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!
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.