My company, Vastari, is growing. We are a women-led online service that acts as a conduit for various exhibition collaborators to connect more efficiently. Our organization has been facilitating more transactions than ever before: more museums log in every month and more collectors are trusting us with information about their collections. We even facilitated exhibitions at shopping malls, casinos, and a cinema in 2018.
And despite all of that success, I am still constantly worried about our growth and whether it will be sustainable. There is a healthy amount of anxiety with running any burgeoning company. Every move seems important and every decision is critical; it's almost always make-or-break. Above and beyond the average responsibilities of running a company, we are also incredibly passionate about delivering a return for our clients, our partners and our investors… It is already a lot to deliver.
But there is something else coming over me the last few months, and I am wondering if this is just me being paranoid or if there may be an element of truth to it. Just writing this down feels like giving into paranoia, rather than soldiering on. I just feel this immense need to speak up.
What I am paranoid about, at the moment, is whether our growing company is getting stereotyped out of further growth. I started writing this article in late 2018, after a particular meeting made me think that we were being kept out of the loop of critical conversations within our industry.
I have decided to finish writing this piece and publish it officially, because of a recent article about the British VC scene that confirmed my suspicions. This article revealed that for every pound invested in venture capital last year only a single pence went to entirely women-led startups. 10 pence went to mixed gender groups, while the remaining 89 pence went to all-male startups. Not only are women given less money, but they are also afforded fewer opportunities; 61% of funds did not consider any all-female teams at investment committee meetings.
With women-led VCs being so few and far between, it's no wonder we are all getting put into a box. The box of businesses unlikely to scale, that will likely remain a certain size forever, or that will never reach unicorn status. None of us are being pushed to achieve the full potential of our businesses, and it is simply because there was no precedent for VCs (although it's starting to change).
Vastari is preparing for a big investment round later this year to drive growth in our current work with contracts, data science and third-party referrals. It is a really exciting proposition, and I can see what a valuable resource we have been building for years to come. But I constantly feel like I might need some men in the meeting room for people to take us seriously. Should we be inviting our male advisory-board member for things to progress more effectively? I often wonder if people would think differently about a proposal I put forward if we were two male co-founders.
And yet all of this only makes me more determined to succeed. I am not paranoid; the numbers prove that the odds are, in fact, stacked against us. There are definitely greater barriers to growth we face compared to a team of male co-founders. But I am truly confident that our data will guide the way.
We have the numbers to prove how big our addressable market is and how our growth methodology (ethical, moral and democratic) has been effective. We have an incredibly supportive group of (male and female) investors who are there to help us battle our way to success. Female-led businesses may be fighting an uphill battle, but being a part of the 1% that has attracted investment does feel pretty damn special.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.