Turning the 'Challenges' of Being a Woman in Tech Into Opportunities
You can't go anywhere today in the tech industry without hearing that women entrepreneurs face challenges. From Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller Lean In to the continued discussion of how women continue to be outnumbered and underpaid compared to their male counterparts and the need for more female coders -- it’s all over the media. As an entrepreneur myself, I also occasionally meet female founders who are early in their careers and seem to focus more on these questions than on building their startups. I wish they'd stop focusing on this instead, look at the opportunities available to them.
I believe we live in a time when you can, if you so desire, build something huge and amazing as a female entrepreneur. Sure, you might be the only woman in the room, but if you start building something of substance, you will find many great supporters in the industry.
For example, as the solo female (and non-technical) founder of Wanelo -- a community for all of the world’s shopping -- I feel embedded and welcomed in the tech community. I am surrounded by incredible advisors, and I know I have unlimited access to any startup or individual in the community to help with any questions I may have.
So for women looking to jump in the startup world, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Don’t have a chip on your shoulders about being a woman in tech. I’ve met female entrepreneurs who carry it unnecessarily as a burden. Get rid of it. If you’re concerned about being a woman in tech, you’re missing the point and probably wasting your energy. Worry instead about your product, your team and the things that actually move your business forward.
Dream big and do what you said you would. Entrepreneurship is ultimately not about gender. Some of the best principles of finding success will apply to both men and women.
This is one of my favorites: You have to start with declaring really big dreams (even if they seem inaccessible) and then close the gap between what you said you would do and doing those things. The smaller the gap, the more powerful you will be!
Embrace being a woman. Feminism 1.0 was about getting the same rights and blending in with the men in suits. In tech, that made women feel like they needed to be a “dude in a sweatshirt.” Fortunately, we’re over that. Today, women can truly embrace being their authentic selves and express their personal styles -- both in terms of how they run their teams and in what they wear. True power is almost always about doubling down on who you really are and what makes you different and embracing that.
Know your role models. Because we do see many more successful male entrepreneurs in the media, it may be hard to avoid modeling yourself after men or feeling that you aren’t good enough because you aren’t a guy. To avoid this, you need to consciously cultivate an image of a powerful female entrepreneur that inspires you. Make sure you know what that woman looks like.
Get where you need to go. Investor Mike Maples sums up startups well: "You need to go from A to Z and there’s no known path in between." Your job as an entrepreneur is to get to Z in whatever way you can figure out. Any entrepreneur will encounter immense challenges, which can include being judged for being a certain age, gender and race, among other traits. The important part is finding a way to overcome those challenges and get where you need to go.
Be the role model by actually building something great. Who would you rather be: a woman who talks about promoting female entrepreneurship or fighting gender inequality, or a woman who has built something that shows how powerful female entrepreneurs can be and inspires by example? Building and getting results speaks for itself. I believe we live in a time when female entrepreneurs have tremendous opportunity to build, transform and lead by example.