This year’s recent Women’s Entrepreneurship Day was celebrated in 144 countries, 65 universities/colleges around the world, and at the United Nations. From reading the supportive Twitter messages and inspiring speeches, one might very well think that the oft-talked about gender gap in entrepreneurship has finally closed.
But then, we took a closer look at the latest figures. A recent report from Inc. and Fast Company highlighted that, not only are typical business building milestones like raising funding or growing the executive team still off balance for women founders, but even worse factors are still at play. More than half of the women surveyed experienced harassment or discrimination in their capacity as founder, though almost none filed any formal complaints.
It’s clear that the work has just begun, and these conversations help shed light on where exactly we should focus. With that in mind, Hypepotamus reached out to a few entrepreneurs growing tech startups across the Southeast to bring to light the challenges they face that aren’t often discussed. The women below represent founders and executives leading companies across a range of industries, in very different stages of funding and company size.
Here are the real challenges they’ve encountered while building their companies.
The hurdles of actually closing the deal
As a woman entrepreneur, one challenge that is often not discussed is closing deals. I recently participated in a small group chat with Kat Cole on the art of deal-making and acquisitions. Particularly in the tech space, I believe we get so caught up in the challenge of female founders raising capital, we don’t spend enough time covering the hurdles in the day-to-day activities of growing our companies, e.g. landing lucrative contracts, especially in the B2B and enterprise space.
— Sevetri Wilson | CEO, ExemptMeNow
Getting a quality term sheet beyond the seed round
There is coaching for getting early funding, which is a great thing. But, we see founders selling out early because of how different it is to raise a Series A or B and it’s a different set of candidates.
One woman-owned “big success” sold early instead of doing a Series A because she couldn’t get decent terms. Now a big company will realize those gains. I know two women CEOs who got moved out so men could go raise the Series A, or right after the (small) Series A, where the investors clearly had the intent of pushing out the woman.
— Louise Wasilewski | CEO, Acivilate
The room just doesn’t look like you
As an immigrant, Latina entrepreneur who was struggling with impostor syndrome, I thought it was just me that felt that way. Thanks to women-centered spaces, I learned how this phenomenon works and how it affects WOC at higher rates. Find a mentor who looks like you, start your own mastermind group, or find an online community with people your background and have similar goals. No matter what you are experiencing, I promise, you are not alone.
— Pamela Barba | CEO, Vamos Ladies
Sometimes when you’re a female CEO, people don’t equate “cute” with “competence” or “pretty” with “powerful” technology. We are judged by our appearance much more than our male counterparts are. So as female entrepreneurs, we must never downplay who we are, but instead walk into every room leading with confidence, sharing our brilliance and vision with authority, and leading with love.
Subtle pressures from other women
I think what’s interesting is that I find some of the female entrepreneur or business groups, who to their credit as I know from first-hand experience do a huge world of good – also sometimes inadvertently stereotype women. They may highlight some of the issues I think we should be stepping away from, to the forefront.
I’ve been to some events where we have been told what shade of lipstick to wear, to avoid tight clothing for investment pitches, or told that those females who succeed in business tend to be those which adopt ‘male traits.’ I had an email from a women’s group today advising on how to deal with holiday stress and part of the advice was ‘assign days to baking’. It was that quiet presumption that I would be baking. I will definitely not be baking – but — as a woman — should I be?!
Obviously the answer is no, but I think this might all be putting a subtle pressure on women about how they ‘should be’ in a role in society. From my perspective, these little things actually work against the core mission of so many of these groups in trying to empower women to feel confident about whoever they are, whatever they look like and however they want to act.
— Georgina Nelson | CEO, TruRating
Bringing your business global
Doing business globally comes to mind. In the U.S., women are respected for their knowledge and acumen, however there are many countries and cultures that aren’t there yet, and I’ve had many experiences abroad where I could tell I wasn’t being taken seriously or respected.
— Kathryn Petralia | Co-founder, CEO, Kabbage
The double standard of emotions
I think an unspoken obstacle is how our natural responses to things are not always rewarded in the workplace. For instance, showing anger is seen as assertive in men and difficult or bitchy in women. Being emotional or crying is seen as weak or, even worse, manipulative. Ironically, it’s been those very inclinations — the ways in which I connect and engage with people, that have been my biggest strengths.
I have shown both aggression and emotion at work. I have been judged negatively for both. A younger version of me tried to adjust…..the older version of me accepts it as part of my make-up. As a leader, I have seen both men and women get angry. I always view it as passion. As a leader, I have had both men and women break down and cry. I always view it as an immense sign of trust and a real and powerful emotion — nothing more and nothing less.
The beauty of working with others is that everyone comes to situations with a different set of experiences, opinions and beliefs. Our gender does play a role as it’s a significant part of our experience and what makes us who we are. Seeing and appreciating those differences, as opposed to judging them or trying to eliminate them, will make for a much more creative, productive and healthy workplace.
— Christy Johnson | CEO, AchieveIt