There are some moments from the past year which are indelibly burned into my memory. One such moment changed the way I viewed myself as a business owner and contender in the emerging field of mobile marketing. I was standing in a tiny holding area backstage at MobileBeat 2010, making small talk with the judges and other nominees for top startup of 2010. I was the only skirt in a sea of blazers and ties – the only woman in the group: no female judges, no female competitors. It was 19 male dominated companies and a mom from Albuquerque. And what struck me is that some of them appeared far more uncomfortable with me, the anomaly, than I did with them. It was a good moment, one that has helped me to understand that if I am comfortable with who I am, what I have to offer and why I am the best one to be running my company, then that can lead me places that, well, mostly only men have gone before.
It’s easy to get sucked into the whole it’s tough to be a woman in a male-dominated arena, and to some extent the playing field isn’t equal. Women-founded startups are far less likely to gain venture capital funding, and most of the literature out there tells us how to stop behaving like women and act like a man in the workplace if we want to be successful. One article I read recently talked about learning to take up more space at a conference and to not smile as much if a woman wanted to be taken seriously by men. There is some truth to all of that, but here are some ways that being a woman has worked for me.
Assume the Best
Founding a startup, especially one within an emerging technology, is a cut-throat competition for position in the mad scramble to mark one’s territory in a jostling, jockeying land grab. And so it’s easy to start assuming that everyone is out to get you, to grab what’s yours. But I’ve found that assuming the best in people has worked wonders. I have been no less than overwhelmed by the willingness of others to reach out with advice, ideas and introductions, not for what they may gain but because they genuinely want to help. An email with an idea to solve a current challenge, an introduction to someone who might be a good connection, or even a link to an event which might be of value – all from acquaintances and friends who want to see a good idea succeed. It’s said that no one else assumes the best about someone as their mother, and when it comes to working with others, this quality can lead to some enriching relationships.
Resources are unimaginably tight in a startup, especially one that is bootstrapped where every penny either comes out of one’s own pocket or the precious revenue trickling in. And so it is easy to hoard one’s resources and not reach out to help others. But I’ve found that working with an opposite mindset has created a bounty of rewards both personally and in growing the company. While I can’t donate a generous check to a good cause, I can help out. And being willing to help, to be generous with the needs of others, isn’t soon forgotten. I certainly haven’t forgotten those who have been generous with me, and some of the strongest alliances I’ve created as a founder of a company have been based on a mutual generosity that has benefitted both entities.
A group of women I meet once a month for breakfast, the New Mexico Technology Council’s Women In Technology, is made of up PhD’s, Engineers and high powered women from a wide scope of technology fields in our state. And yet these women are among the most generous I’ve met. The goal of the group is to mentor other women and young girls, and their generosity to help each other and others is a stellar example of how being a woman in technology does not have to put anyone at a disadvantage.
Caring For A Newborn
Being the founder of a startup is a lot like being the mother of a newborn, and I’ve done that successfully several times. So taking on the plethora of challenges and chores of starting a company hasn’t been nearly as overwhelming as I’d feared. Studies show that women are better multi-taskers than men, and a drawing my very young son once drew of me always reminds me that I can take on anything I need to and just add it into the mix of what I’m already doing. I recently commented to someone that a new task I needed to take on was putting me outside of my comfort zone, and in the middle of the sentence, I realized that, in actuality, I’d spent the last year outside of my comfort zone, taking on a multitude of tasks I didn’t know how to do and practicing them until I could do them all in my sleep.
The most important lesson I’ve learned about being a woman at the head of a tech firm is that while it may be a bit of an anomaly, it is not a disadvantage unless we make it one.