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Time to End the Good Ole Boy Network (Part II)

This is the second of a two-part series addressing the strength of having female executives either owning or in senior positions within the company.  This two-part series is presented by a guest blogger –  Deborah A. Bussière. Deborah self-identifies as a Corporate Refugee currently advising startups after a very successful career that included senior level positions at Ernst & Young, UBS, and Morgan Stanley.  Having seen what it takes to rise within the most competitive corporate environments, Deborah shares some of her thoughts on the impact and competitive strengths companies may leverage by maximizing the opportunities to broaden the senior ranks beyond the “old boys club” commonly found in Corporate America.  You can hear Deborah speak and meet her at an upcoming “fireside chat” with Beth Comostck at Startup Grind Greenwich on May 19th  (#sgwomen). Tickets can be purchased here.   Additionally, there will be a live stream available here:

Deborah A Bussiere shares the secrets of harnessing the power of women in leadership.

Deborah A Bussiere shares the secrets of harnessing the power of women in leadership.

Deborah recently moderated a session with Female Founders about the challenges women have in leadership positions.  This blog shares some of the insights derived from that session. 

The Bad News First:

Media perception of women in general is more harsh than that of men.  In truth, much of that has  ZERO to do with company performance (such as age, beauty, clothing, haircuts, etc…). And, since there are so few women in leadership roles, their results – whether positive or negative – are magnified relative to their male counterparts.

It’s no secret that society has expectations of traditional male and female behaviors. And when gender expectations don’t align with leadership expectations, we see more negative judgments about women leaders. Simple (and unfair) as that.

What’s crazy is this:

  • Less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs in the US are women
  • 22% of senior managers are women
  • While 47% of the US workforce is female
  • Consider this…women’s earnings decrease by 5% to 6% with the birth of every child, while men’s earnings increase by as much
  • And…perhaps even more shockingly, the World Economic Forum estimates it will be 80 (more) years until women see gender parity

When will businesses and investors wake up and take action?

  • Women entrepreneurs are a powerful force in the US economy…
  • According to a report by EY, 46% of privately held firms in the US are at least ½ owned by women
  • And these companies represent approximately 16 MILLION jobs!

And yet, only 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses while the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013.

Female Founders: what it takes to be successful

Last week I moderated a NYC panel of 10 highly influential Female Founders, together they founded 17 businesses. The event was sponsored by Cyrus Innovation, headed by Tami Reiss. Tami recently put a stake in the ground for her firm to be the #1 dev shop for Female Founders.

And she’s not kidding around. It was a mere 3 weeks to the day of the actual event that she had the initial idea to host 10 Female Founders for a dialog about “What Every Female Founder Should Know.” Amazing what can happen in such a short amount of time. Identifying, inviting and confirming the Female Founders turned out to be easier than expected. And, no wonder – seems New York is long on people (i.e., both men and women) who want to help women succeed. More than 100 people gathered at the New York Times Building for our discussion.

Not surprisingly, several of the key things these Female Founders shared applied to all entrepreneurs across the board, regardless of gender:

  • Be passionate and relentless about your idea
  • Test quickly and launch; stop sweating the details!

But the following words of advice were geared specifically to Female Founders:

  • Think of yourself as a FOUNDER (gender-neutral) who is building a great business
    • Enough said.
    • Being an entrepreneur is the “toughest job you’ll ever love”, so be prepared to ask for support
      • Women are the consummate multi-taskers. We think we need to “do it all.” As a result, very few of us ask for help because we don’t want to burden others with what we believe are “our responsibilities.”  These Female Founders relayed story after story of friends and others who were more than willing to help them out (especially in the early days of their startups) – whether it was putting them in touch with critical people, beta testing or even licking envelopes. All you gotta do is ask.
      • Take more risks!
        • So you’ve never been on TV before but CNN calls and wants your opinion in 30 minutes on an issue remotely related to your startup. You’re flattered, you panic and then ultimately you decline because you feel you’re “not qualified”. Says who??? Women, more so than men, tend to be big planners. We want everything to be 100% perfect before hitting “go” (we think, “how can I possibly give a perfect answer with less than 30 minutes to plan?”). When we take a pass on opportunities like this, we sabotage our own efforts. Instead, we need to just say “yes.”  Our 80% answer is way more than good enough – and chances are it’s probably closer to 92% accurate anyway.
        • Don’t be afraid of your tech team
          • You don’t speak “tech.” You don’t write code. So you’ve hired a crackerjack team of developers instead. Great! Just don’t let them intimidate you when they tell you it will take 15 hours to fix a problem you know needs to get fixed in less than 5. Work with them; explain what you want the outcome to be and then ask them, in turn, to explain in plain English what it will take to solve it. Brainstorm together, even. And, if all else fails, you can always take a “Programming for non-programmers” course to learn some of their language…

Women entrepreneurs are on a roll… or are they?

According to last week’s Business Insider article, Kevin O’Leary of ‘Shark Tank’ invests in 27 companies (55% have Female Founders) and says the only ones making money this year have female CEOs at the helm. And at the same time, the World Economic Forum estimates it will be 80 (more) years until women reach gender parity. I’m finding it very hard to reconcile these two facts.

Taking action

So, where does that leave us?

Here’s what our wise Female Founders suggested that each of us do RIGHT NOW to #changetheratio and make sure women achieve gender parity before the year 2095 (80 years from now):

  • Women need to speak up and speak out (see “take more risks”, above)
  • Women need to be more proactive at networking
  • We all need to hire the best PERSON for the job and back the best ideas, regardless of gender
  • We all need to be aware of the subtle biases we bring to the table and work hard to overcome them
  • We all need to stop making sweeping generalizations regardless of gender
  • We all need to start treating child care as a FAMILY issue
    • For Mother’s Day, my nearly 21-year old son sent me the John Oliver YouTube video describing how the US and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries that still have no nationwide paid maternity leave policies. He couldn’t believe it.
    • And consider this: a woman’s earnings decrease by 5% to 6% with the birth of every child, while a man’s earnings increase by as much.

Disrupting the gender dialog

I said it last week and I’ll say it again: I believe it is time to DISRUPT the gender dialog. We need to SHIFT the conversation from women talking at men and with other women to PEOPLE talking to and about other PEOPLE in hopes of significantly reducing or even eliminating gender disparity. To be successful, I firmly believe we need more men talking about the issue and – more importantly – helping to solve it. (A shout-out this week to both Mr. Wonderful and to my wonderful son.)

David Zahn