I’m a regular reader of Mark Suster’s blog “Both Sides of the Table”. He wrote a post last week on one of my favorite topics “Why Aren’t there More Female Entrepreneurs”
He brings up some interesting points on his women role models and positive experience with women entrepreneurs – so far so good. The problem was that I clicked on this link to an interview that Pemo Theodore did with him on the subject of women entrepreneurs. Talk about feeling punched in the stomach. I suggest readers take a look at the clip for themselves but the main thesis is that women have certain (positive) qualities that make them well suited to be entrepreneurs and managers. For instance he says that women are better bridge builders, are more organized and more efficient in their work.
What is the issue – after all these are good qualities? The issue is that these are stereotypes, albeit positive ones. Stereotypes are dangerous and inhibit progress. They allow people to hide behind generalizations to justify their decisions. As soon as one says “women typically are good at xyz” and xyz are the stereotypical positive female traits, there is the likelihood of the stereotypical negative traits being assumed by the listener. For instance those same efficient women bridge builders are not aggressive enough, unlikely to be able to raise capital, bad at numbers, etc. In fact these negative stereotypes later come out in the interview, for instance Suster said that women “need to learn to be more assertive in business development” and often stay home with their children during the prime entrepreneurial time in their life.
We will truly have equal opportunity for women entrepreneurs and, I’m convinced, many many more of them, when they are evaluated individually purely on their skills and ideas. What would a world without prejudice look like? Where we don’t apply group generalizations to someone just because they demographically happen to be a member of that group. Not all women are either good bridge-builders or bad negotiators. Not all men are good negotiators or bad people managers. Frankly, success is where all of this isn’t a big topic – where investors have invested in enough women-led companies where there are the normalized number of successes and failures so that the focus is on the opportunity. Where investors have worked with so many women who have successfully navigated their career through the child-bearing years that they have confidence it can be done. Where they can hire a woman executive without wondering “can I fire her”…that there are not so few that the firing would be questioned as chauvinism. Where it is not “safer” to hire a man.
Since we’re obviously not there yet – what (or who) will be the catalyst? Should there be a “Rooney Rule” (see below) to try to get more consideration of women entrepreneurs? I don’t favor this just as I don’t favor any sort of quota but continuing the football analogy I hope there are some renegades out there that will be among the early ones, like Al Davis to make bold counterculture moves and be rewarded. The Raiders were the first franchise in the modern era to have a Latino head coach (Tom Flores), a black head coach (Art Shell) and a female chief executive (Amy Trask). Sigma and DFJ gave me the opportunity. The ball is in our hands and we plan to….what else…Just Win Baby.
The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation opportunities. The rule is named for Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chairman of the league’s diversity committee, due to the Steelers’ long history of giving African Americans opportunities to serve in team leadership roles.
Great post. I guess the good news is that more and more people are questioning why there aren’t more female entrepreneurs. I completely agree with you that stereotyping is bad and is likely a big contributing factor. To debunk the stereotypes, it’s going to take more women like you, Meg Whitman, Donna Dubinsky, et al, to do what you do, which is to make money through risk, innovation and initiative outside the obvious lines of business (fashion, cosmetics, etc). I also believe that people of the Millennial generation don’t hold with these same stereotypes which will naturally yield more gender-agnostic entrepreneurs.
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