrepreneurship, for the rest of us, levels the playing field quickly. Sleepless nights. Tough conversations. Big decisions in the face of uncertainty.
I will consider it real progress when I walk into a VC meeting, a customer pitch, or my future IPO road show and no one says — wow look at this amazing company a female entrepreneur built. I want them to say — look how this person built something from the ground up and made lives better because of it.
So how do we bridge the gap and get to the level playing field I describe?
- It Takes Time: The world does not change over night. In the case of entrepreneurship, the typical entrepreneurial profile is believed to be a white guy, in his 20s coding in his dorm room. Lest we forget, data shows this is an outlier. Mark Zuckerburg helped break that mold and make a billion dollar exit accessible to anyone regardless of age. It only takes a few women with billion dollar exits to change perceptions.
- Seek Out Diverse Mentors: Every day I see an inspiring and diverse group of mentors, investors, and employees working to diversify the ranks of successful entrepreneurs. The key thread among this group is diversity. Females mentor males. Males mentor females. Young mentor old. Seeking out mentors of all backgrounds, races and ages helps provide a broad perspective as you grow your company. Everyone often has a different but valuable perspective.
- Pay it Forward: The Paypal mafia exists because a small group of people achieved great success. Now the Paypal mafia invests and mentors a number of aspiring entrepreneurs. This group is just one example of paying it forward. However, don’t wait until you are successful to help. No matter what stage you are at as a company, you can always pay it forward. You never know how helping someone else out can help you long-term.
- Get Over It: I do not want to dismiss the broader issue of underrepresentation of women in technology. However, an entrepreneur’s job is to succeed in the face of doubt and adversity. Some days I feel frustrated with my plight as a female entrepreneur. When it happens, I remind myself — I can help change the status quo. Instead of dwelling on what’s fair and what’s not, I choose to persevere and drive my company towards the1 billion exit. Overcoming discrimination of female entrepreneurs is only one of many obstacles I have to overcome to build a successful company.
So, how can we change the women in tech dialogue? We can succeed and grow our companies. We can help each other — men and women alike — as we’re all in this together. We can fund the next generation of best ideas not genders. We’ll get there because as women AND entrepreneurs we are trained not to accept no for an answer.