I love startups… I love everything about them – from the eccentric dreamers willing to gamble, to the emotionally charged conversations that come from an 11th hour pivot. They are chaotic and crude, often starting in a garage or a dorm room, operating out of a coffee shop, and digging up resources from anyone who shows interest.
I go to parties now, and, as my friends talk about getting married, buying homes or expanding their families, I gush about my latest concept or how Opal Labs is doing – they are my babies. By day, I am the Operations Manager for Opal Labs, a marketing technology company that has recently transcended the gap between a startup and growth-stage business. By night, I work on my own concepts. This is not new. It all began when a colleague and I launched a startup during the last year of my MBA and took it to compete for seed money from venture capitalists. It was then that I got the itch that I have spent the last 2 years scratching… and may never stop.
But how does this relate to feminism? Am I just a technology-focused entrepreneur who happens to be a feminist? Or is there a link between entrepreneurship and feminism? I think we can all agree that technology has empowered people across the globe, bringing opportunity to groups that have traditionally been overlooked or undervalued (children in rural areas, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people of color and women). However, I am not sure that we have taken a hard enough look at what entrepreneurship can offer women, or how it is a powerful tool in shaping the future of business to include women and minorities in a traditionally male-dominated (white) business world.
About a year ago I sat in a room of self-identified feminists discussing whether or not women should be expected to “think like a man” to make it in business. Some argued that businesses should change to include a more balanced approach to supporting women in the workplace by creating space for more heart-forward conversations, providing childcare and flexible hours to allow more women to participate. Others argued, that one has to know the rules of the game that they’re playing, play hard, win, and once at the top – affect positive change for future generations of women. What was interesting, in retrospect, was that not one person in the room made mention of entrepreneurship as a solution.
Consider – women make up 14.2% of senior executives at S&P 500 companies. Imagine what that number would be if women had been among the founders, and how that might have impacted the perceptions of what women can do and/or what opportunities should be given to women. We cannot go back in time, but we can lay the groundwork for great institutions of the future that don’t limit potential based on gender. We can also bring to business well recognized characteristics associated with female leaders such as intuition, empathy, ability to multitask and strength. Leaders like Sheryl Sandberg [Facebook], Marissa Mayer [Yahoo] and Indra Nooyi [PepsiCo] set a new course for women, as well as their respective businesses, by modeling those characteristics on a grand scale.
Women, skilled in business as it exists today (be it at the CEO or individual-contributor level), have the opportunity to act as a great mentor or resource to other women, but they can’t do it all. In actuality, they may not be the individuals appropriately positioned to truly change the face of business values. Values need to be built into a business from the ground up, making those willing to create business a necessary and important tool in affecting change. Women who want something different can, and should, be the change they want to see in the world. The short cut to making a better mouse trap is to build your own.