I have choked back my "why" for too long. Yet moments like last week's announcement of 17 year old Malala Yousafzai receiving the Nobel Peace Prize gave me pause and hope that another reality is possible. This can only happen if others like young Malala have the courage to step forward and speak up.
A recent Businessweek article found that there are fewer women in VC firms than in 1999. Women seem to be disappearing from the ranks of VC investment firms. Based on my experience as a woman-founder building an investment fund, I am not surprised. Socio-culturally, we have a long way to go. Our programming as women and men, whether conscious or unconscious, is deeply rooted. I believe this is changing.
It is also why I rarely bring up the gender issue because it shuts people down -- men and women. I continue moving forward not bringing up the elusive pink elephant in the room and focus on being the best at what my team and I are creating, until some later time when it becomes "appropriate" to talk about. I'm beginning to think that now is that time.
It has been the legacy of women in business to move forward leaving gender, part of who we are, off the table to prove our value based on non-gender. Often that leaves us "un-whole" as we are leaving a part of us behind, and it leaves all that we touch, missing out. I don't want that to be the legacy.
When what sometimes feels like the whole world is telling me that I can't do what I'm doing, my "why" is what keeps me going. Pioneering an investment fund, as women, not necessarily for women, that could influence the greater field of investing, women and girls' own fears and insecurities about investing, and men's own misperceptions or programming about the same is what keeps me going.
The inequalities are great and the deep-seated programming is real, even if they are not malevolently based or consciously intentional. It is just a result of conditioning to an old era of beliefs that is beginning to change.
I liken it to what I call "effemination," a term that I make the analogy to "emasculation." That is, I have many strong, women friends who are married with kids. When their husbands take their kids, I see them nagging their husbands that they aren't doing things "right." The result is that it often "emasculates" their husbands for doing it differently -- not right or wrong.
Recent research has demonstrated the benefits of dads' influence in raising their kids. One study showed that when dads do "women's work" around the house, daughters choose better careers.
I see the same with women in business. We do things differently. Yet because we do, we are often told that we are doing it wrong. As a result, we feel, "effeminated," and unheard, like our way is wrong. However, as with child rearing, it might just be that having a different way of doing business, is actually a good thing for business in today's world. A recent Fast Company article validated that having women in leadership positions directly correlates with success for companies.
So if we know that this is true, why aren't the numbers changing to reflect this? They are, it just takes time.
As women, we have often been socialized to swallow our words and often times even our value. We second guess ourselves and shrink. While this is changing it is still persists. Several recent videos have highlighted these ingrained behaviors, including Upworthy's posting of a poetry slam of a young girl "nailing" this legacy and the Always #likeagirl campaign.
In finance and investing, the trend is similar.
I often see it with women investors -- their limiting beliefs about women's role with investing. Traditionally, women have been more comfortable in leadership roles with education, philanthropy, and social issues. When it comes to their confidence around investing, progress still has to be made.
When I started our fund, I reached out to a couple of business and world leaders to get a quote about the need for more innovations in investing and I received a bunch of no's. One of my contacts, a world leader working in peace and justice, said she didn't feel comfortable providing a quote in the financial area, as it was not an area of her expertise. Which is understandable, yet the underlying meaning struck me as a much larger societal issue. Women and girls don't feel comfortable with their own knowledge in finance.
My heart sank as this felt unacceptable in this day and age. If we are to truly impact social issues, then how can we do so if we don't have understanding or participation in the control of the resources that fund these issues?
Women are often confident in philanthropy, but when it comes to investing, their confidence wavers if they have to demonstrate a return on investment. I see women deferring to their husbands, brothers, fathers, or uncles when making investment decisions. Women will invest in men's companies because other men are investing in them, yet investing in women, in their own women friends, often scares them because they don't feel safe or confident.
I see women investors gain confidence in the investment only when their male counterparts encouraged them that this is a smart investment. I have also seen women investors talk to their male counterparts only to be convinced that their decisions aren't sound or grounded in years of investing experience, leading these women to second guess themselves.
Watching the lack of trust in their own intuition, and lack of power related to investing is what keeps me up at night. It is the "why" I am doing what I am doing: so that more women and girls don't have to overcome the obstacles that many women like myself have and so that women have more confidence in investing and men have more confidence investing in women and girls.
This is the "why" that convinces me that there is no better time than NOW for women and girls in investing. Yet it will require similar courage to that of young Malala speaking up about inequalities in education that men and women together will need to change the paradigm for finance and investing. I say we are ready and the time is indeed NOW.