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.
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." -Willa Cather
A logical fallacy called bifurcation (yes, it sounds like a disease) is used to make people believe that they can only choose between two extreme choices: love me or leave me, put up or shut up, etc. In relation to my career and my love life, I was once stricken by this crazy malady.
I spent over a decade in and out of love relationships that undermined my career and drained my creative energy along with my finances. The key problem was that I was convinced that I had two options: be a kickass, and powerful professional who scares off any prospective mate or surrender to that deep and profound love such that my ambitions blow away in the wind. For years, my psyche ping-ponged between these two choices like that was the only game in town. But why?
Turns out we women are often programmed into thinking that we can't have love (at least that good, juicy heated kind) and any sort of real career. This is not actually that surprising given the troubled history that America has with women in the workplace. Post WWII, women were supposed to quit their jobs and scurry back home and leave the careers for the returning men. And if you think we've come a long way from making women feel they don't belong in the workplace, consider Alisha Coleman. In 2016, she was fired because her period leaked onto a chair!
But try to keep a good woman down, and well, you can't (Alisha sued her former employer). Given enough information we will always find a way to overcome our situation. As we teach in my practice, Lotus Lantern Healing Arts, we are all our own gurus. The light in the lotus just offers a way to illuminate your path.
So what was I missing so many years ago when I kept struggling between two suboptimal choices? The answer is the understanding that if I wanted to have it all, I had to start living right now as if I could. For me to be with someone who supported me having a fantastic career, I had to believe that that was actually one of my choices and start living that way.
Of course that is easier said than done (like most life lessons). So once I made that realization, here are the three key changes I made (and no they didn't happen all at once):
First, I stopped apologizing. Why the hell do women always feel the need to apologize for everything! (Sorry for swearing! Jk.) In particular, why do we have to feel bad about time away from the homefront? Remember Don Draper stopping off at the bar before heading home? I took a Madman lesson from him and stopped apologizing for my free time and let go of my usual rush to get back. Instead I focused on enjoying the transition, which was often needed to release the stress of work. Whether I was slow-driving listening to my jams and singing at the top of my lungs or stopping off for a pedicure, a little ritual went a long way to making me feel like a real human when I walked through the door.
Second, I let go of perfection in order to be present. I stopped stressing over a work deadline and instead rescheduled it to tend to my love life or postponed a romantic dinner because a juicy work opportunity appeared. In this way, I did not force an unnatural choice or one I did not want but really paid attention to what felt right. Instead of feeling subpar in each realm, I end up getting the most out of my time in both places.
Third (and perhaps most significantly) I began to welcome and expect encouragement from the most significant person in my life. I made it clear to my partner that I wanted insight and not criticism. And since I knew I needed understanding and not saving, I said, "Please help me look at my career woes from a different angle instead of offering me advice." Ultimately, I only accepted partners that truly supported my dreams and didn't let me play small.
Today, some of the most exquisite pleasure I feel comes simply from my partner witnessing me. Having a cohort who really appreciates my struggles, helps me integrate work and life, and enjoys the wins together can be mind-blowing. Likewise, when the shit hits the fan (again, not sorry!), it's really important to have a partner that can hold space for you and help you remember those wins.
It's a constant battle. Our culture still perpetuates the myth by pitting love and career against each other (ever see Fatal Attraction?). Men don't always get this message, but then we don't need to wait for them to get it. All we have to do it start living right now in the way we truly deserve and bring others along with us. When my friends see me and my partner together separately killing it in the career department and fiercely loving each other they say, "Your relationship gives me hope."