“Only women, children, and dogs are loved unconditionally. A man is only loved under the condition that he provides something.” — Chris Rock Well, we all know Chris Rock is a good comedian, but women being loved unconditionally? Now that’s a great joke.
“Be aggressive, yet charming. Ask for their money, but don’t sound desperate. Be confident, but not overly confident. Dress professionally, but don’t appear as if you’re trying too hard. Wear lipstick, but avoid the color red. Sound equally as excited about your ideas when they’re mansplained back to you (okay, paraphrase). Let them think it’s their idea. Don’t be intimidating. Don’t be timid. Be passionate, but don’t express too much emotion. Don’t worry, if all else fails, at least they’ll think you’re pretty.”
These are examples of sentiments provided to women when they are looking for logistical advice, but instead are told what the appropriate ratio of being a woman in the workplace is. Women are encouraged to squeeze into boxes that they shouldn't have to, depending on knowing when to “leverage their femininity,” vs. when not to, when to ignore uncalled for behaviors and when they should have just “seen them coming,” and to base it all off of “knowing their audience.” To my readers, the ones who are certain that regardless of their gender they have never said these things themselves, nor heard their friends, family, or colleagues do so; sexism is like a starry night. Just because you can’t always see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t always there. And just because you don’t think you’re part of the problem, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of it. As a business owner raising capital, I have never struggled so immensely with the difficulty of being a woman. I fully acknowledge that if the conditions of my success as a privileged, white woman are so extensive, there are many others with a much longer list. Others that have to work harder, longer, faster, and more conditionally, often while being subject to microaggressions, racism, and additional hurdles. Our privilege isn’t measured by how hard we work, but by how much harder other’s have to work to achieve what we have achieved.
Black women have been the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs for years, and are the most likely to self fund their businesses due to lack of funding. According to Harvard Business Review, in 2019, women-led startups received only 2.8% of Venture Capital funding. This was an all-time high. In 2021, that percentage decreased to 2.3%. Unsurprisingly, only 12% of VC decision makers are female, and most firms still do not have a single female partner (hbr.org). While many are sure that these statistics aren’t a matter of sexism but a mere reflection of strong and realistic economic forecasting, studies show quite the opposite. According to an analysis done by Boston Consulting Group, women led businesses on average bring in higher revenue and deliver twice as much per dollar invested. Women now make up more of the workforce than men, yet men possess 80% of C-suite positions. If my company’s funding journey had a theme song, it would be titled “Now’s the Best Time for Women to Raise Capital!” and the track would just play a flat line. In my personal experience, many firms have become more comfortable supporting female founders with words of encouragement, than they are with capital. It often feels as if women-led businesses are checking a box on a firm’s portfolio, a box that holds room for one green strike and one only. Those who are prioritizing more female led business within their portfolio should use that cognizance as a starting point, not a finishing line.
White women make 80 cents, black women make 63 cents, and hispanic women make only 55 cents per dollar that a white man makes. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take another 267.6 years to close the economic gender gap, meanwhile according to the International Labour Organization, Africa is now the only region in the world where women receive fewer third level degrees than men, and studies show that workplaces where pay is equal are 63% more productive and profitable. Those of us who have the power to change this through investing in women are responsible to do so. Whether it be investing though capital, mentorship, or job opportunity, there’s far more that we can control than we percieve.
The barriers that women are facing right now as they pave their path to success, do not fall short of the pay gap or the inequality that exists in the VC space. Women in every field are faced with road blocks that include sexual harassment and innapropriate misconduct on a consistent basis. They are faced with the decision to risk their safety for their success, to be objectified to reach their objectives, and to ignore inappropriate behavior in order to receive the means to prevent it. For those of you who think to yourself, “not at my job,” I want you to consider this: 3 out of 4 sexual harassment cases go unreported, 95% go unpunished, and 55% of victims recieve retaliation after reporting a claim.
Some of my experiences raising capital have been amongst the most challenging instances of blatant sexism and sexual harassment I’ve faced in my adult life. In more instances than one, an investor who expressed interest in learning about my company, has “mistook” a professional meeting for a date and made romantic advances. Investors from firms have set up meetings only to share that we’re not the right fit for them, but that I’m both attractive and well spoken for a woman, so I should be just fine! Both my female Co-Founder and I have been subject to these circumstances. We are lucky to have both men and women on our advisory board, as investors, and in our personal life who have supported us unconditionally throughout these instances, but should not have had to.
Women and members of the LGBTQI+ community face these issues at much higher rates than others, although, 55% of all employees have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. Studies show that in 2020, 41% of female founders in the technology industry faced sexual harassment compared to just 12% of male founders. Out of the 12% of males affected, about 50% were targets of homophobic sexual harassment. No male tech founders experienced stalking, compared to 11% of females.
One of the most comprehensive issues related to the lack of venture capital invested in women, is the systematic cycle that it contributes to. The cycle of keeping women from having power, a voice, or the ability to fund change. The unfortunate truth is that the large majority of “powerful” individuals in this country are the ones with the most money- the ones who can fund organizations, politicians, and social causes that they believe in or benefit from. When female-led businesses receive less access to resources and support than their male-led counterparts, it stunts the number of females in this country that are able to maintain both wealth and influence. To the allies who think differently, take action differently, speak up on behalf of women, and march alongside us, we appreciate you. To those who have taken the time to read this and will spend time thinking about it, thank you. To the women and non-binary indivudals out there who feel equally subject to these issues, we are no longer the minority in America’s work force. We no longer have to prove ourselves as a demographic deserving of equal opportunities. We are deserving. We are powerful. We will lift eachother up. We will fight for these changes. And most importantly, we’re just getting started.
I’d like to note that many more demographics and communities of people who were not mentioned in this article are additionally subject to disadvantages, disproportionate opportunity, and lack of support and funding. This article was written based on my personal experience and research as a woman, but if you’d like to share your experience with me, please reach out, and I’d love to learn how I can best support you. If you have any questions or interest in discussing, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.