We're constantly led to believe that men and women are more equal than they've ever been, especially in the workplace. But the stark reality is that many female founders are facing a tricky professional situation filled with sexual advances and discrimination as I have come to find out for myself. Why shouldn't women be able to work with male investors without this unnecessary attention?
Even though there have been improvements in the funding that female founders receive, there's still a long way to go. Recent studies demonstrated that in 2015, of those founders seeking money, 29% were women, which was a 16% decrease on the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of male founders seeking funding increased by 14%.
Sometimes Female Founders Are Subject to the Wrong Type of Interest in Investor Meetings
Many women are brought up with the misconception that neither math nor finance is a natural career path. But the truth is, often times it is women who manage family budgets. Women have what it takes to control a balance sheet within a company, guiding a fledgling business to success. However, there's something else that's holding them back; financial backing from male investors.
Young female entrepreneurs often want to embrace their feminine sides as they take leadership roles but this often has negative connotations when it comes to investor meetings. Some male investors may feign interest in a business idea but things quickly turn sour as the male investor starts to make non-business related advances. Why? Because these female founders will do whatever it takes to get them on board, right? Wrong!
Every female entrepreneur that I have spoken to about this has an "investor horror story", myself included. But the issue here is that we are so afraid to talk to others about them or share these anecdotes because we are led to believe that somehow it is our fault when a male investor crosses the line. Well it is not!
One woman who anonymously shared her story with Forbes said that she resorted to wearing a gold band on her wedding finger to thwart sexual advances. She claims it might be awkward if anyone asks about her “spouse" but this awkwardness would be far less egregiousness than having to side step an uncomfortable proposition.
I, of course, thought it was a brilliant way to repel any interest so I took her advice and started wearing a "fake" engagement ring to some of these meetings. To my surprise, even that didn't stop some of the prospective investors to ask me out for a drink, or talk about unrelated matters to my business.
One thing's for sure, women shouldn't be made to feel like they are responsible for a way the investor is disrespecting them. They shouldn't be ashamed of standing up for their business and calling out the investors who dare to take advantage of the situation to propose other non-business matters. This isn't a game of power. We work just as hard (if not harder) as our male counterparts and we shouldn't be afraid to take a stand when we aren't taken seriously because some men can't see beyond the physical appearance. We can't forget that we are offering investors opportunities to be part of possibly the next big thing and by crossing the line, they're the ones at loss, not us! But with so many young women going through situations like this and with no one talking about it, they're often discouraged from pursuing their passions, which is a huge barrier in acquiring their capital raise.
Even though many believe that the number of female founders and angels will continue to rise (in the U.S., $14 trillion or 51% of personal wealth is controlled by women, and it is anticipated to rise to $22 trillion by 2020), this shouldn't mean that women have to rely on each other to get ahead and to avoid the seedy advances made by some male angels.
Attracting Male Investors in the Right Way
The economy needs female founders. It is our job as a society to eradicate the narrow-minded belief that women are open to romantic advances when they're trying to get their businesses off the ground. Women make great business leaders and with the right male angel, a formidable partnership could be established – but the foundations of this need to be built on respect. We shouldn't have to dress like men in order to be treated or perceived as visionaries or business savvy. An important step towards changing this narrative is communication and transparency. The truth is women are still not given the benefit of the doubt, across the investor table, for being brilliant business leaders and starting multi-billion-dollar companies. I wasn't aware of that until I stepped into this game and experienced it for myself. Unfortunately, in some male investors' eyes we are still just girls with a Powerpoint and a dream. I'm a big believer in inclusion and not solving an issue by avoiding it. We can't just stop seeking male investors all around, because there are some amazing angels I have met that have been extremely supportive and respectful. What we need is for leaders in this industry to call and lift up women as visionaries. And just as Jennifer Hyman would say, "if every "big" investor recognized one to five female founders and CEOs with a set of positive and promising adjectives, maybe we would be living in a completely different world."
What is the cause of this decline and how do females escape gender disparities?
Without respect, it's not just these exceptional female entrepreneurs who are losing out but investors too. There are many reputable investors out there, willing to invest the right time, money and respect into female founders. But with the negative image portrayed of male investors thanks to a handful of disrespectful ones, many may be reluctant to step forward to provide female founders with the backing they deserve.
It is our job to provide both female founders and male investors with the right support network, allowing for open communication and a deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes. This will help to eradicate one of the biggest stumbling blocks for women with ambition – men who have nothing more than a cheap grope in mind when they attend a female investor meeting.
I know many women have stories to share in regards to their experiences with prospective investors. I personally would love to open up a conversation around this and hearing about other women's take on this. Let's talk!
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.