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!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.