My company is more likely to be a success because of me. No, really. It's true. Statistics don't lie. According to the hard numbers--as presented in a new study by researchers at Dow Jones VentureSource ("Women at the Wheel: Do Female Executives Drive Start-Up Success?") -- companies with one or more women executives have a greater chance of succeeding than those without. As a woman CEO, I like having a stat like that up my sleeve, especially when I'm talking to investors.
But as lovely as it is for us women to have some rosy numbers in our corner, they don't tell much of a story. As CEO -- female or not -- of my company, I'm more interested in the why, and I have the feeling investors are too.
What do women bring to the table that makes their companies more likely to thrive? Is it just about women, or particular kinds of women? Are women a sign of something bigger at work in a company's culture? Clearly, it's about more than propping up some warm female bodies in the C-suite.
The researchers at Dow Jones VentureSource weren't game to venture into that very subjective territory, but I think I have a pretty good idea why we women are so important to -- and linked to -- start-up success.
We're good at thinking about other people.
Okay, I hate to stereotype my own gender here, and obviously there are exceptions, but in general, women are more sensitive to the needs of others. That likely explains why so many of the senior women leaders in the Dow Jones study were in external-focused roles like sales and marketing. It also means that they bring a much-needed awareness of how a company's products and/or services will connect with people in the real world. From their senior roles, they're in a position to shape not only messaging, but also to create products and offer services that are more relevant and useful to their target audience. It's hard to create something that people really need. It's just as hard to make people understand they need it. You can create the best app/software/solution in the world, but if your customer doesn't understand what's in it for them, they're not going to buy it.
We're collaborative and community-oriented.
Rock star, boy wonder, tech wunderkind. For some reason, this behavior is indulged in lots of tech founders. But investors get tired of it pretty quickly. Guess who gets tired of it even more quickly? Women. We want to be surrounded by smart people who make our lives easier, not children who need constant care and feeding. Women know that being the smartest person in the room isn't about proving yourself the smartest person in the room. It's about being smart enough to surround yourself with other smart -- and ideally even smarter -- people, who will make your life easier and your company better. We women want to make smart hires, build lasting, cohesive teams, and nurture the best talent. No wonder we have a hand in start-up success.
We're the outward symbols of a healthy internal culture.
Ladies, sometimes it's not about us. Much as I'd like for women to take all the credit for strong companies, it's more complicated than that. Often, a company with successful women leaders is one in which different voices and perspectives are valued -- and that's as much a credit to the men on the team as it is to the women. Sure, I've worked with some men who can't stand to be challenged, lead by bullying, and don't like anyone who doesn't fit the old boys' model. But more frequently, I've worked with men who respect and appreciate a diversity of opinions, and who want women as part of their companies to create a culture that's more like our culture as a whole. Look at Facebook: The company might have a more male-dominated culture (apparently there aren't binders full of women engineers), but who are two of Mark Zuckerberg's most-valued colleagues? His sister and Sheryl Sandberg. Need I say more?
I wish the secret to a successful start-up were as simple as "Just add women." It's not. I know from experience. Success comes from great idea, hard work, great people, more hard work, more great ideas, and a little -- or a lot -- of luck. But it's nice to know that we women have a little something to do with it, and that there's good reason to put tired old ideas of what a start-up is "supposed" to look like to bed. But don't worry, we'll help tuck them in... alongside boy wonder... and then get down to the business of running successful companies.
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