Recently, I was asked to participate in an event featuring tech founders and their products. The organizer of the event sent me a draft of their description of me and my company, the key features of my product and the problems it solves. There were some minor grammatical errors but the first thing I noticed is that I was referred to as “he.” The first “he” I thought must simply have been a typo, you know someone typing too fast and zipping by the “s.” As I read on, I saw that, in fact, whoever wrote this, thought I was a man. Of course they did, if I were them I probably would have too because most technology founders are men. I am not talking 70/30 most or even 80/20 most, I mean we are practically Lock ness Monster and Big Foot rare. So of course, somewhere along the way, someone assumed “Michelle” certainly had to be “Michael” because someone named Michelle doesn’t create technology.
I have been thinking for several weeks about writing this but always hesitate because I think I know how it will be perceived by many who aren’t women in tech, and even some who are. I brace myself for the “Suck it up buttercup” comments and the virtual finger wagging suggesting I stop playing the victim. This hesitation is what we do over and over, day in and day out as we wonder only in our minds if it’s harder because we are women. Do our male counterparts have the same responsibilities as we do in addition to starting a technology company? Is it possible to successfully do this as a woman? Where are the other women who have done it that we can look to as examples? So I am going to go ahead and say that I have a strong suspicion it is harder in many ways. I welcome opinions to the contrary from male tech founders who are single dads or who shoulder most of the household duties or have considerable demands of their time outside their entrepreneurial endeavors. Here are my observations:
We have to work harder to be seen as valid leaders in the field of technology. This is a fairly recent observation. It is challenging for either men or women to break into a field that is historically dominated by the other sex. There seem to be more women successful entrepreneurs in fields that people expect women to be experts in like baking, cooking, fashion, make-up, fitness, home décor and baby products for example. When I go looking for successful female founders, this is what I have found. People seem to more readily accept them as experts which in no way makes it easy to start companies in these fields. It is not my intent to minimize the efforts and success of women who have achieved remarkable success in any market, I just think it’s harder when your business is in a male dominated field like technology and even healthcare. It seems there is more skepticism that you, in fact know what you are doing, if it’s in an area that historically women are not seen as experts. I am not saying people are bad or wrong for having this skepticism, I am just saying it makes it harder and I hope we can make it better.
We have more responsibilities outside our business. I will start by saying that my husband works full time, actually more than full time most weeks. He is wholly supportive of my business and the work it takes to make it successful and we share every duty required to manage our household. That means two people working incredibly long hours making sure other things get done like, groceries are bought, bills are paid, bathrooms get cleaned, clothes are washed and the lawn is mowed. I also have two daughters and although one is now off doing her thing at the Naval Academy, they were both adolescents when I started my company and at that time I was a single mom. My observation has been that many of the male technology founders I encounter have a wife who stays at home and manages a great deal of these things and that would make it easier, in my opinion. Heck, if someone managed even one of these things for me, it would make it easier. I am not saying this is always the situation so please re-read before you comment and tell me to impale myself with something rusty (yes, I have been told this). I would say 7 out of 10 male founders I know have a wife who stays home at least part time but more often full time. These founders can stay after the meeting for the happy hour down at the pub to network and bond, they can make that 5:00 pm event because someone is making sure their son or daughter gets to swimming or soccer or violin lessons or is home taking care of their newborn. Someone making sure your home is organized, clean and you have what you need as you head out of the house everyday gives you a tremendous advantage and ability to have more time to spend on building and growing your business. It just makes it easier and I look at other founders who have that, with great envy. It doesn't take away anything from their ingenuity, drive or sacrifice, it just makes it easier for them to get things done.
We have to prove more to get funding. I am all for due diligence and expect would be investors to ask tough questions and request evidence my product has potential for success. I would do the same if I were investing in any company. Even though evidence shows that start-up companies lead by women do better than companies lead by men, it seems we have to show more proof of concept or traction then male counterparts to get funding. I know of male founders who have received very large sums of money with only a concept or prototype blueprint. No revenue, no real proof of concept but they know the right people or inspire the right confidence to get the funding they need to take their product to market and beyond. There is a very real funding gender gap and it is no surprise to women who are out there trying to get money even to grow an already proven business. We realize pretty quickly it isn’t always about our product or traction or market size. There is some unspoken thing we are up against and it can be exhausting and takes a great amount of persistence to overcome. This persistence may even be a factor in why female lead companies are more successful. We don't give up easily and give the terms "nimble" and "pivot" new meaning.
Okay, now I said it. It’s out there and it doesn’t mean I or other women are any less capable or that we want special treatment or that we are whining about anything. It just means once it’s out there we can start to do things to make it better. Successful entrepreneurs who want to help other entrepreneurs can understand some of the challenges that are still experienced more often by women and help them manage those challenges or offer resources to help them. It’s not that female tech entrepreneurs are spending less time on their business, they are just spending less time on themselves and it takes a larger toll on things like relationships, their health and their well-being. While supporters of entrepreneurs can’t hire nannies for them or house keepers or paid caregivers for their aging parents, they can work to level the playing field so that in addition to some of these additional challenges, they aren’t having to work harder for validation and funding. They can recognize any cultural bias and try to see female tech entrepreneurs for what they truly are, inventive, driven individuals who have solved a problem using technology and are every bit as capable as men to be successful leaders of successful, profitable companies. Studies show they may be even more capable.
I am a healthcare professional, technology entrepreneur, wife and mother. I am passionate about improving delivery of healthcare in the United States and around the world by empowering patients and caregivers and giving them the tools they need to take charge of their health. I am currently [...]