After attending Jessica Livingston's Y-Combinator's Female Founders Conference on March 1st in Silicon Valley, I left feeling elated at all the opportunities, both personally and financially, that being my own boss could bring. This feeling lingered for many days after the conference; mainly due to the high quality of female entrepreneurs I met at the conference. Interestingly, one of the main messages sent by the multitude of speakers was that female founders are at a disadvantage and more judgments are made against women since most investors are older men. Statistically this is true. According to a FastCompany article, "Women-led companies have received only 7 percent of all venture capital funding in the United States." In addition, experiments conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and MIT's Sloan School showed that people overwhelmingly felt more affinity toward a male voice than a female voice during investment pitch presentations even though the content for both was exactly the same. So, okay, gender bias has been confirmed. Now what?
With the booming startup culture popping up throughout the country, more focus has been placed again on women in leadership -- specifically in the tech field. As much as I enjoyed reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, witnessing a growing presence of female founders, and seeing an increasing focus on female-oriented startups such as Portfolia, I still question why more powerful female executives in the tech industry are not more visible and vocal about building a strong network of resources and pipeline for women in tech. Where are the female versions of Jason Calacanis and Tony Hsieh who are active funders of and advisers to startups? Three powerful individuals immediately come to mind who could easily show solidarity and strength by being visible faces for this network are Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and Andrea Jung. Sheryl Sandberg is is the COO of Facebook and currently one of the most vocal executives regarding gender inequality in the workplace. Marissa Mayer is Yahoo!'s CEO. Andrea Jung sits on the board of Apple Inc. as the only female board member.
Explanations such as there are not enough women in tech to make a difference try to explain away the problem, but they still don't justify why the women who are in power aren't more active in building this pipeline for future leaders. Cooperation leads to solidarity and solidarity leads to strength and power. Power is what will command respect. Otherwise one more good-intentioned organization dedicated to women's interests will be brushed aside as yet another "cute" project. Cute does not equate to respect; unless you're the five-decade-old Sanrio Corp. that launched Hello Kitty into a world-wide phenomenon with a 2013 kitty retail sale of $1.08 billion.
I support Sheryl Sandberg's "Ban Bossy" campaign and Jessica Livingston's dedication to female founders. Their dedication is necessary in bringing attention to what seems like an antiquated problem: gender inequality in the workplace. However, folks who are not affected by this issue can be quite vocal about expressing their annoyance that women get to have women-only events and organizations. I know I don't want to feel shamed about this issue, but shame inherently stems from feeling less than worthy. The question now becomes, how do we, as women, actively empower one another so we can build our own in-crowd?