Yes, there is plenty of sexism out there. But even in Silicon Valley, being a female founder has its advantages.
After reading some recent commentary by Vivek Wadhwa, you’d be forgiven for thinking that women who want to be entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley might as well pack up and go home. Wadhwa notes that, far from being a meritocracy, Silicon Valley functions, like many other societies, on assumptions and pre-conceptions. And this means that venture capitalists fund the type of entrepreneurs who’ve made them money in the past – young, white men.
What no mentor ever told me, but what I see in hindsight, is that I have had uniquely interesting and positive experiences as a woman in the high tech start-up world—more than enough to overshadow the bad ones. That’s what keeps me going, even when I have my own occasional brushes with misogynistic Neanderthals. (And yes, they are out there).
Sometimes, being different is an asset:
I am recognizable. I work in a world populated by optical engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software engineers, and physicists. Let’s just say I tend to stick out in the crowd. That makes me memorable. When I walk into a Japanese company, people remember who I am, even if they have only seen my photo in a presentation from another business unit. That familiarity breaks down barriers and helps build connections faster, which ultimately makes my job easier.
I get free coverage. Covering women in high tech is in vogue these days. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by all the requests I’ve had to speak on panels or sit on committees. I’ve had articles, interviews, and videos made and distributed for free by professional organizations at their request. I don’t spend a dime in production costs, and I get visibility for my company. What’s to complain about there?
I build multi-dimensional relationships. Relationships are key to any business. My customers open up about their families, their kids, and their passions for sports or the arts. In turn, they learn about mine. One customer invited my five-year-old son on a factory tour of a large equipment company in Japan. It was a life-altering experience for the whole family. I’m not convinced I’d have these experiences as one of the guys.
Overall, the benefits of being visibly different outweigh the downside. After all, isn’t “visibly different” what everyone says they want?
Technology expert. Global entrepreneur. Mentor. LAURA SMOLIAR, with over 15 years professional experience and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, specializes in the commercialization of technology. @@lsmoliar