I was in Berlin a while ago, where I met one of Germany's most successful female business executives. She is 42, single and excels in her line of work. It was recommended by a friend that she join an online dating site if she wanted to find a suitable partner.
She proceeded to a site and meticulously answered all the questions that the site required such as age, job, salary level, and uploaded a photo and yes, she is very good looking.
The days went by, and she received less than a handful of responses in four weeks! She found the situation peculiar and decided to test whether the few responses had anything to do with her job/profile. She decided to change the text of her profile. Instead of presenting herself as an executive of a corporation, she wrote that she was a teacher and dramatically reduced her salary level by up to 1/10 of her actual salary. She did not change her profile image, and in one day she received more than 40 responses from potential suitors.
What does this say about women, power, and men?
An American study dated back in 2006 shows that many men do not want to spend their lives in a competitive relationship. Therefore, you can say that it is an emotional, not a rational, decision when men choose not to be with a more successful woman. So perhaps, it may have been her job that scared men off?
According to many men, successful women are charismatic, and they love to be around them, but they do not want these types of women to be their wives. Therefore, do men prefer passive women with bird brains? This same study indicates that “female intelligence might be threatening for heterosexual men sizing up a prospective partner." A while ago, I was fortunate to be invited to a Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in England. Almost 200 women attended the dinner—women whom you would most likely read about in Time and Fortune magazines. An unequaled wealth of knowledge and inspiration filled the room that evening.
Many of these women had so much edge, competence, and capital that they didn't feel as though they needed men. Let me make it clear that many were in a relationship with a man, but they sure didn't “need" one. This had me thinking have successful women realized that men are backing out, and as a result, decided to move forward with their success along? If so, then, have successful women decided to move forward without men?
The current economic empowerment of women across the world is one of the most incredible revolutions of the past 50 to 60 years. It is extraordinary because of the level of change it has caused in the traditional household: millions of people who were once reliant on men have taken control of their own economic fates.
As a result, many women are now claiming that “they don't need/want men." The number of single women turning to sperm donors to conceive a baby has risen. About 172,000 women per year in the United States use sperm in artificial insemination, a procedure with approximately a 38 percent success rate to have children, without men. What does it mean for a society when men and women no longer need one another to have children? Many critics say this trend could pose a threat to our society and welfare system. So, is it the men who choose to do without the women? Or is it the women who decide to do without the men?
The other day, I was in Sweden with one of the very few female top executives of big listed corporations. She is British, beautiful and brilliant. She is also married and a mother of twins. We sat there with a glass of wine and took a rest after a hectic day. We had, among other things, spent the evening in the company of some of Sweden's most progressive business women. We were wondering at the fact that although many were married, many more were single or divorced. But what they all did have in common was that they were, successful, intelligent and beautiful. I decided to figure out the reason for this.
During the last eight weeks, I have gathered material from and conducted short interviews with women from various places in Europe. Which later inspired my book "Busy Moms." I held a meeting with one of the most talented female executives in Denmark's financial sector. She was the last participant in my round of interviews. So here is my conclusion, which I hope you will look into more deeply.
1. Eight out of ten business women say men do not come on to them. Men like to be friends with them but do not see them as potential partners.
2. Four out of ten women I spoke to, believed that the reason is that men get scared off when they hear about their jobs and responsibilities. In other words, men immediately lose their interest when they hear about their success.
3. In Europe, many of these women have chosen not to have a large family because figures show that the more children women have, the lower the status they have in the job market.
4. One out of five I spoke to say they have decided to do without a family/children to focus on their careers.
Are women progressing at a faster rate than men?
In the olden days, the man provided for his family, while the woman's role was to stay at home and take care of the kids. Most often, the woman did not receive any further education aside from basic school, and therefore, there was no basis for women to enter the job market. Fortunately, this has changed over time. If the current trends continue, the traditional family structure will turn upside down, and the typical family will look quite different from what we are used to seeing.
Today, more girls than boys take further education. If this development continues, the man in the family will be far less successful, while the woman will hold more managerial positions or become lawyers, doctors, and business owners. And what consequences will that have on our family structures and the future job market?
What do you think is the reason for these trends? Do you think that the fact that more and more women have higher education than men will lead to a real problem in your country? Do you have some experiences you would like to share? Are men weak? Are women foolish for focusing so much on their careers? Or is the reason something completely different? Regardless, this has become an issue worth having a debate over.
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.