A quick glance at today’s headlines shows that a cultural shift is taking place. Women are breaking their silence around issues like sexual assault and harassment, unfair treatment at work, and all the weird things that happen when they just try to go on dates. Most of us are hoping this will lead to real change, and at some point, it likely will.
But in the meantime, certain problems seem stuck in the mud. According to an article in Fortune, a study conducted by venture capital database PitchBook found that in 2017, all-female founding teams in the startup world received just 2.2 percent of the total amount of venture capital given to new companies by VC firms. In dollar terms, that was $1.9 billion of a total of $85 billion invested altogether. The remaining 19 percent was distributed in part to mixed-gender teams, and in part to teams whose gender was indeterminable by the researchers.
The article goes on to report that when it comes to the number of actual deals as opposed to the number of dollars, female-founded companies received just 4.4 percent overall; that’s 368 deals compared to male-founded companies’ 5,588. Finally, the amount of money offered to women was stunningly low compared to the amount of money offered to men: “The average deal size for a woman-led company in 2017 was just over $5 million,” notes Fortune. “For a man-led company, that number is a little less than $12 million.”
Theories abound as to why, even with so much awareness and conversation surrounding the subject, women in tech are still fighting for equality. To get some opinions, we turned to the writings of several influential women working in the tech ecosystem. Here’s what they had to say:
Bonding Outside Work Is Valuable Networking
Female Founder Office Hours is a newly launched venture from dozens of women working in VC. Their aim is straightforward; provide female founders with face-time and advice, and simply get in the same room together. In their first blog post, VC and FFOH founder Aileen Lee writes about when she realized just how important that after-hours “bonding time” was — and that women were being left out of it.
“For many years I thought it wasn’t a big deal that peers, partners, and entrepreneurs were bonding and comparing notes outside the office by going to games together, grabbing drinks, having dinners, and going on fun trips without inviting any women. But what I didn’t realize is this informal support network was very helpful behind the scenes. The extra time together built trust to share confidential work insights, investment strategies, and scoop about ‘hot deals’. Trust and information flow matter. … For a long time women, including myself, have missed out on the advantages of being part of a network.”
Imposter Syndrome Runs Deep
Everyone is at risk for imposter syndrome — that feeling that you’re totally unqualified to do what you’re doing, and that someone is going to figure you out any minute now — but women seem especially prone to it. This is largely because there are so few people who look like us at the tops of many of our fields; if you’re the only woman sitting at the boardroom table, it’s harder to feel like you fit in. In a short essay for the Women in Technology blog, IT entrepreneur Rafi Soule writes about how having female mentors helped her to fight those feelings:
“While my mentors helped me piece together my awesome future — from discussing the quickest way to bring my existence into focus and give my life a purpose – I was also helping them see their value as mentors. I might feel like an impostor when I am writing my life’s mission statement (as one of them has taught me to write it down, and write it down, again and again) or talking at conferences and network events, but my mentors never saw me that way. … Working with each one of them one-on-one allows me to put my knowledge to good use and take the focus away from what’s not working. They told me: ‘You are no impostor, and being a protégé will soon prove that to you.’”
Girls Are Discouraged at Young Ages — But That Can Change
In a recent article for HuffPost, Saqi Mehta, the co-founder of ReigningIt (https://medium.com/@ReigningIt), writes about hearing from girls who are interested in coding and STEM but don’t have the same levels of confidence as boys. That can be attributed to their socialization, or to the fact that they’re not encouraged to pursue STEM professions in the same way. But that can — and will! — change. Mehta writes:
“So many young girls start off strong in school with math and science, with the same level of confidence as boys, but by 4th grade something changes and girls feel … that they are not good enough or that at age 18 they have a lack of experience to be successful. Here is my advice to these women and many others from around the world facing similar challenges:
- Do not look at the periphery or compare yourself with others. Face forward and focus on yourself.
- You are young and just starting your career, and even if not it’s never too late to learn.
- Don’t get overwhelmed trying to understand it all: think of what you like to do as you will excel in that — not what you struggle to learn.
- Talk to others — alumni who have graduated and working in tech. More often than not they will be more than willing to help you. One day you will be in their shoes and and happy to pay it forward.
- Don’t follow the herd — take an internship if you love the culture, mission, and people. No one can dictate your happiness but you.”
So: Keep learning, don’t be afraid of feeling like an imposter once in a while, and go out with like-minded friends. They’re basic lessons, but important to keep in mind when competing — and thriving — on the biggest stages of business and culture. Let’s discuss.
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