At first, I didn’t say anything. I just stared forward with a puzzled look. I never saw myself needing to be supported by a man in order to sustain my entrepreneurial fervor or build investor relationships. I saw no reason to be separated from the male gender or for anyone to suggest bringing a man to support my professional endeavor.
When I thought about what I’d been told to do, I looked at the person making the recommendation and said, “I’ve never felt less because I was a female. And having a man by my side has never made me felt more powerful, either.”
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I know the person advising me to take a man to the meeting didn’t do it for the wrong reasons – he just was relaying what had to be done in order to compete in the current business environment, which unfortunately still has an uneven gender balance.
For the minority of women in business, venture capital and technology it’s an issue that’s been percolating for years. Surely not a secret anymore, many female advocacy groups have been created to bring equality to the business landscape and erase women’s feelings of being the minority.
With the recent study from the Lean In Organization and the McKinsey group, we find women are less likely to advance in their roles — men have a 15 percent greater likelihood of advancing to a new role compared to a woman at the same level.
Even with the vast improvements the industry has made, as a female entrepreneur, I can say that we’re going about it in the wrong way.
Take a look at the lawsuit against Chic CEO Stephanie Burns for male discrimination. Men’s rights activists are suing the company for discrimination against men since they weren’t allowed entrance to an event that was for women only.
Chic, providing practical business advice to women via free online materials, didn’t intend to create a business that excluded men. The company aimed to bring empowerment to women and show how the two genders can work in concert.
Seeing lawsuits like these show the need for an industrywide balance. Instead of suing each other, we need to work together. Court cases establish precedent, and that’s great, but the industry won’t benefit from lawsuits — only the recipients will be paid settlements.
We need true gender balance and support across the community. Right now, we’re unevenly split. So how can women even the playing field when it comes to getting promoted, being told to show up to a meeting with a man?
Women need to start off by taking a proactive role in heeding such a suggestion. When women are confronted with this issue, they need to:
Understand their value
Women in business, technology and venture capital need to understand their value. Women are creating powerful networks across the various regions of the U.S. Work together in a transparent manner with men and women alike. The networks I see around me wouldn’t be what they are if it weren’t for men and women working together to understand each other.
Investors like Dave McClure, Parker Thompson, Marvin Liao and Leslie Alexander have always respected my professional endeavors because I did first. Believing in yourself and your mission will benefit you in the long run. Your self-perception is the most powerful.
Rely on their resources
Participate in industry education and mentorship opportunities through organizations like Women VC or Women in Technology. Reach out to female entrepreneurs and business owners near you — connect with them and ask them questions about how they’ve overcome gender discrimination in the industry. Having a mentor and sounding board will only help balance perceptions across the industry and amongst genders.
Attend industry events and be part of the balance
Interact with male counterparts and don’t perpetuate industrywide stigmas. Work through the difficult situations and maintain a positive mindset. Don’t waltz around with a chip on your shoulder — show that you’re your own advocate and that you’re smart, enthusiastic and capable of doing just as good of a job as anyone else. If men pick on women and women pick on men, we’re just prolonging the problem.
A Harvard Business Review study found that women recognize the subtle and pervasive effects of second-generation bias. They feel empowered, not victimized, because they can take action to counter those effects. Often times, women’s lacking numbers in leadership are generalized because they’re afraid to ask for something or that they’re not nice enough. And when it comes down to it, this isn’t a matter of traditional gender roles.
Women are qualified leaders but have a history of being overlooked. Women can negotiate for pay that fits their lifestyle and performance standards. Women need to stand tall, both as an individual female and member of the industry.
The best way to stand out is to be confident in your abilities, balance the playing field with your knowledge and be your own advocate. You have the power to say no if anyone suggests you bring a man to a meeting. I did.