In the past year, I’ve attended and spoken at some powerful gatherings for women, such as January’s Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley. At that conference, I hosted a roundtable on the subject of how to choose co-founders for a new venture. Our discussions around the table were lively and robust with regard both to how to choose co-founders and with regard to what makes up a great team. When the conversation wandered, it turned to the issues women often face in the word of high tech leadership: career growth, succeeding in the boys’ club, challenges and insights in securing introductions to potential funders, the glass ceiling, sexism and ageism, and wondering where the other women leaders are with whom to connect. It struck me as I engaged with these women from all walks of life that we don’t do enough gatherings of this nature. We need this time together! After years of considering ways that women might rise to more positions of leadership, I’m increasingly of the opinion that our collective path forward and upward isn’t through the locker rooms and bar rooms of the boys, but, rather, through our own space, like we shared around a table that day.
The distinction between what I view as the “boys’ club” of success and the absence of a similar comradery among successful women continues to puzzle me, and it concerns me, too. We have no “locker room,” and we’re less likely to do things like play rounds of golf together or go out for after work drinks. Our lives often remain family and home-centered, no matter how high our position. Men who are successful in business become and remain that way, in part, by the way they keep up their connections socially outside of the office. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this has to be one factor in how male-founded companies are securing markedly more funding than women-founded ones are. There is always an X-factor. With another year of stories bemoaning the state of women in the Valley, I continue to posit that the X-factor is a playing field, golf course, bar, or sports event for which we’re neither represented nor present. Deals just aren’t done in conference rooms anymore. How can we get a stake in a game to which we have such limited access?
Silicon Valley indeed can be awful to women, and we need to continue to fight its unconscious bias in everything from hiring to funding. While we fight those battles, though, we need to work on building some things, too: our own networks, our own confidence, and our own plans to grow an X-factor that is a force with which to reckon. We have to put our heads together to find ways to help each other advance. Absent the cultural shift that I feel needs to happen in which home life is more balanced among men and women, enabling us to avail ourselves of after-work activities in equal measure, we have to take advantage of the opportunities that exist to bring us together. I urge all women, whether just starting out or more seasoned, to seek out women’s conferences, like the upcoming Forbes Women’s Summit or the Wall Street Journal’s Women in Tech events, like the dinner I attended last year. Seek out women’s conferences, meet people, and keep up with them.
Our progress begins with us agreeing that there are factors hindering our advancement and continues with the discussion of “so what now?” When we’re gathered around the table, we can share information on VCs, co-founders seeking new partnerships, boards seeking women, and mentors are available to help us. Nothing replaces what grows from interpersonal exchange with those who really are walking miles in our same shoes. Find your tribe, and grow from there.